Ranking the Top 10 Africans to Play for Arsenal
This article celebrates the best of the many Africans to have featured for Arsenal over the years. In this feature, we rank the top 10 of the continent’s stars to have passed through the club’s doors.
There have been many African failures, and many bright young things with origins on the continent who ultimately struggled to live up to the great expectations that accompanied the early stages of their career.
Some, like Fabrice Muamba and Armand Traore managed to play regular Premier League football elsewhere, whereas others, such as Gilles Sunu and Emmanuel Frimpong, may still come good, albeit away from north London.
Needless to say, however, the likes of Yaya Sanogo, Jehad Muntasser and—close your ears Arsenal fans—Carlin Itonga, haven’t made the cut!
In compiling this list, we have considered the contribution, impact, popularity and longevity of players both in North London, but also in their careers before and beyond Arsenal.
10. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie
Ghana, 2002-2006, 23 appearances, two goals
Ghana forward Owusu-Abeyie was one of a number of young African talents of whom great things were expected during their time in the Arsenal youth teams. The tricky hitman—much like players such as Fabrice Muamba, Emmanuel Frimpong and Armand Traore—would ultimately leave Arsene Wenger’s tutelage without having made a mark on the first team.
Unlike some of the other “great hopes,” though, Owusu-Abeyie has at least carved out a moderately successful international career. He represented Ghana at the 2010 World Cup and at the Cup of Nations two years earlier.
He’s struggled to settle at one club though, and has featured for 10 different clubs in the last 11 years. Unsurprisingly, the Black Stars caps have dried up.
Now 28, he should be in his prime…
9. Christopher Wreh
Liberia, 1997-2000, 46 appearances, five goals
Christopher Wreh was a cult hero at Arsenal.
He was predominantly used as an option from the bench, replacing Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, or Nicolas Anelka to provide fresh legs and invention late in games. Twenty-eight of his 46 appearances came from the bench, and he only ever managed 18 starts.
The Liberian arguably peaked in his first season, where he contributed winning goals against Wimbledon and Bolton Wanderers. These helped the Gunners towards their maiden Premier League title, while he also scored the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Wolves.
Players like Thierry Henry, Davor Suker and Sylvain Wiltord eventually reduced the West African’s playing time under Arsene Wenger and he went on several loan deals before leaving permanently for Al-Hilal in 2000.
Wreh had a peripatetic next 10 years in the sport before retiring in 2010. He remains, to this day, the only Liberian player to have won the English title.
Morocco, 2010-2013, 69 appearances, 14 goals
Over the last few seasons, one or two players have arrived at the Emirates Stadium after success in France, but have struggled to emulate the performances of predecessors such as Emmanuel Petit and Sylvain Wiltord.
Chamakh arrived having won the Ligue 1 title and guided Bordeaux to the Champions League, but left the Emirates Stadium branded a “flop.”
Ivory Coast, 2005-2011, 217 appearances, 10 goals
Such is the fickle nature of the Arsenal crowd, that Emmanuel Eboue’s contributions for the club were forgotten once his form dropped off.
The final months of 2008 made for uncomfortable viewing as the Gunners fans turned on their one-time hero, despite his injury and fitness concerns.
The Ivorian surely deserved more.
Indeed, he served the club well for his six years in North London, and proved himself capable of operating up and down the right flank, in the centre of midfield and even as a left-sided midfielder.
He arrived too late to win the title (or indeed any silverware) at the Emirates Stadium, and was a defeated finalist on three occasions (once in the Champions League).
The Ivorian moved to Galatasaray in 2011 and made up for his failures in England with a whole host of honours.
Togo, 2006-2009, 143 appearances, 62 goals
For the last 11 years, Emmanuel Adebayor has played for some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
However, while he risks going down in history for his controversies and tantrums, he enjoyed spells of excellence during his time in north London.
He scored 20 minutes into his debut, and would go on to become a fans’ favourite at the Emirates Stadium.
In 143 appearances for the club, he managed 62 goals, including a terrific 30 in 40 starts in the 2007/08 season.
Ultimately, as is looking to be the case at White Hart Lane, Adebayor fell out with the fans, and it wasn’t long before he was on his way to Manchester City.
He and the Gunners fans would, of course, meet again over the years…
5. Alex Song
Cameroon, 2005-2012, 218 appearances, 10 goals
Alex Song is currently enjoying a marvellous renaissance back in the Premier League with West Ham United.
His influential, intuitive defensive displays come in sharp contrast to his time at Barcelona, where the midfielder too often looked like a square peg in a round hole.
Ultimately, the Catalonian giants were keen to offload the misfit—a sad indictment of his “big move” to La Liga.
Unlike those in Spain, one suspects that Arsenal fans never doubted the midfielder’s pedigree.
While Song often struggled for an identity in the heart of the park, he demonstrated, during his final season under Wenger, that he could make valuable contributions both offensively and defensively.
Perhaps one day he’ll return to the Emirates Stadium and pick up where he left off.
Ivory Coast, 2011-2013, 63 appearances, 11 goals
Act One of Gervinho’s career was promising, Act Two was disappointing, while Act Three, for now at least, is proving to be somewhere between revelatory and redemptive.
Unfortunately for Gunners fans, it was the second stanza that came while he was working in North London.
Initially, the Ivorian brought his subtle eye for goal, his fine touch and his explosive pace to the Premier League from Ligue 1’s Lille, albeit in fits and starts.
The early promise didn’t last, and a loss of confidence and a struggle for consistency only lurked ever larger and the West African was eventually offloaded.
At Roma, reunited with former boss Rudi Garcia, the Elephant hitman has rediscovered his form. He was influential as the Giallorossi reached second spot in Serie A last term and also scored a mesmerising goal at the World Cup.
He was recently shortlisted for the BBC African Player of the Year award.
It’s a question of “what might have been?” for the forward had he found his feet at the Emirates Stadium.
3. Kolo Toure
Ivory Coast, 2002-2009, 326 appearances, 14 goals
Wenger plucked Kolo from the vaunted ASEC Abidjan academy, and while he’s not always considered among the manager’s finest purchases, he represents superlative value for money at £150,000.
The powerful competitor stood out as a cultured centre-back and forged a fine partnership with Sol Campbell.
Kolo was a bona-fide “invincible” in his first season in English football and managed to marry elegance with brute force.
He was also unlucky to be on the losing side when Arsenal were defeated in the Champions League final of 2006, having been so influential on their run to the meeting with Barcelona.
Cameroon, 2000-2007, 241 appearances, nine goals
Lauren was a member of two great sides.
At the beginning of the century he was a key figure in the Cameroon side that claimed consecutive Cup of Nations titles, an Olympic gold medal and featured at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
At the 2000 AFCON it was Lauren, and none of the Indomitable Lions’ plethora of stars, who claimed the Player of the Tournament award.
The second great side was Arsenal’s legendary Invincibles team.
He won two EPL crowns with the Gunners and was named in the PFA Team of the Year in 2004.
1. Nwankwo Kanu
Nigeria, 1999-2004, 198 appearances, 44 goals
Nwankwo Kanu stands alone as the greatest African player to ever play for Arsenal.
The striker was named African Footballer of the Year on two occasions and also picked up the BBC’s own prize twice as well.
The individual awards honoured a very individual talent, one whose unpredictable, mesmerising skills made him a fan favourite at almost every club he played for.
He had an admirable scoring record at Ajax, and won the Champions League title with the club.
While at Arsenal, he won the Premier League twice and can look back on a career which includes the European Cup, the UEFA Cup, Olympic gold, the FA Cup and the English title.
Not many can say that!