Arsenal have had numerous star defenders during the past few decades and had many that stood out during Arsene Wenger’s long reign in charge of the Gunners, which began by inheriting a defence full of England internationals.
For the first few years of Wenger’s spell at Arsenal, it was the England defenders that shone as the likes of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Sol Campbell played a key part in an extended period of dominance for the club.
Things started to change in 2002 when an unknown Kolo Toure arrived at Highbury after a short trial with the club, where he caught the eye in training by taking out Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and even Wenger himself.
The first few seasons saw Toure play as a utility player, waiting a year for his debut before playing in defensive midfield and at right back. Then, at the start of the 2003-04 season, Toure got his chance in the middle alongside Campbell.
That led to a spectacular partnership with the former Tottenham Hotspur man, providing the platform for Arsenal’s remarkable Premier League triumph and 49-match unbeaten run in the league, which included avoiding defeat in that entire season.
A battle with the likes of Phillipe Senderos and Pascal Cygan then emerged for first-team football but Toure made 50 appearances across all competitions the following year, before being a key part of an Arsenal defence that reached the Champions League final in 2006.
That run to Paris, where Arsenal eventually lost to Barcelona, saw the Gunners achieve a European record of ten consecutive clean sheets before the 2-1 loss to Ronaldinho and company in the French capital.
The move to the Emirates Stadium saw further changes, which eventually led to Toure’s departure to join Manchester City in 2009, but he was the junior vice-captain in Arsenal’s first campaign at their new home, wearing the armband on a number of occasions.
Like many other legends, Arsenal have found it difficult to find a long-term replacement for Toure in the years since his exit and have not had that defensive leader for a while, with both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny falling short in comparison.
He finished his spell in north London with 225 Premier League appearances, one Premier League title and two FA Cup’s, with the Gunners suffering a transition from regular winners to nearly-men following their move away from Highbury.
Throughout his spell at Arsenal, Toure is remembered for being a strong defender who is also deadly at the other end attacking set-pieces after scoring a number of memorable goals for the Gunners.
He also proved to be at the forefront of a new African revolution in the Premier League, where clubs in England started to tap into the quality on offer in the continent – with the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Michael Essien following suit.
While he was not the first African to represent Arsenal or play in the Premier League, he does stand out as one of the very best and will be remembered for a long time at the club.
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