By Chris Harris
Arsène Wenger admits that the sale of Nicolas Anelka was probably his best piece of business as Arsenal manager - but he did not want to sell the French striker back in 1999.
Anelka was a virtual unknown when he arrived at Highbury in February 1997 for the reported princely sum of £500,000 but the callow 18-year-old became one of Europe's most feared strikers before leaving for Real Madrid for a reported £23 million a little over two years later.
The profit margin was high even by Wenger's standards and he spent it wisely - some of it went on Thierry Henry. But the Arsenal boss would love to have kept Anelka at the Club to form a mouth-watering partnership with the man who eventually became Arsenal's record goalscorer.
"Financially it was a good deal [to sell Anelka] but basically because we didn't want to sell him," said Wenger ahead of Sunday's reunion with the Chelsea striker.
"He was one of the first young French players to come here and he was very successful straight away. But he came just after Ian Wright who was a legend here. So straight away he came in and peolple thought: 'What a player'.
"You'd imagine that the guy who comes after Ian Wright would have a hard time. But he was so quick to convince everybody that he had the talent.
"I would say also that when he left, with less than half the money we bought Thierry Henry in the same year. You could imagine what would have happened had he stayed. I would have bought Thierry Henry anyway. So that shows it was the right decision because they play together in the national team."
Anelka was at Highbury for just 30 months and his final season was rife with speculation about a move to Madrid. However, Wenger is philosophical when he reflects on events a decade ago.
“Nicolas was 18 years old and it was the first time he moved out of France and he didn’t speak 100 per cent English," said the Arsenal manager.
“If you put that all that into context he was naturally advised by his brothers.
"If you are 18 years old and you have older brothers is is normal to be advised by them, Maybe a move to Real Madrid was something – you have to accept that.
“It was difficult to accept at the time but we moved on and so did he.”Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source