The Nearly Men: Players Arsene Wenger Almost Signed for Arsenal – Part One: Goalkeepers

Arsene Wenger

It’s common knowledge that Arsene Wenger has come close to making some top signings during his tenure that never came to fruition. Things could have worked out very differently for the Gunners had some of these players made the move to the Emirates, as well as for the clubs that they ended up moving to.

In part one of this four-part series, we’ll be taking a look at the goalkeeper’s Wenger could have potentially brought in – signings that could have altered the history books.

Gianluigi Buffon

Widely considered one of the best goalkeepers of all time, Buffon could have made a name for himself in North London. While still at Parma in 1998, the Italian even met Arsene Wenger to discuss a potential move.

Arsenal never ended up putting in a concrete bid and as a result, Buffon ended up joining Juventus in 2001 for what still stands as a world-record fee for a goalkeeper of €52m. 16 years, eight Serie A titles and numerous other major trophies later, the fee looks like a bargain – and to think he could have been a lot cheaper back in 1998.

The 39-year-old still has a year left in him yet, and possibly more trophies as a result. What a difference he could have made for Arsenal over the years.

Joe Hart

While Joe Hart can’t really be compared to the other goalkeepers mentioned in this article, he certainly would have been an upgrade on Manuel Almunia and possibly Wojciech Szczesny.

Wenger was impressed with Hart’s performances while he was on loan at Birmingham City from Manchester City during the 2009/10 season.

Wenger recalled: “I remember when Hart played at Birmingham, I asked about him and they told me he is at Man City. I thought he would be the keeper there. He has something that is needed for a goalkeeper to play at a big club and I am not surprised he made it as number one.”

Hart went back to Manchester the next season and managed to win two league titles with the Citizens before being shipped out to Torino on loan last summer by Pep Guardiola.

Petr Cech

As most of you will probably realise, Cech is our current first choice goalkeeper. He has been included in this list due to the fact that Arsene Wenger could have signed him all the way back in 2002 before he joined Rennes in France – the club Chelsea eventually signed him from two years later. The deal could have materialised if it wasn’t for a problem with securing a work permit.

Upon joining the club, Cech revealed that this was indeed the case: “There was a chance before I went to France that I could sign for Arsenal but I was only 18 or 19 and at that time the Czech Republic was not in the European Union. You needed a work permit and the conditions were to play 75 per cent of the first-team games for the national team, which at the time was impossible for me to get. In the end, I went to France because I couldn’t get a work permit. I had a few teams who were interested but Arsenal was one of the main ones.”

Had the Czech shot-stopper joined Arsenal rather than Chelsea we could have feasibly seen some differing outcomes in the fortunes of both clubs. Arsenal would have arguably found an upgrade on Jens Lehmann and Chelsea would have struggled to find a keeper on Cech’s level.

They say that a top-class goalkeeper such as Cech earns you an extra 10-15 points a season – a tally that could have seen Arsenal win at least a couple of more titles since the last one in 2004, and Chelsea a couple less.