This season has seen a whirlwind of numerous Gunners failing to live up to potential or not showing enough of it (but let’s not forget the unbelievable ones as well; Leno to name one). This can be down to a number of reasons from personal, coaching or even motivational. But there is a little edge in the air and it’s been there for a while. Speculation and superstition about one of our strikers again. Yes it’s the number nine curse and it’s current occupant: Alexandre Lacazette.
At the time of writing he hasn’t scored since the 12th November in the Europa League against Standard Liege. That is practically three months when the Gunners go back to action against Newcastle United. Every striker is entitled to go on a goal-less run now and then but this is getting out of hand. I know all it takes is one chance to give everyone a sigh of relief and get that weight off the shoulders, but is it the players fault for going on this run? Or is it the curse of the number nine shirt?
Let’s look back in the history books and see if we can identify where the superstition began.
*note that all stats are from the 2019 Arsenal Membership booklet on players who played competitive matches for Arsenal.
1. Frances Jeffers 2000-2004
39 Appearances. 8 Goals.
Buying a wonderkid and making him (or her – Viv Miedema) into a star is a classic story of football gaming fans everywhere from Football Manager to other games such as FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer (or PES if you’re “down with the kids”). Turning them into stars is what Arsene was doing round this time, the likes and styles of which can never be replicated by others. Not even close. Arguments will go on for years about who is the best striker the Premier League has ever seen, especially with so-called City and Liverpool fans. But to the matter at hand, Jeffers became a what-could’ve-been player instead. Scoring a total of eight goals in thirty nine appearances is poor form. He eventually left but the best he ever did before retiring was scoring for Everton nineteen times in seventy one appearances. Ouch.
2. Jose Antonio Reyes (RIP) 2004-2007
110 Appearances. 23 Goals.
In under eighty four appearances for Sevilla, Reyes has only scored twenty one times. This was enough for Arsene to spend the money in the January transfer window to help the Gunners in the Invincibles season run. He went onto score a total of twenty three goals but provided just twenty three assists. During his time he was loaned out on a “swap deal” for the next contender. That was the end of Reyes at Arsenal. Reyes was a new kind of striker someone who was there to fill a void for Henry or Bergkamp when injured and bring a new threat from off the bench to tire the opposition. Although at the time we didn’t recognise his brilliance as much as we should’ve; it is now that he is gone we will remember him best. A what if player, but we will recognise him as a legend and rightly so.
3. Julio Baptista 2006-2007
35 Appearances. 10 Goals.
Julio Baptista arrived after a loan swap deal for José Reyes was agreed. That year was something a little bit of a strange one really; for both the club and for himself. He will mostly be recognised for scoring several goals at Anfield in a League Cup tie, which we went on to lose in the final. To be honest it’s a bit strange to suggest that a player like Baptista chose to wear the number nine at all. One reason is because I don’t think of him as a striker or even saw him there, more if anything an attacking midfielder. In a total of thirty five matches in all competitions, Baptista managed ten goals and only four assists.
4. Eduardo Da Silva 2008- 2010
67 Appearances. 20 Goals.
A very much a what if player for Arsenal, going into his first season the Gunners were on a title march; something we hadn’t seen for a while under Arsene. All it took was one injury and it made the whole season fall apart. It came at Birmingham City and it is a challenge that caused outrage and panic among fans and the club as a whole. That game will always be the turning point as we failed to charge forward and ended up prodding along. The game will also be remembered for Gallas sulking on the halfway line when a penalty was awarded. Eduardo ended up playing sixty seven times for the Gunners to only score twenty times and assist eighteen times. He came back briefly to the Emirates for a Champions League game and the fans greeted him with much appreciation especially after he scored against the Gunners. Something that most players returning get anymore.
5. Ju-Yeong Park 2011-2014
7 Appearances. 1 Goals.
To be honest I think we can all agree that signing Park was a bit of a strange one. After a relegation from Monaco, someone at the club thought it would be a great idea to sign him. It ultimately failed. To sum up he played a total of seven games for the first team only scoring once, he was dropped down to the U-23s scoring twice in four games. Ouch. The final nail in the coffin for Park was to go out on loan to Watford; he only played two matches and failed to score. By 2014 he was out of the door; not before playing for Celta Vigo playing twenty five times and scoring four times.
6. Lucas Podolski 2012-2015
82 Appearances. 31 Goals.
A player that had strong links to Arsenal for a very long time before finally signing in 2012. Podolski was an exciting talent to watch and was greeted by much enthusiasm. He played eighty two games and scored thirty one goals, setting up seventeen goals in the process. But for some reason he was looked down upon and was loaned out to Inter Milan in the January of 2015. After this he was sent packing to Turkish side Galatasaray. During his time at the club he won the FA Cup and the Community Shield. There still is some part of me that does wonder what if he stayed, would he of been one of our greats? He still holds Arsenal in his heart, constantly using his social media to promote the club or send messages to fans.
7. Lucas Perez 2016-2018
21 Appearances. 7 Goals.
Again in need of a striker, Arsenal spent money on Spaniard Lucas Perez. Hoping for the impact of Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal of previous years. In the end it was all a bit of a waste of money. He only played one season at the club, scoring seven times in twenty one matches and assisting five times. At times he showed promise of what he could do but in the end, Perez went back to Deportivo on loan the following season before leaving for West Ham. To be honest the signing was a good one but another one to fall victim of mismanagement or mistreatment. His only trophy to this day is the FA Cup.
8. Alexandre Lacazette 2017- Present
110 Appearances. 42 Goals.
Lacazette come to the club much like Podolski did, after years of speculation we got him in the summer of 2017. Scoring on his debut against Leicester on the opening day of the season is always one way to get some support from the fans and also to show the league what you can do. At the moment he has played one hundred and ten times in the red shirt scoring forty two times and assisting twenty times. Although he is going through a drought of sorts at the moment it is going to be down to everyone at the club (and most likely himself) to get out of it. Maybe it is one act of kindness – like when Aubameyang gave Pepe the penalty to boost his confidence -which is needed.
No matter what happens next I am sure that the number nine shirt isn’t actually cursed. It is actually down to years of misuse of certain players by the club. Or even those involved in the transfers not understanding who or what we are actually getting. In the case of both Perez and Park. This is not a point the finger and blame game. It is a part of football that some transfers just don’t work out. The longest stay of a player in the shirt is around less then four seasons. Maybe it’s time to give the shirt to a youth player when they earn their place upfront.