The calendar is getting close to switching to a nice round number. A repetitive number, in fact. And since that’s happening, it’s time to look back at the best of the decade gone by. And no, I don’t care that technically, the decade doesn’t end until the end of 2020, because I like the symmetry of round numbers and time is an artificial construct that we can define however we want anyway. So for the purposes of this exercise, the decade ends just over two weeks from now.
What is this exercise? It’s finding the best Arsenal team of the past decade. Despite how we’ve all felt in the last several months, there were (and are) some very good players (and some half-decent teams) floating through north London in the last 10 years, and we wanted to find the best of the best. So, here’s what we came up with:
GOALKEEPER: Wojciech Szczęsny
Despite having a name that’s a nightmare to type quickly, Szcz was probably the best keeper Arsenal had since David Seaman’s retirement, and is in the conversation for best ever. His departure remains, to me, the one major stain on Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal, as his leaving was down to a personality conflict, not a playing issue. He was reliable, steady, didn’t make a lot of mistakes, and gave his defenders a ton of confidence that if they missed something, he’d clean it up.
LB: Nacho Monreal
One of the great things about this list is that it mostly picks itself, and this pick is no exception. In a time when Arsenal’s defense is, to be generous, porous, it’s always good to remember the days when Arsenal’s defenders were actually good at their jobs, and few were better at outside back than Nacho. He wasn’t the fastest player, but he was extremely good at knowing where to be, where to go, and when to be there.
CB: Per Mertesacker
Speaking of “not the fastest player”, I bring you Per Mertesacker. The Big Fucking German (or Big Friendly German, if you ask him), especially later in his career, was basically a training cone, mobility-wise. But my goodness, what an effective defender. Earlier in his career, when he had some speed, he was a double threat - he could stop you from attacking and then he could start Arsenal’s attack in the same move. As he grew older and less mobile, though, he focused on stopping attacks, and there was really no one better at doing that, not just at Arsenal but in the league. This is how good he was:
I could watch that all day (if you can’t see it up there, it’s here). It’s effortless, but it’s everything.
CB: Laurent Koscielny
Arsenal’s other defensive rock. I have always been the guy who values a good defense over a flashy attack, and with Kos at the back, a good defense was virtually assured. He also scored the occasional goal, but that wasn’t his forte - he was a throwback defender who didn’t really need to get forward to be at his best. He was a bulldog, and his last months at Arsenal, with the injuries and the sudden, acrimonious departure, don’t dull his shine for me in the slightest.
RB: Bacary Sagna
Sure, he went to Manchester City in 2014, which is more than half a decade ago. And sure, that speaks to how poor Arsenal’s right back situation has become in the years since he left. But even despite all that, Sagna didn’t default his way onto this list; he was one of the most consistently solid defenders Arsenal have had in decades. He is also one of those Arsene Wenger players who was never quite as good after he left as when he was at Arsenal; he’s in no way bad now (he plays for MLS’ Montreal Impact), but his Arsenal years were very much the best years he had as a player.
CDM: Santi Cazorla
I mean, what is there to say? He’s a legend, for his play at Arsenal and for his, frankly, miraculous recovery from literal life-threatening injuries towards the end of his time at Arsenal. He was a pocket destroyer; he was a guy who you knew would clean up any mess that came his way and do it quickly and efficiently. I couldn’t be happier that he’s still playing at a high level; I understand why Arsenal had to move on, but it still makes me a bit sad.
CM: Aaron Ramsey
I talked about Wenger’s biggest mistake earlier in reference to Szcz, and I’m going to talk about Ramsey now as the club’s biggest mistake since then. There was an offer on the table, that offer was reportedly ready to be accepted, and then...the offer went away. As did Aaron Ramsey, off to Juventus to play with that Chris Ronald dude who I’ve heard good things about. While I will say that some of the remembrances of Ramsey can border on the hagiographic, he is in fact Arsenal’s highest-scoring midfielder, and his FA Cup-winning goals will never be forgotten.
CM: Mesut Özil
Yes, Mesut Özil. The very polarizing presence who signed with Arsenal in 2013 and quickly became a fan favorite, only to just as quickly stop being a fan favorite. The guy who did what any of the rest of us would do, when he signed a monster contract to keep him at the club, despite the fact that that contract is now an anchor around the club’s neck (which, again, not Özil’s fault in the slightest!) and around people’s perceptions of Özil. He remains a sublime playmaker - he’s not a guy who will be super flashy, won’t make your jaw drop every time he touches the ball, but in the right setup, every time he touches the ball, good things happen.
F: Robin van Persie
Did someone say “polarizing”? Despite the fact that his exit from the club was so cringeworthy (the “little boy inside him” wanted to sign for Manchester United? Really?), in hindsight, his “I disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward” was oddly prescient. Despite all that, and despite the fact that he only played for Arsenal for two years of the decade, he still makes this list, because those two years were transcendent. He won the league’s Golden Boot in 2011-12, and he was named Arsenal’s player of the season that year as well as both the Players’ Player of the Year and the Fans’ Player of the Year.
F: Alexis Sánchez
Turns out there’s a lot of polarizing players on this list! Alexis probably tops that list, though, because for all the unbelievable talent he displayed, and all the energy he expended at all times (dude used to do pushups in training when team talks were going on!), he was...not widely loved, either among his teammates or, later on in his time at Arsenal, by the fans. He scored 80 goals in all competitions in three and a half seasons at Arsenal, but his prodigious talent was matched with an almost sociopathic will to win, which didn’t earn him a lot of friends, particularly when the winning didn’t happen. In the end, it was better that he left, but while he was at Arsenal, he was vibrating at a wholly different frequency.
F: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
It’s telling that Auba is one of only two current Gunners on this team. Winner of the Golden Boot last year (shared with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, but whatever), Auba has almost singlehandedly kept Arsenal’s offense alive in the last season and change, and I shudder to think where they would be without him to bail the club out at almost every opportunity. I hope that his bailout skills aren’t quite as needed going forward, but I’m very glad he’s able to more or less score for fun in the meantime.
So that’s our list. What’s yours? Tell us about your team of the decade.