Arsene Wenger admits his decision to reject the opportunity to re-sign Nicolas Anelka potentially cost Arsenal a shot at winning more than the three Premier League title successes he masterminded during his time at the north London club.
The mercurial Frenchman was signed as a virtual unknown by Wenger from Paris Saint-Germain when he was a teenager and, after he ousted club legend Ian Wright from the team, played a pivotal role in the 1997/98 double winning campaign.
Anelka subsequently won the PFA Young Player of the Year award the following year as Arsenal narrowly missed out on back-to-back Premier League and FA Cup triumphs, but burned his bridges with Wenger by demanding a transfer to Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants paid £23million for Anelka’s services but he failed to settle at the Bernabeu, while Wenger invested money from his sale in the likes of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires as he went about assembling another title-winning team.
Anelka returned to the Premier League on loan with Liverpool and also enjoyed a productive spell at Manchester City, before he moved on to Fenerbahce. The nomadic striker returned to England with Bolton where, by his own admission, he enjoyed the happiest spell of his entire career under Sam Allardyce.
In January 2008, however, his goalscoring escapades meant he was in demand again with both Arsenal and Chelsea vying for his services. Wenger’s side were in desperate need of reinforcements given the injuries to Eduardo and Robin van Persie, while the Blues were keen to find the ideal partner for Didier Drogba with then record signing Andriy Shevchenko struggling to adapt.
Wenger claimed Anelka wanted to rejoin the Gunners but he eventually signed for Chelsea and went on to help them reach a Champions League final and finished as the Premier League’s top goalscorer in 2009, while Arsenal’s silverware drought spanned 10 years in total before an FA Cup win in 2014.
‘I felt that they would then have a hesitation to leave. I didn’t give them the feeling of ‘ok I go somewhere else, I try it and if it doesn’t work I come back’.
‘That’s why I didn’t do it and overall maybe I should have done it. Nicolas still scored in 125 games overall in the Premier League I think, something like that, so he could have helped us.’