Arsene Wenger has had a long history with shit striker after shit striker corrupting his otherwise fantastic squad over the years – Francis Jeffers, Nicklas Bendtner, Gervinho et al – but there have been a few diamonds in the rough over the years.
It’s easy to go under the radar when you’re surrounded by the likes of Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, which was the case for another classy Frenchman; Sylvain Wiltord.
The now-42-year-old was at Highbury for four years and despite many downplaying his impact on the side, the guy actually had a pretty solid career. I mean shit, he was only responsible for one of the club’s most important goals in recent history.
The strike against Manchester United, in a victory that clinched the 2001/02 Premier League crown, aside from sending Gunners fans into a liver-failing alcohol frenzy, the triumph proved that Wiltord was exactly what nobody thought – world-class; a big game player.
Whatever the scenario, be it league, cup or European, the former France international always showed up in the big moments. Americans would call him clutch and the English would just call him consistent, but it never seemed to happen.
Not every club can utilise world-class talent week in and week out, but hey, Arsenal aren’t just any old team. The north London side gave Wiltord the stage he needed, and the man himself did the rest. If you give someone like that, with that level of talent, a chance to shine, magical things will happen and that’s a fact.
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It didn’t even matter that he wasn’t the first choice. The Frenchman was always the bridesmaid and never the bride, but considering the bride in question was Thierry Henry, that’s pretty understandable.
Then again, the guy wasn’t even necessarily a second choice either. With Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu also looming large at the time, it was a true battle for survival and no wonder he was cast aside in the eyes of the media.
The narrow sighted nature of some people when it comes to talking about footballing legacies can be a real problem. It’s a selective process and outsiders like Wiltord need to be praised for what they gave to the sport.
If you need the proof, just look at some of his goals. In the League Cup against United he lays the ball off, awaits the return whilst getting into the right position and calmly takes it down before slotting it into the back of the net. Or against Birmingham where he picks the ball up just inside the opposition’s half before racing towards goal and curling it into the bottom corner. There’s nothing Wiltord couldn’t do.
The guy could even do a job in today’s landscape. His style and technique represent exactly the kind of forward that Arsenal need right now, and in all honesty the Euro 2000 winner would make Olivier Giroud look like a run of the mill, overweight Sunday League player.