How AFCON crushed my chances with Arsenal’s Invincibles — Nwankwo Kanu reveals

Super Eagles legend Nwankwo Kanu | Imago

How AFCON crushed my chances with Arsenal’s Invincibles — Nwankwo Kanu reveals

Ayoola Kelechi 17:11 - 22.12.2023

Former captain of the Super Eagles, Nwankwo Kanu has spoken about the sacrifices he made to be with Nigeria during his stint in the Premier League with Arsenal

Super Eagles legend Nwankwo Kanu has opened up about the risks he took to represent Nigeria at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations and how the decision affected his Arsenal career. 

Kanu is remembered as a gifted Nigerian forward, and remains an Arsenal legend, etching his name in the club's history during a period of unprecedented success, notably the iconic Invincibles season.

However, in a recent conversation with the Arsenal media team, Kanu opened up about a pivotal moment that he believes hampered his chances at the club – his participation in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) during the 2003/04 season.

Kanu’s Arsenal career

Arriving at Arsenal midway through the 1998/99 season, Kanu swiftly became a key figure, contributing significantly to the club's triumphs. As the Invincibles season approached, he boasted an impressive record, having secured three major honours for the Gunners and accumulating more than 150 first-team appearances. 

With experience from successful stints at Ajax and Inter Milan, as well as achievements with the Nigeria national team, Kanu was a seasoned campaigner in the Arsenal dressing room.

The 2003/04 season marked a memorable yet challenging period for Kanu. He kicked off the campaign with considerable success but found himself facing stiff competition within a squad of exceptional talent.

Kanu sacrifices Arsenal stay for AFCON

In January and February of 2004, Kanu represented Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament that would significantly impact the remainder of his Arsenal season.

The former Super Eagles captain had played in nine league matches before representing Nigeria at AFCON, but only played one more match in the Premier League for the rest of the season upon his return.

When questioned about the tournament's influence on his 2003/04 season, Kanu candidly shared, “It was difficult because in a squad of so many good players, when you lose your place, it’s hard to get it back. Obviously Arsenal did very well while I was away, so it was hard for me to get into the team again after going away."

Despite his undeniable talent and contributions, the competitive nature of Arsenal's squad made reclaiming a spot in the team a formidable challenge for Kanu, and the team's success in his absence further compounded the difficulty of securing regular playing time upon his return.

Kanu concluded his illustrious Gunners career with 44 goals from 198 appearances in all competitions.

Beyond the football pitch, he remains a cherished figure at the Emirates Stadium and continues his impactful work through the Kanu Heart Foundation. Reflecting on an incredible season, Kanu's journey with Arsenal reflects the highs and lows of a career marked by resilience and unwavering commitment to the beautiful game.