The best strikers of the 00s

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM: Arsenal's Thierry Henry celebrates after his team beat Middlesborough 1-0 in their FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford in Manchester 14 April 2002. AFP PHOTO BY PAUL BARKER (Photo credit should read PAUL BARKER/AFP via Getty Images)
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The 00s were yet another decade of excitement and drama throughout football; it was also a decade for superb strikers.

From unselfish support players to clinical finishers who racked up the goals, FourFourTwo has turned the clock back to pick out the finest centre-forwards from the 21st century's first decade.

Here are the best 32...

32. Emile Heskey

16 Apr 2001: Emile Heskey of Liverpool celebrates after scoring the first goal during the Everton v Liverpool FA Carling Premiership match at Goodison Park, Everton. Mandatory Credit: Gary M. Prior/ALLSPORT

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Remarkably selfless, the reliably robust Emile Heskey put in the hard yards and did the dirty work to enable Michael Owen to thrive alongside him in a successful Liverpool front two under Gerard Houllier.

Not that the England international – who scored the fifth goal in the Three Lions' historic 5-1 win over Germany in 2001 – didn't chip in with a fair few goals of his own, though: he found the net 22 times in all competitions as the Reds completed a 2000/01 treble of FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup.

31. Lionel Messi

ROME, ITALY - MAY 27: Lionel Messi and Barcelona players celebrate after the UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United at the Stadio Olympico on May 27, 2009 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

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Yes, ok: Lionel Messi wasn't a striker for most of the 00s – but Pep Guardiola's decision to deploy him as a false nine from 2009 represented such a seismic shift for football as a whole that we have to include him.

In any case, it truly unlocked the prolific side for which we've all come to know the Argentine icon: beginning with a brace in his first outing in the false nine role – in a 6-2 thrashing of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu no less – he had scored 18 goals by the end of 2009, including his famous header (really) as Barca beat Manchester United in the Champions League final.

30. Mario Gomez

Mario Gomez, 2009

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Mario Gomez become progressively more prolific with Stuttgart at the end of the 00s: the German international bagged 16 goals in 2006/07 – helping his side to the Bundesliga title – 28 in 2007/08, then banged in 35 in 2008/09.

That form earned Gomez – who earned the first of his 71 caps, and notched the first of his 31 goals, for Germany in 2007 – a summer 2009 move to Bayern Munich, where he carried on scoring for fun.

29. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

21 Oct 2000: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink of Chelsea scores his first goal during the FA Carling Premiership match against Coventry City played at Stamford Bridge, in London. Chelsea won the match 6-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill /Allsport

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A joint Premier League Golden Boot winner for the 1998/99 season, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink won the award outright in 2000/01 – scoring 23 goals for Chelsea, having returned to England after a one-season stint with Atletico Madrid.

Blessed with a seriously powerful shot and excellent free-kick ability, the Dutchman matched his 2000/01 tally the following campaign – when he came within one goal of 30 in all competitions.

28. Ali Daei

Ali Daei, 2006

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One of the greatest Asian footballers of all time, Iranian icon Ali Daei held the record for the most goals in men's internationals for almost 20 years – until Cristiano Ronaldo broke it in 2021.

The former Bayern Munich man found the net 108 times in 148 appearances for his country, featuring at the 2006 World Cup before retiring from international duty.

27. Robbie Keane

KASHIMA, JAPAN: Irish forward Robbie Keane reacts after he scored a goal during the Group E first round match Germany/Ireland of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan, 05 June 2001 at Kashima Ibaraki Stadium. The game ended in a draw 1-1. AFP PHOTO ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

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Robbie Keane's cartwheel-cum-forward roll is among the most recognisable goal celebrations of the Premier League era – and the Republic of Ireland great had plenty of opportunity to perform it.

Having underwhelmed at Leeds, Keane enjoyed a thoroughly consistent six-season spell with Tottenham – scoring 107 goals for the North London club – before leaving for Liverpool in July 2008 (only to return to Spurs six months later!).

26. Adriano

BERGAMO, ITALY: Inter Milan's forward Adriano of Brazil celebrates after scoring against Atalanta during their Serie A football match in Bergamo 22 September 2004. Inter Milan won the match 3-2. AFP PHOTO PAOLOO PAOLO COCCO (Photo credit should read PAOLO COCCO/AFP via Getty Images)

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Profoundly affected by the loss of his father, Adriano's prime was all too short – but the brilliant Brazilian did more than enough in that period between 2003 and 2006 to earn himself a spot on this list.

Having made a name for himself at Parma, the six-foot-two frontman joined Inter Milan midway through the 2003/04 season – and his near-unstoppable combination of strength, pace and explosive left-footed finishing made him one of the best strikers to watch on the planet at the time.

25. Jan Koller

DORTMUND, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 22: Fussball: 1. Bundesliga 03/04, Dortmund; Borussia Dortmund - 1. FC Koeln; Thomas CICHON / Koeln, Jan KOLLER / Dortmund 22.02.04. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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Towering over the rest of the players on the pitch at a veritably gigantic six-foot-eight tall, Czech Republic legend Jan Koller was the definition of a defender's nightmare.

In 91 caps for his country between 1999 and 2009, Koller scored 55 goals – while also striking 79 times in five seasons at Borussia Dortmund, who he joined in 2001 off the back of two 30-plus goal campaigns for Anderlecht.

24. Dimitar Berbatov

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United celebrates scoring their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on January 11 2009, in Manchester, England. (Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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A natural goalscorer in Germany and England throughout the 00s, Dimitar Berbatov hit the 20-goal mark in consecutive Bundesliga campaigns for Bayer Leverkusen before joining Tottenham in 2006.

And two seasons of 23 goals in all competitions prompted Manchester United to pay more than £30m for the Bulgaria legend on deadline day of the 2008 summer transfer window – signing him from under the noses of bitter rivals Manchester City.

23. Nicolas Anelka

LONDON - DECEMBER 09: Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League match between Chelsea and CFR 1907 Cluj-Napoca at Stamford Bridge on December 9, 2008 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

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A versatile striker with a knack for scoring crucial goals at crucial times, Nicolas Anelka represented four Premier League clubs during the 00s – and he enjoyed his best form with Manchester City and Chelsea (the others were Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers).

As a Blues player, the French international won the 2008/09 Golden Boot – and earned himself inclusion in that season's PFA Team of the Year.

22. Hernan Crespo

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 6: Hernan Crespo of AC Milan celebrates during the Italian Serie A football match against Lazio February 6, 2005 at San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. (Photo by New Press/Getty Images)

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Argentina's premier number nine of the 00s, following Gabriel Batistuta's international retirement after the 2002 World Cup, Hernan Crespo averaged better than a goal a game for his country.

All but seven of his 35 Argentina goals came between 2000 and his own international retirement in 2007 – while he enjoyed strong club campaigns with Parma, Lazio and both Milan clubs (as well as picking up a 2005/06 Premier League winners medal at Chelsea).

21. Jermain Defoe

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14: Jermaine Defoe of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring a goal during the game between Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur on October 14, 2006 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

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Jermain Defoe never scored more than 18 goals in a league campaign – but his consistency was such that he is one of the highest scorers in Premier League history.

Spending most of his career with Tottenham – who he first joined from West Ham in 2004 – Defoe found the net 93 times in the English top flight during the 00s – including an incredible five-goal haul in Spurs' 9-1 demolition of Wigan Athletic in 2009.

20. Henrik Larsson

SEVILLE, SPAIN: (FILES) Photo taken 21 May 2004 shows Celtic FC Swedish forward Henrik Larsson after scoring for his team during the soccer UEFA Final Cup agaisnt FC Porto Seville. Larsson insists 30 April 2004 that he will still be leaving Scottish champions Celtic despite coming out of international reitrement to play for Sweden in the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal. AFP PHOTO CHRISTOPHE SIMON (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

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Perhaps the best striker ever to play in the Scottish top flight, Henrik Larsson had already amassed 69 goals in his first three seasons after joining Celtic from Feyenoord in 1997.

But the Swedish great was to scale considerably more prolific heights after the turn of the century: in 2000/01, he netted a sensational 53 times in 50 appearances in all competitions, following that up with 35-, 44- and 41-goal campaigns before leaving for Barcelona.

19. Fernando Torres

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 4: Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez unveils new signing Fernando Torres at a press conference held at Anfield on July 4, 2007 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Gary M. Prior/Getty Images)

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When Rafael Benitez's Liverpool won the race to sign Fernando Torres from Atletico Madrid in 2007, El Nino arrived as one of the most prodigious attacking talents in Europe.

Having averaged 15 goals a season during his last five years in La Liga, Torres took to the Premier League immediately – striking 24 times in his first campaign at Anfield (and 33 times in all competitions), before making himself a national hero by getting the goal that saw Spain win Euro 2008.

18. Christian Vieri

Christian Vieri of Italy celebrates after scoring against Ecuador at the 2002 FIFA World Cup

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Italian great Christian Vieri was among Serie A and Europe's deadliest marksmen in the early 00s, scoring 52 goals across the 2001/02 and 2002/03 campaigns for Inter Milan.

In the middle of all that, Bobo found the net four times in four appearances as Italy's lone striker at the 2002 World Cup (although he did miss a golden chance in the Azzurri's shock last-16 exit to South Korea).

17. Pauleta

JEONJU, REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Pauleta of Portugal celebrates after scoring in the 14th minute, 10 June 2002 at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, during first round Group D action between Portugal and Poland in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. AFP PHOTO/EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

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Portugal's top striker of the early 20th century, Pauleta scored freely for club and country – peaking with 35- and 30-goal seasons for Bordeaux in 2001/02 and 2002/03 respectively.

One of Europe's best centre-forwards in his prime, Pauleta – who would go on to register over 100 goals for PSG – belongs to an elite group of players to have scored a World Cup hat-trick – doing so as Portugal beat Poland 4-0 in the 2002 group stage.

16. Alan Shearer

LONDON - MARCH 15: Alan Shearer of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot with team-mate Nolberto Solano during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Charlton Athletic and Newcastle United held on March 15, 2003 at The Valley, in London. Newcastle United won the match 2-0. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

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Alan Shearer racked up a whopping 260 Premier League goals across 14 campaigns in the competition – and a sizeable chunk of those came between 2000 and his retirement in 2006, all for Newcastle.

A three-time back-to-back Golden Boot winner in the mid-90s, Shearer – who, by this time, had retired from England duty and could focus solely on club football – bagged 23 Premier League goals to help Sir Bobby Robson's Newcastle finish fourth in 2001/02, and 22 as they came fifth two seasons later.

15. Francesco Totti

Francesco Totti of Roma

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Adept in the role of main striker, second striker, or as an attacking midfielder or winger, there's no doubt that Francesco Totti is one of Italy's greatest players of all time.

A one-club man, Totti famously spent his entire 24-year career with hometown club Roma – captaining them to the Scudetto in 2000/01 (his best scoring season came in 2006/07, when he top-scored 26 Serie A goals – and struck 32 times in all competitions).

14. Luca Toni

FLORENCE, ITALY - DECEMBER 16: Luca Toni of ACF Fiorentina celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and AC Siena at Stadio Artemio Franchi on December 16, 2012 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

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A naturally clinical finisher with more than 300 career goals to his name, few Italian players have been as prolific as Luca Toni – who was at his best between 2003 and 2008.

Having fired Palermo to promotion from Serie B with 30 goals in 2003/04, Toni instantly made his mark with 20 goals in Serie A the following season – earning himself a move to Fiorentina, where his continued impressive form saw him snapped up by Bayern Munich in 2007.

13. David Villa

PALMA DE MALLORCA, SPAIN - MARCH 28: David Villa of Spain listens to his country's national anthum before the Euro 2008 Qualifier Group F match between Spain and Iceland at the Ono stadium on March 28, 2007 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

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Among the finest strikers of his generation and one of the greatest Spanish players of any generation, David Villa was integral to his nation's success in the latter half of the 00s.

Golden Boot winner as Spain triumphed at Euro 2008 (with three of his four goals a hat-trick against Russia), Villa banged in 130 goals in 225 appearances for Valencia between 2005 and 2010 – when Barcelona swooped to sign him.

12. Miroslav Klose

Munich, GERMANY: German forward Miroslav Klose gestures after scoring against Costa Rica during their opening match at Munich's World Cup Stadium in football's 2006 World Cup, 09 June 2006. Germany were leading 3-2 in the second half. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

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One of the most legendary goalscorers in World Cup history, German poacher extraordinaire Miroslav Klose found the net on 16 occasions across four editions of the tournament.

Klose – who did the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double with Bayern Munich in 2007/08 – opened his World Cup account with five goals in 2002, where he showed off his famous front-flip celebration, and hit a hat-trick in Germany's 8-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia.

11. Michael Owen

Michael Owen

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Hamstring problems prevented Michael Owen from enjoying the career he ought to have done – but he was one of the best young players on the planet during the early 00s.

In fact, the technically gifted, utterly clinical Owen was one of the world's best players of any age – as recognised with his 2001 Ballon d'Or win, which came after his first of three consecutive 20-plus goal seasons for Liverpool (24 in 2000/01, and 28 in both 2001/02 and 2002/03).

10. Ruud van Nistelrooy

29 Jan 2002: Ruud van Nistelrooy of Manchester United celebrates scoring the fourth and final goal of the match during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match against Bolton Wanderers played at the Reebok Stadium, in Bolton, England. Manchester United wonthe match 4-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Alex Livesey /Allsport

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Ruud van Nistelrooy scored 96 Premier League goals during a scintillating five-year stint at Manchester United – and just a single one of them came from outside the box.

An absolute predator in the penalty area, the Dutchman was close to unstoppable at his best – winning the 2002/03 Golden Boot with 25 goals in 34 games (out of a superb 44 in 52 outings in all competitions) as Sir Alex Ferguson's United regained the title.

9. Raul

Real Madrid's forward Raul Gonzalez celebrates after scoring the first goal during the Champions League final opposing Real Madrid to Bayern Leverkusen, 16 May 2002 in Glasgow. AFP PHOTO DAMIEN MEYER (Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP) (Photo by DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images)

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One of the greatest goalscorers the Champions League has ever seen, Raul was a three-time champion of Europe with Real Madrid – with two of those triumphs coming in the 00s (1999/2000 and 2001/02).

In the 2000/01 season, Raul enjoyed the most prolific campaign of his career as he netted 32 times in all competitions – and he left Real in 2010 among the leading scorers in the club's history, registering 323 goals in total.

8. David Trezeguet

EMPOLI, ITALY - JANUARY 25: Pavel Nedved and David Trezeguet of Juventus celebrate a goal during the Serie A match between Empoli and Juventus played at the Carlo Castellani Stadium on January 25, 2004 in Empoli, Italy. (Photo by Newpress/Getty Images)

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A French hero at Euro 2000 when he scored the all-important golden goal against Italy in the final, David Trezeguet joined Juventus that summer – and went on to score for fun in a Bianconeri shirt.

His return of 15 goals in his first season at Juve was somewhat underwhelming – but he burst into the life the following campaign, registering 32 times in all competitions as he won his first of two successive Scudetti (he racked up more than 150 goals for the Turin giants before the decade was out).

7. Didier Drogba

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Didier Drogba of Chelsea looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Fulham at Stamford Bridge on December 28, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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Without a doubt one of the finest African footballers of all time, Didier Drogba joined Chelsea from Marseille in 2004 – and left eight years later a bona fide Stamford Bridge legend.

The first African player to score 100 Premier League goals, Drogba was the ultimate target man and excelled in the lone striker role – winning the first of his two Golden Boot awards in the 2006/07 season.

6. Andriy Shevchenko

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 24: Andriy Shevchenko of AC Milan in action during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 24, 2004 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

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Having broken out at Dynamo Kyiv in the late 90s, Andriy Shevchenko got a big move to AC Milan – and Ukraine's greatest player of all time only went from strength to strength with the Rossoneri.

During his first Milan spell, Shevchenko rattled in 173 goals in 296 outings – winning the 2002/03 Champions League and 2003/04 Serie A title, and setting a new record for the most goals scored in the Derby della Madonnina against Inter (14).

5. Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto'o of Barcelona, 2005

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Among the finest centre-forwards in world football during the 00s, Samuel Eto'o is Cameroon's greatest player of all time – and one of the best strikers ever to grace La Liga.

A complete player in that position, Eto'o impressed at Real Mallorca before making a €24m switch to Barcelona – where he scored goal after goal between 2004 and his departure in 2009, finishing with a total of 130 in 199 games for the club he helped to 2005/06 and 2008/09 Champions League glory – scoring Barca's first goal in both finals.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Juventus, 2005

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Somehow, Zlatan Ibrahimovic never won the Champions League – and that's always rather hard to believe given how he scored so freely everywhere he went during his otherwise trophy-laden career.

Between the 2001/02 and 2008/09 seasons alone, the famously stern Swede scored 140 club goals across spells with Ajax, Juventus and Inter Milan – winning the title with all three of them – and was on target at the Euros of 2004 and 2008.

3. Wayne Rooney

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 31: Wayne Rooney poses for photographs with a Manchester United shirt and scarf after signing for Manchester United on August 31, 2004 at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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Wayne Rooney's stunning debut goal for Everton against Arsenal in October 2002 was one of the Premier League's great 'Remember where you were when...?' moments.

From then on, Rooney's career continued on a markedly upward trajectory: an England international aged 17, he was a Manchester United player by 2004 – and he struck just shy of 100 times for Sir Alex Ferguson's team between then and the 00s – none more notable than his outrageous volley at Old Trafford against Newcastle in 2005.

2. Ronaldo

Brazil's forward Ronaldo celebrates after scoring the second goal against Germany during match 64 of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea Japan final 30 June, 2002 in Yokohama, Japan. Brazil won the championship 2-0, having now won a record five World Cup titles.AFP PHOTO GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

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The 'original' Ronaldo revolutionised the role of the centre-forward during the 90s, and the all-time Brazilian icon remained one of the best players on the planet into the 00s – if not the best.

Prior to scoring 104 goals in five seasons for Real Madrid, O Fenomeno inspired his country to victory at the 2002 World Cup – where he clinched the Golden Shoe by bagging both goals in Brazil's win over Germany in the final (before capping a career-defining year by scooping his second Ballon d'Or.

1. Thierry Henry

LONDON - OCTOBER 18: Thierry Henry of Arsenal celebrates scoring the second goal for Arsenal during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Arsenal and Chelsea on October 18, 2003 at Highbury in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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The Premier League has never seen another striker quite like Thierry Henry – an inimitably classy weaver of footballing magic who remains arguably the biggest foreign superstar ever to light up the competition.

Ballon d'Or runner-up in 2003 and 2006, in each campaign from 2001/02 until 2005/06, Henry scored at least 24 league goals for Arsenal (and at least 30 in all competitions) – famously starring in the Gunners' 2003/04 Invincibles title triumph – and won the Golden Boot an incredible four times.

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