In this series, we’ll be taking a look at several players who went downhill after leaving Arsenal for pastures new. Some of these players who pulled on the famous red and white shirt left on good terms, some of them inspired little sentimental feelings, while others left a bitter taste in the mouth and would ruin their reputations with the Gunners faithful.
There will be players who will be included in this series who went on and won silverware – some enjoyed even more success with their new teams than they did with the Gunners. They will be judged however on personal performances and how they influenced matches in comparison to their time at the Emirates, which may seem slightly controversial to some, but the ground rules are being laid out clearly from the start. Other cases will be more obvious and universally agreed upon.
When Anelka burst onto the footballing scene as a young teenager in north London, he had the world at his feet. The Frenchman was signed from PSG for a paltry £500k, and by the time he left for Real Madrid just two and a half years later, his value had soared to £22.3m.
Anelka proved himself able to fill Ian Wright’s boots when a long-term injury to the latter ruled him out during the 1997/98 season. Anelka’s goals – including the second which sealed a 2-0 win over Newcastle in the FA Cup final – helped Arsenal achieve the double that year. The season afterwards, while disappointing for the team, was a successful one personally for the youngster. He finished as the club’s top-scorer with 17 league goals and picked up the PFA Young Player of the Year award, prompting Real Madrid to make their move.
‘Le Sulk’ – as he’d become known due to his behaviour in his final weeks at Arsenal – would fail to score during his first five months with Los Blancos, but eventually netted a first league goal in El Classico. After an argument with then boss Vicente del Bosque however, he was suspended. Despite going on to start in Madrid’s 3-0 win over Valencia in the Champions League final that year, he was sold to PSG for £22m in the close season.
Again, issues with his manager, Luis Fernandez, led him to be shipped out of the club, this time on loan to Liverpool who opted to sign El Hadji Diouf rather than make the move permanent after the loan had come to an end.
Anelka would join Manchester City for £13m in the summer of 2003, a club record at the time. In his 89 league appearances for City he netted a respectable 37 times, also winning and dispatching the penalty which was responsible for Jose Mourinho’s first defeat as Chelsea boss.
In January 2005, the striker made a £7m move to Fenerbache, where he won the Super Lig in 2005 before moving back to the Premier League with Bolton for £8m in the summer of 2006. His decent run of form for the Wanderers led to a £15m transfer to Chelsea in January 2008.
In his first full season (2008/09) at Stamford Bridge, Anelka earned the Golden Boot with 19 league goals, and won the FA Cup that same year. The season after, they won the league and FA Cup double, and while contributing some important goals during the campaign, he played more of a supporting role to the main man, Didier Drogba.
After apparently being ‘forced’ into handing in a transfer request by Andre Villas-Boas, Anelka moved to China with Shanghai Shenhua for £12m in January 2012, lasting a year before joining Juventus on loan the following January. He made only three appearances for the Italian outfit in their title winning season, before joining West Brom on the expiry of his contract with Shanghai in the summer – his sixth and final Premier League club.
In early 2014, Anelka was banned for five matches by the FA and fined £80k for performing a ‘quenelle’ celebration, which may have played a part in his decision to announce on social media that he was terminating his contract in the weeks that followed, without notifying his club first. Anelka would hang up his boots after a spell as player-manager at Mumbai City in 2015.
Controversy had followed the French striker throughout his career, and he later admitted that he had regretted leaving Highbury – he could have established himself as one of the game’s greats under Wenger’s tutelage. It may have been a blessing in disguise for Arsenal, as Wenger could have passed on signing a certain Thierry Henry if Anelka hadn’t left.
Another key member of the 1997/98 double-winning side, Marc Overmars is fondly remembered by most Arsenal fans. Overmars was brought into the fold at Ajax by Louis van Gaal, before signing with Arsenal in 1997.
There were those who had written off the Dutchman’s ability to perform at the highest level due to a serious knee injury that had seemingly limited his effectiveness in his final season at Ajax.
This appeared to be the case after a slow start, but Overmars would go on to prove his doubters wrong. He played a key role in Arsenal’s success in his first season, netting the famous winner at Old Trafford in March 1998 and the first in the 1998 FA Cup final. His final game for Arsenal would be the UEFA Cup final loss to Galatasaray on penalties in 2000, when Barcelona would swoop in to sign him for £25m, making him the most expensive Dutchman ever at the time.
Barcelona would only manage two fourth place finishes in Overmars’ first two seasons. A personal highlight for him during this time was capping off a superb team goal against Liverpool in November 2001.
Having played regularly in his first season in Spain, during his second he was more of a bit-part player, before succumbing to another knee injury which required surgery and kept him out for six months. Louis van Gaal had come in as manager for a second spell but was sacked in January 2003 after a terrible start to the domestic season which had seen Barcelona two points off the relegation zone in December.
His temporary replacement, Radomir Antic, switched Overmars over to the right-hand side from the left which, along with other changes, helped the team’s fortunes improve. The Dutchman only made 29 appearances under the newly appointed Frank Rijkaard in his final season.
His knees eventually gave out again, and eventually Overmars left the club and retired in July 2004 aged 31, without any compensation. Amazingly, he didn’t win any silverware with Barcelona despite the talented squad they possessed.
He would come out of retirement for a season in 2008 for Go Ahead Eagles, the team he started his career with, after impressing in Jaap Stam’s testimonial game before knee troubles re-emerged.
Overmars was never really blamed for switching Highbury for the Nou Camp, and many Arsenal fans were sad to see his demise due to his injury problems in Catalonia. He is still considered one of the best footballers to ever play for the club.