The Best Premier League Transfers Ever: Robert Pires to Arsenal (2000/01)

Paul Macdonald
Paul Macdonald Updated: 20 May 2021 11:26 BST 5 min read
The Best Premier League Transfers Ever: Robert Pires to Arsenal (2000/01)

Arsenal made so many impressive signings in the decade leading to their Invincibles season, and the great Robert Pires was no exception. As well as manager Arsene Wenger, the club brought in the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Freddie Ljungberg and, of course, Thierry Henry, in the space of five seasons.

France international Pires was next, signing from Marseille for £6 million in 2000. He was to serve as a replacement for Marc Overmars, another impressive Gunners addition who had since moved to Barcelona for around £25m. Those two related pieces of business will go down among Wenger’s finest.

This article is part of FootballTransfers’ greatest-ever Premier League deals. We have selected just one standout transfer from every season of the Premier League, including two honourable mentions. This list will then be gathered to provide a definitive list of the best pieces of business in the Premier League era.

Robert Pires to Arsenal: £6m

Like many new Premier League recruits, it took Pires – a skilful and creative player who was comfortable playing as an attacking midfielder or winger – time to settle in England. The physicality of the game initially proved an issue. In his debut campaign there were flashes of brilliance but not the ruthless productivity that soon became regular. The Gunners finished second for the third straight season and were runners-up in the FA Cup.

Pires, his popularity with supporters boosted by his uncanny knack to reserve his best performances for North London derbies against Tottenham, really began to find his footing the following year. He scored nine top-flight goals and added a league-high 15 assists. That helped Arsenal to overhaul Manchester United and win the Double. It was the first of three consecutive peak years where he would make the PFA Team of the Year.

The Best Premier League Transfers Ever: Robert Pires to Arsenal (2000/01)

The Best Premier League Transfers Ever: Robert Pires to Arsenal (2000/01)

A cruciate ligament injury ended that sublime campaign on a negative individual note. But after missing the 2002 World Cup with France he was back with a bang the following year. Arsenal missed out on league glory, but Pires – who scored 14 times in just 26 games – was truly established as a star. He ensured this campaign ended on a better note with the only goal in the FA Cup final win over Southampton.

A key part of the Invincibles team

That Pires was available to play 36 Premier League games – the most of his six seasons – in 2003-04, should not be overlooked when reviewing the Invincibles campaign. Headline statistics do not always tell the full story, but 14 goals and 11 assists are numbers that do well to showcase his pivotal role. The legendary Henry was the only player to score more. And many of those strikes were laid on by Pires, whose combination play with Henry and Ashley Cole down the left flank was often unstoppable.

The Gunners won 26 games, drew 12 and lost zero as they stormed to the title. The undefeated season remains unmatched.

Pires stayed with the club for two more seasons. He helped Vieira have a glorious send-off, winning the FA Cup in 2005. But he suffered heartbreak in what turned out to be his last game the following year. Barcelona won the Champions League final in Paris, just as his influence was starting to wane. Controversially, it was Pires who Wenger sacrificed early on after goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off.

As he left for Villarreal in 2006, Pires had 284 appearances and 84 goals to his name in all competitions. Pires’ place in Arsenal history was secure. Despite a shorter stay than many club legends, he was voted the club’s sixth best player ever in 2008, underlining his impact.

Only Henry, Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Ian Wright and Vieira sat ahead of him.

Robert Pires Premier League statistics

Contribution Per Game0.52
Premier League statistics

Runner-Up: Rio Ferdinand (West Ham to Leeds, £18m)

Leeds United splashed out a British transfer record fee to sign Ferdinand from West Ham in November 2000, a move that was questioned at the time. After a few initial poor displays, the centre-back promptly became crucial to his new side under David O’Leary.

He was part of the Leeds team that famously made it to the Champions League semi-finals and became club captain, replacing Lucas Radebe, the following year. With Leeds in financial turmoil at the end of that campaign, they allowed Ferdinand to join rivals Manchester United in 2002. They turned a big profit to recoup just under £30m. That signing proved to be one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s best.

Runner-Up: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Atletico Madrid to Chelsea, £15m)

Chelsea spent a club-record fee to bring Hasselbaink back to the Premier League, where he had previously appeared for Leeds. The Blues got four impressive seasons out of the Netherlands international, with his first two being particularly fantastic.

Hasselbaink won the Premier League’s golden boot in his first season with Chelsea, scoring 23 in the top flight. He hit 23 in the league again the following year (29 in all competitions), just missing out on another golden boot to Henry. Chelsea finished sixth in both of those prolific campaigns, reaching the FA Cup final in 2002.

They improved to fourth and second place in the following campaigns, with their runner-up finish – behind only Henry, Pires and the Invincibles – representing their best in the Premier League era. An aging Hasselbaink was still their most-used striker and top scorer. He then joined Middlesbrough as Chelsea went on to win the title the following year and begin a period of success under Jose Mourinho.

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