The name Nwankwo Kanu puts a smile on the face of all Arsenal supporters.
Signed by Arsene Wenger from Inter Milan in 1999 for £4.15m, the smiley Nigerian went on to make 198 appearances and scored 44 goals for the club.
The fact Kanu was still playing football was incredible, having been diagnosed at his Inter Milan medical of a serious heart defect. Kanu underwent surgery to replace an aortic valve. Kanu managed to play for another 15 years.
His debut for Arsenal was a lively affair. Playing against Sheffield United in the FA Cup, a United player went down injured. Sheffield United had knocked the ball out of play ensuring their man could get treatment. Of course we all know the sporting thing to do is to give the ball back to the opposition, which Arsenal attempted to do. However, whether Kanu was unaware of the unwritten rule or just wanted to make a good impression at his new club is still unsure. But what happened next was a crazy 20 minutes in football. Ray Parlour attempted to throw the ball sportingly back to Alan Kelly in the Sheffield United goal, only for Kanu to latch onto the throw and centre the ball into the area for Marc Overmars to slot the ball into the back of the net. Confusion reigned, the Sheffield club walked off the pitch, and so at the end of the match, Arsene Wenger offered to replay the match. Arsenal beat them in the return game. But from that moment on Kanu was something of a ‘cult’ legend.
He was, in his Arsenal time, something of a super sub. He actually came off the bench 118 times in the Premier League.
All Arsenal fans recall his hatrick against Chelsea. With Arsenal 2-0 down and struggling it came down to Kanu.
With 15 minutes left Kanu produced his magic. His first goal having received the ball in the area, he managed to throw out his size 15 boot and poke it past Ed de Goey in the Chelsea goal. The equalizer came on 83 minutes, a cross from the right by Marc Overmars was excellently controlled by Kanu. His control made space for himself to fire in a low shot to draw Arsenal back level. Then with the game looking like a draw, Kanu chased down the defender on the left and charged down the clearance. The ball fell in Kanu’s path who continued out on the touch line almost by the corner flag on the left hand side of the pitch. De Goey had decided to sprint out of his goal and close down the Nigerian. Kanu dribbled past the keeper and with the angle against him hit an audacious shot into the net. What a match and what skill by Kanu. Arsenal winning 3-2.
At 6’5 he had the height of a target man and the skill of a deep lying forward. He was able to wriggle out of tight spots with his close control, often confusing defenders in seconds.
He was a regular scorer of some classic goals, his back heal flick against Middlesbrough, or his goal against Tottenham, scooping the over Luke Young before scoring.
In his time at Arsenal he won two league titles and two FA Cups and popped up with some crucial goals. Admittedly, the majority of these were as a substitute but he was your proper super sub when Arsenal needed a goal.
The Arsenal faithful will always have a soft spot in the hearts for Kanu.
He really is a ‘cult’ Arsenal legend.