Arsene Wenger's LONG list of near-misses at Arsenal

Arsene Wenger blamed Carlos Queiroz for missing out on Cristiano Ronaldo and was at Mbappe’s HOUSE when his Monaco future was in doubt… but they’re just two on a LONG list of near-misses at Arsenal including Messi, Suarez, Drogba and more!

  • Arsene Wenger’s stories of missed signings have become a regular occurrence 
  • The former Arsenal boss tried to sign some of the biggest names during his stay 
  • World superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were among the targets 
  • Here, Sportsmail runs you through many of the names Wenger missed out on 

Arsene Wenger laid out his version of how he nearly signed some of the world’s leading footballers earlier this week.

The former Arsenal boss went into detail about how Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were among the current global superstars on his radar at the north London side during his 22-year stay.

The Frenchman highlighted former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz as the reason behind Ronaldo’s eventual move to Old Trafford, while adding Barcelona used their nous to keep hold of Messi.

But who else could have joined them at Arsenal, and what has Wenger had to say about his failure to sign them? Here, Sportsmail takes a look at who could have arrived at the club had the Frenchman had his way… and there are more than a handful of household names on the list.

Arsene Wenger detailed once again this week some of the global stars he missed out on

Barcelona’s La Masia academy appeared to be at the peak of its powers in the early 2000s as they brought through a host of names that have gone on to win the most valued competitions. 

Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi were all coming through the academy before the former was taken by Arsenal in 2003, becoming one of the most decorated players of the Emirates era.

But speaking earlier this week, Wenger revealed he also wanted to sign the other two at the same time as Fabregas, but claimed agents prevented the move for the defender from happening a year before he sealed a move to Manchester United. 

‘[It didn’t work out with Pique] because of the agents. I think it was linked with Nike at the time and they wanted Pique to go to Man United.’

Arsenal wanted Gerard Pique from Barcelona a year before he joined Manchester United

Raphael Varane 

The Gunners’ defence was often seen as the reason why they failed to be successful in winning major trophies during the second half of Wenger’s reign.

But had they acted faster, they could have signed one of the world’s best in Raphael Varane, back when he was playing for French club RC Lens.

Real Madrid eventually signed him in 2011 and he has grown in stature in Spain, making 348 appearances for the Spanish giants and winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns with them as well as being a World Cup winner with France. 

Back in 2013, Wenger said: ‘I’m happy for him because he’s carving out a role at one of the world’s best clubs, which is remarkable. 

‘Yet at the same time, when you are in charge of a club like Arsenal, you have to wonder why this player is not playing for us. He was at Lens, and we might well have caught him there.’

Wenger was interested in signing current Real Madrid star Raphael Varane when at Lens

Yaya Toure

The Ivorian turned up for a trial at Arsenal in the summer before the club’s Invincible campaign in 2003-04.  

Toure – 20 at the time – played in a goalless pre-season friendly against Barnet, and had Arsenal managed to sign him, he would retrospectively have been an ideal replacement for captain Patrick Vieira, who departed for Juventus two years later. 

But passport issues denied Arsenal the chance of signing him permanently and he ended up joining Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk, events which Wenger has claimed is at the top of his list of regrets.

To rub salt into the wounds seven years later – after success at Barcelona – Toure started his journey of becoming a Manchester City legend, winning three Premier League titles along the way.

Wenger admitted not signing Yaya Toure (right) is at the top of his transfer regrets

‘It would be up at the top [of my list of regrets],’ Wenger lamented. ‘He had an agreement with us – and it’s not because we didn’t want to sign him that he went to Ukraine.

‘Yaya Toure is a top-class player,’ Wenger later said. ‘We knew that at the time.

‘In England, to get the players in they need to have played 75 per cent of national games, but Yaya never did [for Ivory Coast].

‘We decided to wait for the passport application and then, when he was close to applying, he moved to Ukraine so we lost the whole chance of the deal.’

Toure scored twice against the Gunners, once in a 6-3 victory in 2013 and the other in a 2-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium in December two years later.  

Toure scored twice against Arsenal for Man City, including a penalty in 2013 in a 6-3 win

Paul Pogba

The France World Cup winner is the next person on the list of players Arsenal could have acquired. 

Wenger was interested in signing Pogba back in 2012 when he was on the verge of leaving Manchester United. However, once more they were too slow out of the blocks and were pipped by Juventus again.

When opening up on the frustrating pursuit, Wenger said: ‘Things happened very quickly. We were interested in him. We tried to get him to come here. But he very quickly signed for Juventus.’

Pogba netted his only goal to date against the Gunners in Wenger’s final year in charge with the opener in United’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford in April 2018. 

Wenger was interested in Pogba back in 2012, when he was on the verge of leaving United

N’Golo Kante

Pogba’s international team-mate Kante was one of Wenger’s more recent misses, having failed to sign the midfielder nearly five years ago now after he had played an instrumental role in Leicester’s historic Premier League title-winning campaign in 2015-16.

Wenger laid his eyes on Kante to fill a much-needed void just in front of the defence, but it was London rivals Chelsea who eventually won the race with a £32m deal, and to many Gunners fans’ annoyance, their side would go on to sign £35m Granit Xhaka.

But Wenger claimed in February 2017 – a time when the Blues were top of the table and would go on to win the title – that he had in fact made two attempts to sign the tireless midfielder. 

Wenger was keen on signing N’Golo Kante (right) before he moved to Chelsea in 2016

The first attempt came while he was an unknown figure at Caen, before Leicester and later Chelsea got their hands on him, and Wenger implied that Roman Abramovich’s side’s financial firepower saw him end up at Stamford Bridge.

‘I tried to sign Kante when he was in France and when he was at Leicester,’ Wenger said. ‘We can’t explain everything – transfers are transfers – but it is quite obvious when you look at where he has gone. 

‘I believe Kante has had a huge impact. It’s no coincidence Chelsea are where they are and Leicester did what they did.’

Claude Makelele 

Another French midfielder who would end up at Chelsea later in his career, Claude Makelele was another of Wenger’s compatriots that got away.

The current Chelsea youth coach and technical mentor was playing for Nantes in the summer of 1996, when Wenger tried to sign him.

But speaking in 2006, the former Arsenal boss admitted the former Marseille, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder was another one who eluded him.  

‘Claude Makelele was close to signing for us,’ Wenger said. ‘Makelele was straight after Vieira came, August 1996. He was still in Nantes.’  

Makelele went on two win two Premier League medals in Jose Mourinho’s first two years at Stamford Bridge between 2004 and 2006, while also winning the 2002 Champions League with Madrid. 

Wenger has said former Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele (right) was also close to signing


Gilberto Silva and Edu are among the most decorated Brazilian players to have played for Arsenal given their ‘Invincible’ status.

But their success at the club could have been dwarfed by that of Ronaldinho had the Gunners been able to wrap up a deal to sign him from Gremio in his native country in 2001. 

Arsenal had been worked on a deal, but when it was almost wrapped up, work permit issues scuppered the transfer and he would eventually join French side Paris Saint-Germain, leaving Wenger bemoaning the near-miss.

‘We could have got Ronaldinho before he went to PSG,’ Wenger revealed. ‘I met his brother, who is his agent, a long, long time before he went to PSG – when he was 20 – but we just could not get him to England because of the rules here.’

The former Brazil star went on to win the World Cup the following summer and enjoyed most success at club level at Barcelona, where he won the 2006 Champions League at the expense of Wenger’s side in Paris. 

Barcelona legend Ronaldinho could have joined Arsenal in 2001 before leaving Gremio for PSG

Gareth Bale 

Another player who escaped from Wenger’s grasp was Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, a move he admitted was a ‘huge mistake’.

The Frenchman had been tracking the then Southampton player during the time that the Gunners were scouting former forward Theo Walcott.

Walcott would eventually swap St Mary’s for the Emirates in 2006, but Wenger opted against trying to convince Bale to move in the same direction, believing he had enough players at left-back, but failed to realise his ability to play in midfield.  

Wenger opted against signing Gareth Bale from Southampton, and he went on to join Spurs

‘We didn’t take him as we had Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy and didn’t want another left-back,’ Wenger said in 2013. 

‘I must confess it was a huge mistake as he can play in midfield. He struggled at the start at Tottenham, then they moved him to midfield and he has done exceptionally well.

‘The career of a player sometimes depends on playing in the right position.’ 

Bale would go on to join arch rivals Tottenham and has scored five goals in ten north London derbies against the Gunners, while also winning two LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues at Real Madrid following an £86m move in 2013.  

The Welshman has scored five goals for Tottenham in ten north London derbies

Didier Drogba 

Bale’s goalscoring record against Arsenal does not compare to the torment Drogba would inflict on the Gunners.

The failure to land the Ivorian when he played for Le Mans would come back to haunt Arsenal as Drogba was a nemesis for Wenger’s side – netting 13 times in just 15 matches for London rivals Chelsea, including the winner in the 2007 League Cup final in Cardiff. 

He was firmly on the Frenchman’s radar during his four-year spell at Le Mans, and having also represented Guingamp he was spotted by Chelsea when playing for Marseille, and a move to Stamford Bridge was duly completed in 2004. 

Wenger was interested in former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba when he was at Le Mans

‘I missed him when he played in France at Le Mans – not even in the top league,’ Wenger admitted. 

‘I knew he was good player there and I missed him. And secondly because he hurt us so much in big games that all this pain would not have happened.’

Drogba won four Premier League titles and the 2012 Champions League title during his eight-year stint in west London. 

Drogba scored 13 goals in 15 games against Arsenal, including a winner in the 2007 League Cup final in Cardiff

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The borderline arrogance of Ibrahimovic denied Wenger signing the Swede as a teenager. 

The pair discussed a potential move but plans did not go the way of the striker as he was asked to have a trial at Arsenal, and that infamously did not go down well. 

‘Arsene gave me the famous red and white jersey – the No 9 shirt with Ibrahimovic on it and I was so pleased I even posed for a picture wearing it. It was a fantastic moment for me. So then I waited for him to convince me that I should join Arsenal.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was given the No 9 jersey at Arsenal and described it as ‘fantastic’

But he was only offered a trial at Arsenal and that did not go down well with the young Swede

‘But he didn’t even try. He never actually made me a serious offer, it was more, ‘I want to see how good you are, what kind of player you are. Have a trial’. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘No way, Zlatan doesn’t do auditions’.’

However, Ibrahimovic remains one of the few players Wenger insists he has no regrets about, despite his achievements at AC Milan, PSG and Barcelona, to name but a few. 

‘He was here at the training ground and went somewhere else. That has happened to many players. It does not mean they sign for you,’ Wenger said in 2012. 

Ibrahimovic scored three goals against Wenger’s Arsenal, including two for Barcelona

‘The story is true I wanted to see him. I did not know him, you cannot sign players you have not seen at all because it is not serious. He was 16. I asked him to have a little training session with the first team and he didn’t want to do it.

‘Do I regret it? No. I will continue to do that unless our scouts have seen the player and says, ‘look he is absolutely 100 per cent’. I trust them. But when somebody says he has some quality, you want at least to see, otherwise you would not be serious.’

Ibrahimovic scored three goals against Wenger’s Arsenal, scoring twice for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in a 2-2 Champions League draw at the Emirates in March 2010 before netting a penalty two years later in the same competition for AC Milan in a 4-0 drubbing at San Siro.   

He also netted a penalty for AC Milan in a 4-0 drubbing of Wenger’s Arsenal in February 2012

Luis Suarez

Arsenal’s offer of £40,000,001 back in the summer of 2013, made in the belief that a release clause in his Liverpool contract would be triggered, has gone down in transfer window folklore.

It was shut down straight away with Reds owner John W Henry tweeting: ‘What do you think they’re smoking over there at the Emirates?’

Suarez has since revealed that former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard convinced him to ignore Arsenal’s advances and remain at Anfield. But Wenger, reflecting on the situation said: ‘We had an agreement with the player and we had been wrongly advised that he had a clause (in his contract). 

Arsenal’s offer of £40,000,001 to Liverpool in the summer of 2013 has gone down in folklore

‘You can ask the player. He will confirm that he wanted to join us. Then they kept him one more year, improved his contract and promised to sell him to a club abroad.’ 

In his book My Life in Red and White, which was published last year, Wenger reaffirmed this belief.

‘In 2014 [the 2013/14 season] we were looking to get Luis Suarez over. We had an agreement with the player and his agent. But the agent claimed that there was a clause: with an offer above £40million, Liverpool would be obliged to let the player go.

‘But thanks to an indiscretion within Liverpool, I found out that his clause never existed. To check this was true, we offered £40,000,001. 

Suarez has scored three times against Arsenal, including an acrobatic volley for Barcelona

‘This may have seemed ludicrous, I admit. But Liverpool did not want to sell Suarez, they could afford to keep him and there was already an offer from Barca on the horizon.’

Having scored two goals against Arsenal for the Reds during his Premier League career, a move to the Camp Nou would transpire the following summer, and he would net against the Gunners again for his new side in the Champions League in 2016 with an acrobatic volley.

Suarez also won four LaLiga titles and the Champions League in 2014/15 with Barcelona. 

Jadon Sancho 

The Borussia Dortmund star was linked with a £100m move to Manchester United last summer.

But the England winger may never have ended up in Bundesliga at all if Wenger had got his way, revealing he tried to bring Sancho to Arsenal when he was playing in City’s youth teams.

However, after spending two years in the youth set-up at City, the 19-year-old ended up joining German side Dortmund, where he has flourished into one of the most exciting youngsters in the game.

‘I wanted to take him from Man City when he didn’t get the games,’ Wenger said in 2019.

‘I tried to lure him because he’s from London. I tried to get him to. He’s one of the best players of his generation. He can dribble, he has the arrogance.’

Wenger tried to prise Jadon Sancho away from Man City before he joined Borussia Dortmund

Lionel Messi

The best player in the world who was or was not close to moving to Arsenal, according to who you believe.

The Frenchman tried to nab the Argentine from Barcelona along with Pique and Fabregas, but Barcelona never entertained the idea. 

Wenger said in 2014: ‘I think in the end he was not so keen to move. It was not completely down to a flat in the end, it was down to the fact that Messi was comfortable at Barcelona.’

Wenger admits Arsenal tried to tempt a young Lionel Messi away from Barcelona

Four years later, Wenger added: ‘With Messi, Barcelona didn’t want to lose him of course and they made [the offer] that was needed to keep the player at the club.

‘I don’t really know if Messi was interested. I couldn’t get close to try to force the deal because Barcelona stopped that possibility very early. 

And speaking to beIN Sports earlier this week, Wenger simply said: ‘Barcelona were clever enough to keep him.’

Messi has scored more goals against Arsenal than any other team in UEFA competition, nine in 447 minutes comprising six games.

Messi has scored more goals against Arsenal than any other team in UEFA competition

Cristiano Ronaldo

It’s now common knowledge that Ronaldo was on the verge of becoming an Arsenal player before Manchester United swooped in for his services in a £12.24m transfer from Sporting Lisbon in August 2003.

‘I showed him around and I gave him a shirt. It had his name on the back,’ Wenger said in 2008. ‘But in the end it was a question of the transfer fee between the two clubs.’

Ronaldo himself said in 2019 he was ‘very close, one step away’ to playing for United’s fierce rivals and Wenger believes that would have been a reality if it weren’t for the intervention of Carlos Queiroz.

Cristiano Ronaldo himself said in 2019 he was ‘very close, one step away’ to playing for Arsenal

Queiroz joined Manchester United in 2002 as their assistant manager and influenced Ferguson’s decision to buy Ronaldo.

‘He [Ronaldo] was very close to joining us,’ Wenger said this week. 

‘The bad luck for us was that Carlos Quieroz joined Manchester United and in the week he persuaded [Manchester United manager Sir Alex] Ferguson to buy Ronaldo in what was quite a good buy at the time.’

Ronaldo has scored six goals against Arsenal in his career, including two in the Champions League semi-final second leg for United in 2009, and gone on to win the competition and LaLiga on numerous occasions. 

Ronaldo has scored six goals against Arsenal, including two in a 2009 European semi-final

Samuel Eto’o 

A striker who has also inflicted pain on Arsenal, Wenger revealed that Arsenal were close to signing Eto’o from Mallorca in 2004 but were beaten to him by Barcelona.

That would prove a crucial mistake, with Eto’o scoring the equaliser in the Catalan giants’ 2-1 victory against the Gunners in the 2006 Champions League final.

Speaking about the club’s failure to sign Makelele, Wenger said: ‘Makelele was close to signing for us, Samuel Eto’o too. I missed a few.

Samuel Eto’o scored against Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League final but could have joined them instead of Barcelona from Mallorca

‘Makelele was straight after Vieira came, August 1996. He was still in Nantes, and Eto’o just before he joined Barcelona. It was between us and Barcelona.’

Eto’o would score against Arsenal again some eight years later for Chelsea, netting the opener five minutes in as Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal in April 2014 ended in a humiliating 6-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

The Cameroonian won the Champions League on three occasions in his career as well as three LaLiga titles. 

Eto’o would score against Arsenal again in a 6-0 win for Chelsea in Wenger’s 1,000th game

Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe is set to lead the charge for Paris Saint-Germain in their quest for Champions League glory this season.

But the World Cup winner may already have experienced English football if Wenger had been successful in tempting the forward to join Arsenal in 2017. 

‘We speak about Mbappe and I was at his home when he was undecided to extend his contract at Monaco,’ Wenger said.

‘He could’ve come to Arsenal for free! Every club is full of stories like this – you can go to AC Milan, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.’

Wenger was interested in Kylian Mbappe and was at his house in 2017 when at Monaco

Mbappe confirmed that he considered joining Wenger in north London but ultimately felt it was in his interests to move to PSG.

‘I met with Arsene Wenger, who is a great coach. He has a great reputation here in France, he’s well-respected and knows how to develop young players. This was a real option for me,’ he explained in 2018.

‘I dream of being managed by Arsène Wenger. He is French, he’s had a great career and now he is free because he has left Arsenal. We weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of all the clubs but my family told me it had to be my decision and one I needed to make.

‘It also had to be a long-term decision. So it was up to me and I decided to come here in order to develop.’

Jamie Vardy 

The Gunners’ pursuit of Jamie Vardy following Leicester’s title-winning season was well-documented by all.

The north London side would end up signing flop Lucas Perez that summer however after Vardy, having agreed a deal to join the Emirates Stadium outfit, made a dramatic U-turn to stay at the King Power Stadium.

‘I offered him a lot of money at the time,’ Wenger told beIN Sports.

Wenger said Jamie Vardy made a U-turn on a move after Leicester offered him more money

‘Leicester had just won the championship in 2016, and [Vichai] Srivaddhanaprabha at the time, who unfortunately after had the helicopter accident, did absolutely not want to lose him and they offered him a longer contract and approximately the same money, if not more.’

Vardy also had an incredible scoring record against Wenger’s Arsenal, scoring six goals in as many games.

In October last year, he took his record against the north London side to 11 goals in 12 games after netting the winner after coming off the bench in the most recent league meeting between the sides. 

Vardy has 11 goals in 12 games against Arsenal, most recently the winner in October last year

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