While the arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996 transformed Arsenal into one of the most attractive and successful clubs in the game, the Gunners have since spent many a summer contending with interest in their key players. With Robin van Persie set to leave the Emirates for Manchester Utd, we pick out a selection of some of the other stars to have departed.
Paul Merson (Middlesbrough, 1997)
Having emerged through the youth ranks at Arsenal, Merson made his first-team debut in 1986 and became a key player under George Graham and, though his off-field activities suggested otherwise, he was one of the most cultured players in a team derided for its lack of flair.
He remained a first-team regular after Graham's departure and had appeared to be a natural fit for Wenger's new era, but after his first season under the Frenchman he was sold to newly relegated Middlesbrough. The manager said the board had not forced the sale, which netted the club £5 million, and fans were openly questioning his judgement.
Merson, though, had actively chosen to make the drop to Division One, as he later explained to FourFourTwo: "I was gambling a lot at the time and the move to Boro doubled my wages, but the grass isn't always greener. I regretted it within a month. Arsenal was a phenomenal club."
Nicolas Anelka (Real Madrid, 1999)
Having joined from Paris Saint-Germain as a 17-year-old in February 1997, Anelka helped Arsenal to the Double in his first full season at Highbury and was named PFA Young Player of the Year in his second.
However, his second campaign brought a show of such remarkable determination to secure a transfer that he was doomed to forever be known as "Le Sulk". While his salary with the Gunners was thought to be the root cause of his agitation, Anelka repeatedly insisted that the sole reason he was seeking a move was the English press.
The striker had repeatedly called Marseille in search of a move - "He doesn't stop phoning," sporting director Marcel Dib said - before threatening to go on strike for a year if he was denied a move to Lazio and then, when the Italians asked him to reduce his wage demands, he backed out and agreed a lucrative seven-year deal with Real Madrid. "I'm not concerned with the millions," he said upon completing the deal. "For a long time I have wanted to play in Spain. Being at Real is even better."
Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit (Barcelona, 2000)
Having been part of a joint presentation upon signing for Arsenal in the summer of 1997, Overmars and Petit departed together in the summer of 2000. They had helped Arsenal to the Double in 1998 but Wenger opted to sell when Barcelona, rich from the world-record sale of Luis Figo to Real Madrid, offered more than £30 million for the pair.
"In the end the decision to release them was down to Arsene," vice-chairman David Dein said. "We are sad to see them go, but I don't think that too many Arsenal supporters are surprised that they have. In an ideal world nobody wants to see players of this calibre leaving but it is not an ideal world and now we just wish them well."
Wenger had indicated before the completion of the deals that an increase in salary was the primary motivation for their desire to leave - "It is very difficult to stop players leaving if somebody offers them three times as much," he said - and Petit did little to discourage the suggestion. Having reportedly quadrupled his wages with the move, the France midfielder spent his first eight hours in Catalonia haggling over his internet and image rights with a Barcelona director.
Patrick Vieira (Juventus, 2005)
Wenger had recommended the signing of Vieira from AC Milan before his arrival at Arsenal in September 1996, and the midfielder went on to become one of the club's finest ever players. He won the league three times - including the unbeaten 2003-04 campaign - as well as four FA Cups, and was installed as captain in 2002.
However, his captaincy was marked by persistent speculation over his future. Even in 2003, when he agreed a new four-year contract, he suggested he could join Manchester United - "I may go to United or I may not" - and Real Madrid had made little secret of their interest back then. Indeed, the following summer, a move to Madrid was thought to have been agreed before the player backed out. In 2005, after scoring the winning penalty in the FA Cup final shootout victory over Manchester United, the 29-year-old finally left for Juventus in a £13.75 million deal because, he said, he felt it was time for "a new challenge".
"I share the sadness with our supporters that Patrick has left us, but on the other hand I would say to them 'trust us and support us'," Wenger said. "The sad thing is he leaves us, but the good thing is that he leaves us on a high."
Ashley Cole (Chelsea, 2006)
Having emerged through the youth ranks to become established as one of the finest defenders in the world, Cole soon became one of the most disliked players in the history of the club.
As Chelsea, powered by Roman Abramovich's petrodollars, began their ascent to the peak of English football, Cole had been courted by a Blues delegation. That meeting with Jose Mourinho, among others, in January 2005 was to become a cause célèbre.
The fallout from the tapping-up incident saw Cole, Mourinho and Chelsea fined and, while the defender signed a one-year contract extension in July, it was clear he was still unhappy. He had claimed before signing the deal that he was being forced out, and the following summer felt the club's message was loud and clear when agent Jonathan Barnett held talks over a new deal.
As the left-back recounted in his autobiography, Barnett had called him while he was driving to inform him that, rather than the £60,000 a week he had sought, the Gunners had insisted £55,000 a week would be their final offer. "When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55k, I nearly swerved off the road. 'He is taking the piss, Jonathan!' I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn't believe what I'd heard."
Cole, having stated in the publicity for his book that he had been "fed to the sharks" and "hung out to dry", signed for Chelsea soon afterwards, earning a reported £90,000 a week, after a part-exchange deal with William Gallas was agreed on deadline day.
Thierry Henry (Barcelona, 2007)
Ahead of the 2006 Champions League final, rumours that Thierry Henry would leave the club were growing ever stronger. There had been months of speculation over the 28-year-old's future, and Barcelona had made him an offer they thought he couldn't refuse.
However, over the course of Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to the Blaugranas in Paris, he decided the Catalan dream was looking more like a nightmare. Post-match, he had said: "They will leave with the cup, but we will leave with our dignity. I'm sorry but I didn't see the Barcelona magic tonight. Marquez and Puyol went right for me two times but I don't have the mentality to cheat. Maybe when we get a big name in Europe we will be able to get away with that." He also insulted two more of his potential new colleagues: "Everyone was talking about Ronaldinho before the game. I didn't see him today and I didn't see Eto'o."
He agreed a new contract in the days that followed the game and vowed to stay with the club for the rest of his career. "I've never played in Spain and I never will," he said. "England's the best country to play football."
The following summer, amid uncertainty over the futures of Arsene Wenger and David Dein, Henry joined Barcelona in a £16.1 million deal.
Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan, 2008)
Flamini had been described as a "traitor" by then Marseille coach Jose Anigo when turning down a contract with the French club to sign for Arsenal in 2004. Four years later, he would also depart North London on a free transfer.
He had made a breakthrough in the 2007-08 campaign, making 39 starts as a defensive midfielder after three years as a utility player, and becoming a key component in the team. However, his performances had attracted the interest of some of Italy's biggest clubs and, while Arsenal were prepared to pay him £50,000 a week to sign an extension, reports suggested AC Milan were offering double that amount.
"We are not naive enough to think it is not linked to money," Wenger said in the days before the deal was completed. "He says he wants to stay, and if he goes somewhere else that means it is linked to what?"
Alexander Hleb (Barcelona, 2008)
Having signed from Stuttgart in 2005, Hleb took time to adapt to English football but eventually found some form in the 2007-08 campaign. With the upturn in performances came interest from several top European clubs, and Hleb was quick to respond to their advances.
He had met with Italian agent Claudio Vigorelli over a potential move to Inter Milan in March - although it was claimed, rather dubiously, that the pair had merely "gone for an ice cream" - and his camp began making noises about his difficulty in adapting to London life. "I can't get used to the chaotic way of life in London, where everyone is racing around 24 hours a day," Hleb himself said in July. "It is uncomfortable and I'm mentally tired."
He completed an £11.9 million switch to Camp Nou but his career quickly went downhill as he struggled to adjust to Pep Guardiola's expectations. "After Arsenal, my ambitions were sky-high," he later told RIA Novosti, explaining his inability to accept his failure to play every game for his new club. "I was offended like a little kid, and I showed it. Sometimes I would run less in training; sometimes I would pose. The coach would tell me to do one thing and I'd do something else in defiance. It was like kindergarten. I find it ridiculous now."
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona, 2011)
Fabregas had controversially left his hometown club for Arsenal in 2003 because, he believed, his opportunities at Barcelona would be limited. He was perhaps hasty: he quickly became established as a midfielder of genuine class at Arsenal, and was soon in demand.
Ramon Calderon had spoken bullishly of his intent to sign Fabregas in his campaign to become Real Madrid president in 2006, but over time it became increasingly clear that the player was destined for a return to his roots. In 2010, although Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood told ESPN that "assurances have been made at the highest possible level" that Barcelona would not bid that summer, the wheels for his return were put in motion.
Having been dressed in a Barca shirt by his Spain colleagues after the 2010 World Cup victory, Fabregas told Wenger he wished to leave. No deal was agreed, but the clamour for his return grew ever stronger, with a host of players talking of the player's desire to return over the coming season, anchoring their pleas with liberal use of the phrase "Barcelona DNA".
The move was finally completed in August 2011, with Arsenal having accepted what Arsene Wenger described as a "reduced fee" as the midfielder had refused to countenance other offers.
Samir Nasri (Manchester City, 2011)
When news began to filter through towards the end of the 2010-11 season that Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy were approaching the final year of their deals, Wenger had described himself as "very optimistic" that the pair would sign extensions.
Clichy was sold to Manchester City at the start of July, but Wenger showed greater determination to hold onto his midfielder, saying he would "do everything to keep Nasri at the club". Manchester City made a determined pursuit to sign the player, but Arsenal's reluctance to sell saw negotiations drag on beyond the start of the season, with Wenger remaining adamant that Nasri was "happy" at Emirates Stadium.
For his part, Nasri described himself as "really happy" three days later when he completed the move, but Wenger was convinced that money had bought that happiness.
"If you compare what Manchester City have won in the past and what Arsenal have won then you don't go to Manchester City to win titles," he said. "Players go to Manchester City because they pay much better than Arsenal."