I played against Neymar and Kylian Mbappe but Robert Lewandowski was the best I ever faced
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I played against Neymar and Kylian Mbappe but Robert Lewandowski was the best I ever faced

Nov 15, 2023

Standing toe-to-toe with some of world football’s greatest players was a dream come true for one former Premier League striker.

Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Luis Suarez are some of the names former Arsenal striker Yaya Sanogo has faced during his career but one player reigns supreme.

Yaya Sanogo spent four years at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger

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Yaya Sanogo spent four years at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger

“I’ve played against a lot of great players,” Sanogo told talkSPORT. “If I can choose one player, for me it was Robert Lewandowski when I played against Dortmund.

“How he runs, how he protects the ball, at that time I think he was 24 or 25 and he was unbelievable.

“Luis Suarez is a close second. When we played against Liverpool in the FA Cup, they had the attack of Suarez, [Daniel] Sturridge and [Raheem] Sterling. Suarez was a great player.”

Sanogo was handed his chance to play against these superstars at Arsenal by legendary boss Arsene Wenger after impressing for French side Auxerre.

The opportunity came out of nowhere for the Frenchman and one that he still feels indebted to Wenger for.

“For me, Arsene Wenger is everything,” Sanogo explained. “He’s the best manager I ever had. When he called me to come to Arsenal, it was like a dream.

“At the time I was at Auxerre and I remember I scored seven goals in two games and he called me after that. He told me he wanted to meet me in Paris to discuss the project and I immediately said ‘yes I will come.’

“I don’t have enough words to say thank you to Wenger for giving me the opportunity to join Arsenal.”

Sanogo quickly found himself surrounded by an array of world-class talent and despite his tender age and a change of environment, the striker embraced his new surroundings whilst keeping a watchful eye on the club’s senior stars.

Wenger signed Sanogo after the striker impressed with French side Auxerre

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Wenger signed Sanogo after the striker impressed with French side AuxerreCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Sanogo says Robert Lewandowski was the best player he ever faced

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Sanogo says Robert Lewandowski was the best player he ever facedCredit: Getty

“When I arrived, I learned many things from my teammates. I was just 19, I was the youngest player in the squad. I watched how they prepared for games, what they did in the gym.

“Santi Cazorla was an unbelievable player. Technically he was fantastic, he could use his right foot, left foot he could score penalties with both feet, corners the same. He never lost the ball.

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“I used to watch him and say, how is this possible? He thinks before every player he’s like a computer! He was the best I played with at Arsenal.

“Also, [Mesut] Ozil, He was a talent as was [Alexis] Sanchez. When Sanchez played for us he was on fire.

Sanogo says former Gunner Santi Cazorla was the best player he played with

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Sanogo says former Gunner Santi Cazorla was the best player he played with

The start of the 2014/15 season saw Sanogo’s raw talent begin to shine. After helping his side win the FA Cup a few months earlier, the Frenchman produced an unforgettable performance in a pre-season Emirates Cup clash with Benfica that made fans and teammates sit up and take notice.

A four-goal haul against the Portuguese giants had many believing the club had found the man to lead the line for the next ten years.

“As a striker you want to score one goal but when you score four in front of your fans and play well, the confidence is very high,” he said.

“Everything I did came off for me that game, It was an amazing feeling,” he said. “It was a friendly but I’ve never forgotten this moment. Almost ten years later, people say to me, ‘Sanogo, I remember when you scored four goals.’

“Wow, that’s impact! Almost ten years later! It makes me proud because it was a great moment and I will never forget it.”

“Last year, I went to the Emirates to watch a game against Crystal Palace and when I came to the stadium for the first time in seven years, the fans were very kind,” he added.

“I didn’t know what welcome to expect after so long away and for the fans to give me that support and love, I was very happy because they didn’t forget me.

“They thanked me for the FA Cup win and said when you came on the pitch you changed the game.

Sanago had a day to remember during an Emirates Cup clash with Benfica

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Sanago had a day to remember during an Emirates Cup clash with Benfica
Arsenal welcomed Sanogo back to the Emirates during last season's clash with Crystal Palace

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Arsenal welcomed Sanogo back to the Emirates during last season’s clash with Crystal PalaceCredit: @arsenal

“I was shocked, I didn’t know I made this level of impact but after the final all the big players like Cazorla and Sanchez and Ozil said to me ‘when you came on the pitch you changed the game’.

“It made me happy because I’m from a city called Les Ulis, the same place as Thierry Henry, Anthony Martial, Patrice Evra.

“To come from this city and win the FA Cup with Arsenal was unbelievable.”

Sanogo went on to make his Champions League bow later that season and netted his first goal in the competition in a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund, sending the Gunners into the last-16 with a game to spare.

However, Sanogo grew frustrated over a lack of game time leading to six-month loan to Crystal Palace in 2015. Despite reaping the benefits of his spell in South London, the French striker wishes he had shown more patience at Arsenal.

“When I went back to Arsenal [at the end of the loan] I was back in the same position. If I have advice for young players it’s that they need to have patience. When you go on loan it’s good because you play more, but a big club is a big club with big players. You have to do more work and wait for your chance.

“At Arsenal I should have waited before going on loan. I don’t have regrets but I should have waited and done things differently.”

Sanogo now plays for Armenian side FC Urartu whom he joined in January after and 18-month spell without a club.

Yaya Sanogo flourished during a six-month loan at Crystal Palace

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Yaya Sanogo flourished during a six-month loan at Crystal Palace

The striker has netted three times in nine appearances so far this season and scooped the recent Goal of the Month award.

The 30-year-old has found his happiness again after a career blighted by injury and uncertainty but concedes a move back to England is still high on his priorities.

“I’m enjoying my football. I didn’t play for 18 months before joining Urartu.

“I’m playing, scoring goals. I enjoy training with my teammates. I will stay focused until the transfer window. I spent the majority of my career in England so If I get the opportunity to go back there, I will.

“I have a few people calling me about that, I just need to stay focused and we will see.”

The Frenchman is now plying his trade at Armenian side FC Urartu

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The Frenchman is now plying his trade at Armenian side FC UrartuCredit: yayA SAnogo


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