Lukas Podolski completed his move to Galatasaray over the weekend, and with that another failed signing vacated the number nine of Arsenal.
Arsène Wenger has now managed nine players wearing the shirt for the Gunners and all have, in one way or another, seen their Arsenal careers end in misery for themselves, the fans, or usually both.
Harsh? Well, not really. 31 goals in 82 appearances look good on the face of things, but Podolski never did as much as he was expected to in London. The idea of using him as a centre-forward was scrapped just 64 minutes into his debut – an error that can probably be put down to the scouting department.
The German had far too many shortcomings – excellently outlined and summarised by Michael Keshani a year ago – and never cut it for the Gunners.
As I have said, Podolski wasthe ninth player to wear number nine at Arsenal under Arsène Wenger, and the ninth to endure an ill-fated Arsenal career. What happened to them?
A cult figure at Highbury, ‘Merse’ last just one year under Wenger. Addictions to drugs, drink, and gambling he clearly wasn’t the type of man Wenger was looking for. Despite making 40 appearances in his only season under Wenger, Merson left for Middlesbrough after ‘only’ accumulating the frustratingly annoying tally of 99 Arsenal goals.
The barely known Frenchman was just 17 and had 12 professional appearances to his name, so Arsène Wenger obviously went and signed him for £500,000. At the age of 18, he was thrown into the team with Arsenal legend Ian Wright injured and – naturally – shone.
The French teenager had electric pace rarely seen in English football at that time, and was more than a handful for defences. His second Premier League start saw him score the opener against Manchester United, and the 1997/98 season ended with Anelka scoring at Wembley to secure the double.
The following season took him even further, and 17 Premier League goals in 35 games made him Arsenal’s top goalscorer.
Shortly after turning 20, Anelka was turning his head. ‘Le Sulk’ was unfortunately managed by his brother and agent, who convinced him Real Madrid was the place to be. He only stayed there a year before being ferried all over Europe – I’m sure his agent made plenty, but the Frenchman never had the career his talent deserved.
Arsenal made a profit of nearly £22m on a kid who didn’t want to stay at the club, and used the money to build a state of the art training ground and sign Thierry Henry. Not a bad deal, but the number nine shirt was under a cloud.
A cloud that followed Davor Šuker during his stay at the club. 45 goals in 69 internationals, the Croatian top scored at the 1998 World Cup. He netted 46 goals in 106 games for Real Madrid.
His one season at Arsenal saw him score Arsenal he scored in just seven of his 35 appearances, largely against poor opposition, and miss a penalty in the UEFA Cup Final loss to Galatasaray. Already in his thirties and unable to adapt to England (as the following year at West Ham further proved), Šuker was yet another mishit.
The fox in the box was no better. Coming with a big reputation following his emergence at Everton, Arsenal signed the 20 year-old for a whopping £8M. His three seasons with the Everton first-team saw Jeffers net 18 goals. He didn’t score 18 more in 10 more years in English football. A spell in Australia saw him average a goal every 14 games.
Injuries and attitude surely played a part, but quite simply Jeffers wasn’t good enough. Two of his eight Arsenal goals came against Farnborough Town, but he did score on his only appearance for England.
José Antonio Reyes
Possibly the most disappointing of the lot, the guy had it all. A player I wrote about earlier this year, as he shouldn’t be forgotten.
For a brief spell he blew everyone away, contributing to the Invincible season. His first goal was a screamer against Chelsea, in a game he went on to also score the winner in to see us advance in the FA Cup. In the league he preserved our unbeaten record with a goal at Portsmouth, and scored the only goal of the game in a win against Fulham
Then he kicked on, starting the 2004/05 campaign with seven goals and five assists in 12 appearances. He was – just for a couple of months – the best player in England.
Homesickness, a racism storm, and the rough nature of English football culminated to wreck him. He’s back home in Seville now, captain of the back-to-back winners of the Europa League. He could’ve done so much more with his talent, but as an Arsenal number nine he was perhaps doomed to fail.
The first Arsenal player to wear the nine at Emirates Stadium, and one that can easily be forgotten. A League Cup game saw him score four at Anfield even before Andrey Arshavin, but Baptista is such a footnote that nobody cares to remember.
A cumbersome man who looked slow and never used his physicality. His technique was lacking, his finishing was average, and his loan from Real Madrid was never made permanent. His last appearance for Arsenal saw him miss a penalty on the final day of the season. Apt.
Eduardo da Silva
Football is a cruel game. I said Reyes’ ordeal was disappointing, the fall of ‘Dudu’ was simply heartbreaking. A true poacher with a striker’s instinct and a beautiful left foot. If the number nine truly is cursed, Eduardo’s horror injury is the greatest evidence.
Bought with the money from the sale of Thierry Henry, Eduardo had just found his feet in England and a few goals had fired us to the summit of the Premier League. Those feet were then swept from under him on 23rd February 2008, and he was never the same again.
Slower, hesitant, lacking sharpness. His ‘beach’ goal against Burnley in 2009 – while wearing the armband – was a sublime piece of skill and a lovely moment, but Arsenal lost the Eduardo that was signed with that tackle in 2008. 67 appearances for Arsenal, 21 goals. Both numbers miles shy of what they should have been.
I’m not sure what to say about Park Ju-Young because, well, there isn’t anything to say about him.
Snatched from under the noses of Lille, the Monaco forward arrived in London on deadline day. He scored a nice goal against Bolton in the League Cup and his only Premier League appearance saw him used for 8 minutes against Manchester United.
This led to the cynical theory that he was only signed to sell shirts which, in fairness, is as good as any theory. The number was taken off him when Lukas Podolski signed.
A huge left foot, an even bigger smile, and a dislike of movement. Podolski was never going to work as a centre-forward as he doesn’t really make runs and he can’t bring others into the game.
He seemed like a decent enough guy and he was a great finisher, and that’s about it. He won’t be missed by many.
Now I don’t believe in curses or fate or anything like that, but I wouldn’t wear number nine if I signed for Arsenal this summer.
Who is brave enough to wear number nine for the Arsenal? Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck? Alexis Sánchez?
Dare I say Karim Benzema?
Whoever it is, let’s hope it’s finally someone worthy of the number worn by Joe Baker, John Radford, Frank Stapleton and Alan Smith during their hugely successful periods at the club. That would make a pleasant change.