The if only Arsenal XI - The ones Wenger let get away

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has claimed to have come close to signing a number of world class players.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Whenever a high-profile signing is made, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger appears to waiting in the wings, eager to point out that he once came within inches of signing said player at some point previously. 

Of course, the Arsenal manager has been in the game a long time, and at the highest level too, so it's only natural that the Frenchman will have missed out on some great players over the years.

It is the sheer number of players, however, that Wenger claims he almost signed that has drawn mockery from some, with '#WengerTries' having trended when the experienced Arsenal man has made such claims in the past.

Gareth Bale celebrates scoring the first goal for Real MadridGareth Bale is one player Wenger apparently came close to signing

How close the Arsenal manager actually came to signing any of these players probably varies. It seems likely some fell through at the eleventh hour, whilst others probably had a lot less legs to them.

In honour of Wenger and his cruel misfortune, HITC has put together a Wenger 'what-if' XI, looking at what the Arsenal squad might look like had he managed to sign the players he sadly couldn't quite get to complete deals. 

Between them, the starting XI has won 8 Ballon d'Ors, 18 Champions League titles and countless other club, international and individual trophies and accolades. 

Petr Cech

Petr Cech - Chelsea

The Arsenal boss is said to have kept tabs on the Czech goalkeeper between 2002 and 2004 and tried to prize him from Rennes where it is claimed work permit issues were again the stumbling block.

Cech went on to sign for Chelsea in 2004, where he has won three Premier League titles, four FA Cup’s, two League Cup’s, one Champions League and one Europa League, as well as a number of individual honours.

Wenger did eventually sign Cech in the summer of 2015, after Thibaut Courtois become Chelsea number one. 

Gerard Pique

Manchester United's Gerard Pique celebrates

At the heart of Barcelona’s defence, Gerard Pique is widely regarded as an integral part of the Catalonian’s starting XI. Pique was one of three Barcelona youngsters that Wenger swooped for, the other two being Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas.

Successful in his pursuit of the latter, Wenger wasn't able to deliver the other two to Arsenal. Pique instead moved to Manchester United in 2004 before returning to the Camp Nou where he remains to this day.

Raphael Varane

The young French defender joined Real Madrid in 2011, however, Wenger says that he had made an offer to take Varane to Arsenal 18 months prior to the completion of that deal.

Described by Jose Mourinho as “the best young defender in the world”, Varane’s stock is rising as he impresses for both club and country. 

Vincent Kompany

Manchester City's Vincent Kompany waves to fans as he walks off to be substituted after sustaining an injury

Back in 2006 the big Belgian was little more than a hotly-tipped youngster. However, when he declared his intentions to leave boyhood club Anderlecht there was a whole host of interest.

Wenger's Arsenal faced competition from Real Madrid and Barcelona for the Belgian’s signature, but in a shock move he joined Hamburg in Germany before making a £6 million move to Manchester City where he has become the linchpin of City’s defence and the club’s captain.

Yaya Toure

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini and Yaya Toure during a lap of honour after the game

Underwhelming at times last season, for the few years previous Yaya Toure was a titan in the Manchester City midfield, but back in 2003, the 18-year-old was better known as the brother of Kolo Toure, Arsenal’s accomplished centre-half. Yaya was on trial at Arsenal in 2003 and even featured in a pre-season game for the Gunners.

However, after a delay in gaining a work permit, the Ivorian chose instead to join Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk. Toure went on to play for Olympiacos, Monaco and Barcelona before moving to the blue side of Manchester in 2010.

Angel Di Maria

In an emerging theme, a work permit was once more the problem for Wenger when he attempted to sign Di Maria for Arsenal as a 17-year-old. Wenger had watched the Argentine play for his country at youth level and was keen to bring him to North London but a deal could not be struck.

Di Maria currently stands as the most expensive import in the history of British football, but flopped at Manchester United before making another big-money move to PSG.

Paul Pogba

Picture Supplied by Action Images - Paul Pogba

Another man Wenger tried to bring to Arsenal is compatriot Paul Pogba. Pogba left Manchester United in 2012 but despite Wenger’s best efforts, he claims Juventus acted too fast and the deal had been done before he had any real chance of signing the youngster.

Pogba has had an incredible few years in Italy and is now being linked with a £100 million return to Old Trafford. 

Gareth Bale

Wenger had the opportunity to bring Bale to Arsenal when he signed fellow wonderkid Theo Walcott. Wenger claims he decided against the decision in the end as Gael Clichy was considered the superior prospect and talent in Wenger’s mind.

In the end, Tottenham moved Bale out to the wing where he flourished, earning a move to Real Madrid where he is regarded as one of the world’s best players.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo

Wenger described Arsenal as being “so close” to signing Ronaldo back in 2003, when he eventually joined Manchester United. The Mirror reported that the Gunners even printed shirts emblazoned with Ronaldo’s name and proposed number on the back.

Wenger has since spoken of his regret in missing out on Ronaldo who has won the Ballon d'Or three times and can now add an international tournament to his list of accomplishments.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The enigmatic genius that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic went as far as the offices at Highbury before eventually turning Arsenal. So insulted was the Swede by Arsene Wenger’s insistence that he take a trial, Zlatan left the negotiations and "Zlatan doesn't do trials" became one of the early indicators of Ibrahimovic's famed ego.

Zlatan is now in the Premier League, aged 34, he joined Manchester United this summer following a season in which he scored 36 goals in 35 games for PSG. 

Lionel Messi

Barcelona's Lionel Messi is fouled by Arsenal's Mathieu Flamini resulting in a penalty to Barcelona

The Arsenal manager famously missed out on signing Messi as a 15-year-old. Widely regarded as one of the finest talents to ever grace the beautiful game, Messi has broken all kinds of records, and is still only 29 years old.

Complete Wenger 'Could Have Been' XI:

Wenger What If Starting Eleven

It's fair to say the shape may not be the best. One questions whether Ronaldo will track his man playing as a left wing-back, but an attacking quartet of Ronaldo, Bale, Messi and Ibrahimovic should score the goals to compensate.

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch