Arsene Wenger is a Premier League great; he helped revolutionise the English game, but he doesn't half love to go on about players he could have signed.

The Frenchman has helped mould some of the greatest players we've ever seen, Thierry Henry to name just one. His trophy-laden career is nothing to be baulked at, but what if he had signed Lionel Messi?

Football FanCast takes a look at the players Wenger almost signed for Arsenal.

Gianluigi Buffon (2001)

Joined Juventus


As David Seaman reached the climax of his career, Wenger had his heart set on a move for then-Parma goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. It's reported that they even shared a meal together, where Wenger tried to persuade him to make the move to Highbury.

Unfortunately, Juventus were also interested, and at the time, Arsenal just couldn't compete with the allure of the Old Lady. Buffon would go on to become one of the best goalkeepers ever.

The Gunners eventually moved for Jens Lehmann in 2003, who went on to become an Invincible.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2001)

Joined Ajax


Arsène Wenger almost signed the enigmatic Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimović during his early days at Arsenal. In 2000, Wenger invited Ibrahimović to Arsenal's training ground for a trial, but the Swede declined, allegedly saying the famous line: "Zlatan doesn't do trials." He opted for a move to Ajax instead.

It was a near-miss for Wenger, as Ibrahimović went on to have a stellar career at numerous top clubs, including Barcelona, Inter, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, winning plenty of trophies along the way.

Didier Drogba (2002)

Joined Guingamp


Didier Drogba was Arsenal's bane - he was the man who scored 13 goals in 15 games against them - yet he could have been playing for them instead. Before he joined Chelsea, before he joined Marseille, Wenger had his eyes on the Ivorian when he was still playing in Ligue 2 for Le Mans.

Amid his impressive record, Wenger laments missing out on Drogba to this day. He would later move to Guingamp and Marseille before heading to Chelsea in 2004. He became a legend in west London, leading them to their first-ever Champions League triumph in 2012.

Cristiano Ronaldo (2003)

Joined Manchester United


Perhaps the most famous near-miss in Arsenal's history, Wenger had the opportunity to sign Cristiano Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.

In 2003, the transfer merry-go-round was spinning out of control. David Beckham went to Real Madrid, while Manchester United's main target, Ronaldinho, joined Barcelona.

Wenger had his eyes on a Portuguese youngster named Cristiano Ronaldo, but Manchester United secured his signature from under his nose, and Ronaldo became a global superstar. It's a failure that Wenger and Arsenal fans may forever regret.

Lionel Messi (2003)

Stayed at Barcelona


Believe it or not, Wenger nearly signed a young Lionel Messi in 2003. Messi was just 16 years old at the time, and Arsenal had him, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Piqué in their sights.

Wenger reportedly offered Messi a contract and even showed him around the club's facilities. Unfortunately, work permit issues prevented Messi from joining Arsenal, and he stayed at Barcelona, where it's fair to say he did OK. Messi just won his 8th Ballon d'Or after finally getting his hands on the World Cup. Safe to say, this one probably still hurts.

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Yaya Toure (2003)

Joined Metalurh Donetsk


Wenger himself admitted that missing out on Yaya Toure was particularly hard to take. "It would be up at the top [of my list of regrets]," he said.

Toure would have been exactly what Arsenal needed, and even played for them in a pre-season game against Barnet. Unfortunately, passport troubles made it impossible for him to make the move, and he moved from Belgian outfit Beveren to Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk instead.

Vincent Kompany (2006)

Joined Hamburg


In 2006, Vincent Kompany was making a real name for himself back in his native Belgium, and a number of top European clubs were circling for his signature, including Arsenal. Annoyingly for Wenger, Kompany's own agent didn't believe he was ready to make the step up to the Premier League.

Kompany made the move to German giants Hamburg before heading to Manchester City. He now has a statue dedicated to him outside Manchester City's Etihad Stadium. He is their most successful captain.

Gareth Bale (2007)

Joined Tottenham Hotspur


Gareth Bale was heavily linked with a £5m move to Arsenal while he was still at Southampton in 2007. He was a left-back at the time, and was seen by many at the club as a long-term heir to Ashley Cole, who had left the previous summer.

In the end, Wenger just didn't really fancy him. Bale would move to their north London rivals, Spurs, and after a slow start, became one of their greatest-ever players before moving to Real Madrid, winning five Champions Leagues in the process (all at Madrid, of course).

Xabi Alonso (2009)

Joined Real Madrid


In 2020, ex-Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas admitted that Xabi Alonso was "desperate" to join Arsenal in 2009. Liverpool had stepped up their pursuit of Gareth Barry, and then-manager Rafael Benitez was willing to let him join their Premier League rivals.

Arsenal delayed, however, and Real Madrid came calling. He joined Los Blancos along with Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Karim Benzema.

The Gunners, meanwhile, came up short in the title race once again the following year, as Alonso won it all over in Spain.

Raphael Varane (2011)

Joined Real Madrid


In 2011, Raphael Varane was considered the best young centre-back in the world; his ability was undeniable, even though he was a bit of a rough diamond. Arsenal were interested, but he was a little too rough for Wenger.

Real Madrid didn't have the same doubts, and they snapped him up sharpish. He's now at Manchester United where injuries have limited his game time, but he's another player who could have spent his best years in north London.

Arsenal would go on to sign Per Mertesacker that same summer.

Eden Hazard (2012)

Joined Chelsea


Like every club in the summer of 2012, Arsenal and Wenger were desperate to sign Eden Hazard. He had just had an incredible season at Lille as they won the Ligue 1 title, making him by far the hottest property in European football.

Arsenal just couldn't justify the fee, with the Gunners under self-imposed financial restraints at the time. Hazard joined Chelsea and the rest is history. He has since retired following a deeply disappointing time at Real Madrid.

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Paul Pogba (2012)

Joined Juventus


Before Paul Pogba became a world-record signing, he left Manchester United on a free, some seven years since Patrick Vieira had left Arsenal, and they still hadn't properly replaced him.

Wenger was in for Pogba, but he wasn't quick enough. Pogba rapidly signed for Juventus and became one of the best midfielders in the world. He then re-signed for Manchester United for a whopping £89m in 2016.

Luis Suárez (2013)

Stayed at Liverpool


This was Wenger at his cheekiest. While at Liverpool, Luis Suarez had a reported £40m release clause in his contract, and that was something that Wenger wanted to take advantage of. Under the impression that a bid of over this amount was required to activate the clause, Arsenal then bid £40,000,001, giving Liverpool an extra quid for their troubles.

Liverpool were rightfully annoyed, and insisted that the £40m clause was not in effect. They convinced Suarez to stay one more season before eventually selling him to Barcelona.

Antoine Griezmann (2013)

Stayed at Real Sociedad


After missing out on Luis Suarez, Wenger set his sights on Antoine Griezmann, who was at Real Sociedad at the time. The French forward was apparently keen on the move following his 10-goal season in La Liga.

In the end, Wenger decided against making the move, and signed Mesut Ozil on deadline day instead. Griezmann joined Atletico Madrid for £24m a year later and established himself as one of the best forwards in Europe.

Virgil van Dijk (2014)

Joined Southampton


In 2014, Virgil van Dijk was making a name for himself at Celtic. He was linked with a move away, and Arsenal were one of a few Premier League clubs interested. Their scouts weren't so impressed with his attitude, citing that he was "too laid back" in one of their reports.

Wenger took the advice of his scouts and Van Dijk joined Southampton instead. His time on the south coast impressed Liverpool so much, they spent £75m on him in January 2018, before proceeding to win the lot at Anfield.

N'Golo Kante (2016)

Joined Chelsea


After Leicester City's miraculous Premier League win, the vultures circled and their team was quickly picked apart. N'Golo Kante was one of those players to leave, and he looked set to join Arsenal before Chelsea swooped in and secured his signature.

Wenger opted to sign Granit Xhaka instead as Kante went on to win his second Premier League trophy in as many seasons. The Gunners did get their revenge somewhat by denying the Blues a league and cup double by defeating them at Wembley, but it's anyone's guess how signing Kante could have swung things the following year.

Kylian Mbappe (2017)

Stayed at Monaco & joined PSG


Wenger actually had the opportunity to bring Kylian Mbappe to north London twice. The first time around, he decided to continue his development with Monaco. The second time, they simply couldn't afford him as Paris Saint-Germain secured a loan with a mammoth future fee of £165m.

If you're a French forward, chances are you're going to be linked with Arsenal at one point in your career. Mbappe even admits to meeting with Wenger.

"I met with Arsene Wenger, who is a great coach. He has a great reputation here in France, he's well-respected and knows how to develop young players. This was a real option for me," he said.

Arsenal fans will look at this list and won't be able to help themselves from thinking 'what if?'. If Wenger had managed to sign any of these players, would they have won more trophies? Would the players have had the success they've had at other clubs?

It's football's butterfly effect, and we'll never know, but the path of the club could have been wildly different to the one it eventually took.