Given the nationality of our head coach, Mr.Emery, I wanted to pick out some of the most noted Spanish players in our club’s history.
Denis Suarez, whilst only a loan signing, also adds to the Spanish vibe we have currently.
So who else from Spain has either helped us or even hindered us, over the years? Viva Espana y Viva Arsenal? Let’s see shall we:
Manuel Almunia was a keeper we signed during the Wenger winning period. He eventually replaced Jens Lehmann, and despite some initially good appearances, and a noted spat with Lehmann, he didn’t really fulfil the initial hype. Lehmann arguably stands as the last keeper we’ve had who has been consistently solid. Cech has had his moments too, but has been very erratic otherwise. Almunia though persisting for several years was not on top quality. And this isn’t really to be unkind. But maybe the contrast from Seaman, and then to Lehmann, didn’t go in his favour as both were world class keepers in their own rights. Few keepers would ever be at their levels. He was a noted part of the losing European Champions League final side in 2006.
Nacho Monreal joined us in 2013, and at the start didn’t really fit in well. He made appearances in that season vs. Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, and was more steadily introduced in the 13/14 season. However, he the first choice full back over Kieran Gibbs, and arguably cemented his place as a valuable player with the first goal vs. Manchester United in the FA Cup Quarter-Final. We went on to the win the cup that year, and he featured prominently in the second-placed finish in 15/16. He further established himself in 16/17, and scored in the FA Cup semi-final win vs. Man City, and played in the final win over Chelsea.
He is coming towards the end of his career now, but he will go down as one of Wenger’s many “unknowns who turned out good”.
Hector Bellerin was originally from the Barca academy, which of course has created many top players. He made his debut in the 14/15 season, and came to the fore with a wonderful strike vs. Liverpool at home.
He progressed in the 15/16 season, especially with his pace and crossing abilities. It’s possible that he declined in 16/17 and 17/18, but in the current season he has progressed again due to the new environment. He didn’t get in the Spanish World Cup squad for Russia 2018, but then he has time for future tournaments, such as Euro 2020.
Bellerin gets unfairly mocked his for fashion sense, and his Spanish/London hybrid accent. Though he is proving he can be an asset for years to come, and another player we have to thank our former manager for.
Mikel Arteta is currently serving under another Spaniard – Pep Guardiola of course at Manchester City. The former Everton and Rangers player joined us after our debasement at Old Trafford in 2011, and looked the part from the off, essentially. He scored some important goals in 11/12, and progressed in 12/13. His position as a deep-lying playmaker, along with the addition of Ozil in 13/14, perhaps allowed Aaron Ramsey to flourish in that season, and he was a part of the FA Cup winning side that season.
He encountered injuries in the following seasons, and retired at the end of the 15/16 season, scoring vs. Aston Villa in the final home game where Spurs hilariously bottled it at Newcastle for us to finish second place.
Some fans were upset that he went to City to exercise coaching, but then he was a capable player for Arsenal, and in a role different as a deep-lying playmaker who provided great balance to our midfield.
Not many had heard of Jose Antonio Reyes when we signed him. We were flying high in the Invincibles season, but he provided some impetus in our record-breaking title win. He scored two goals in an FA Cup win vs. Chelsea, and also a goal in the Champions League defeat to them that season.
In 04/05, he got a well-taken goal vs. Spurs at home and helped the side get to the Champions League final in 2006.
He left the club citing homesickness, but he was a player of some talent, who had good technical ability.
Cesc Fabregas, in raw technical and playing terms, is perhaps one of our best ever players. This may grate some, given the manner of his departure, but then for me at the least, it’s a fair shout.
He was from Barca’s La Masia academy, and possibly knew Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, etc. in that environment. Wenger signed him up in 2013, and he made his debut in the League that season.
His true coming to the fore was in 04/05, where Gilberto Silva was injured, and he deputised more than effectively. A memorable chat at the time was “Fabregas woooahh! Fabregas wooooaaah!!! He’s only seventeen; he’s better than Roy Keane!” Most then looked at him and thought he would be top-level, and he certainly was.
After Henry left in 2007, he became captain and was at the forefront of our side’s playing style. It was Wengerball indeed, but then in some ways, he characterised the change in direction Wenger took. In having smaller and more technically-able players who may have not been the same as the Invincibles and Double sides.
The team comfortably got top four in this period, but Cesc left Arsenal in 2011, and with some controversy, it must be said. He appeared with the Barca side at the Spanish Grand Prix, when Barca players pulled a top over his head. Moreover, there have been reports that he kicked a ruckus in training, and in some capacity downed tools. The club and Wenger had no choice to sell him, and he contributed much for Barca in winning leagues, and came back to England with Chelsea where he gained more success via league titles. Some were upset that he joined a rival, but then we had the first refusal on him, per the contract terms with Barca. It’s also said that when we were buying Alexis from them, Cesc contacted Wenger to ask if he was buying him – to which Arsene replied Alexis as the target.
Despite this negative, Cesc is a player of great technical quality and certainly performed well for us. Is he a legend? This is a relative term – though one cannot dispute his quality.
Santiago Cazorla – or Santi for short – wasn’t well known apart from those who were La Liga connoisseurs. He had featured in the Euro 2008, WC 2010, and Euro 2012 Spanish squads, which all were victorious. This meant holding his own amongst Fabregas, Iniesta, Xavi, etc., so he must have been no slouch. However, in the sale of van Persie to Manchester United in 2012, the club needed more attacking fluidity, and Wenger signed Cazorla, along with Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski accordingly.
He adapted very quickly, and his debut vs Sunderland at home was very impressive. After losing van Persie in the previous summer, he provided an additional attacking dimension and was critical in wins vs. Spurs later in the season.
He scored a vital goal in the 13/14 FA Cup Final, and by the next season started to succumb to some terrible injuries. He has later said that skin had to be grafted from other parts of his body and that doctors had even told him he may never walk again, let alone play football.
He recovered, however, though left for Villareal, and back to his homeland.
Cazorla was a player of extraordinary technical capacity and was in some manner genuinely two-footed. For me, the best player we’ve ever had technically is Bergkamp, though Cazorla runs him close, as Dennis wasn’t two-footed.
We could potentially face each other in the Europa League since Villareal is playing Zenit St. Petersburg and should they progress it could be a quarter-final vs. Santi. And I’d welcome it. He always played with a smile on his face and was certainly one of Wenger’s better buys.
In the summer of 2016, we were clamouring for a striker, especially since it was evident that Giroud needed support. We had put in a bid for Jamie Vardy, of then-champions Leicester City, but he turned us down apparently. Wenger had to act, and after a draw ironically at Leicester, he bought in Lucas Perez, alongside defender Shkodran Mustafi, and midfielder Granit Xhaka.
He started off well – and got some goals in the Champions League and Premier League, inclusive of a hat-trick. He also contributed to an amazing comeback at Bournemouth but was on loan in the following season. He was sold for £4m, but in his brief showings did well enough. Could he have been a success as a more permanent fixture? Who knows? However, it’s true that he may not have gained a fair crack of the whip at Arsenal, or top-level football overall.
There are others I may have omitted, and no disrespect to them is intended, but these for me stand out.
Perhaps of all foreign countries, it’s France that has had the greatest influence on Arsenal. But Spain has provided us with some top talents to boot.