Lukas Podolski’s transfer to Arsenal had been making the back pages of newspapers since mid-January, and despite several newspapers of repute stating that the German international had already agreed personal terms to join the Gunners from Koln, the news was only made official towards the end of the season.
Cue a similar situation towards the imminent arrival of Olivier Giroud, a man Arsenal have been watching for sometime now. While Arsene Wenger edges closer and closer to his new signing, the player has maintained that his deal is still far from done.
We all know full well that Arsene Wenger’s signings – with the exception of an insane last summer – are usually wrapped up sometime before these players are revealed as official signings. But my concern is, what shirt numbers will they occupy at Arsenal? The reason this conundrum boggles my mind is because I am of the firm belief that the numbers nine and eighteen at Arsenal are jinxed. Every player who’s worn the aforementioned jersey so far has struggled at Arsenal.
The number nine is hallowed, coveted by strikers everywhere. Some of the world’s best players at club and national level have worn this number, yet the hoodoo associated with the scarlet and white version of the shirt has led to wearers of the shirt suffering from the ‘Number 9 Jinx’.
The number18 is a respectable squad number. Paul Scholes wore it at Manchester United, and we all know how prolific a player he is. At Arsenal, the number is usually handed to a defender, the last three of whom have performed abysmally. Let’s take a look at the last three players who’ve worn the shirts, how they’ve fared with the Gunners, and how they’ve performed since they’ve left Arsenal.
In this first part, I take a look at Jose Antonio Reyes and Pascal Cygan
1.) Jose Antonio Reyes (2004-07)
The number nine jersey at Highbury was worn by Jose Antonio Reyes. Arsenal signed the versatile, speedy Spaniard for 10.5 million pounds in January of 2004, midway through their legendary unbeaten run, with the plan to give him six months to adapt to the Premier League so that he would be ready for next season.
He began his Arsenal career in red-hot form, scoring in the FA Cup and Champions League against Chelsea, and providing several assists for Thierry Henry and co. to maintain Arsenal’s unbeaten run, getting his first Premier League goal in the penultimate game of that season. His contributions towards the unbeaten campaign, coupled with enough appearances to earn himself a winner’s medal meant Arsenal had a superstar in the making on the cards.
Despite Arsenal’s promising start to the following season, Reyes began to slump soon after the Gunners were defeated at Old Trafford. A combination of injury and inconsistency saw Reyes resurface only at the end of the season, where he scored three very valuable goals. Despite Reyes’ family staying with him in London and Arsene Wenger’s efforts to find his father a job, he claimed he was homesick. He added further fuel to this fire when he said that life in London was not as he had envisioned it and he would love a move back to Spain, adding that his exit was being barred by ‘bad people’.
He was sent off in the FA Cup final against Manchester United, though Arsenal still won, and was instrumental in the Gunners’ march to the Champions League final the following season, where they fell at the final hurdle in Paris. But in August 2006, the first season at the Emirates, Reyes asked Wenger to leave him out of the Champions League squad so that he could leave, not making him cup-tied in the process.
He joined Real Madrid on loan that season, with Julio Baptista coming to Ashburton Grove. He played 36 games for Real, scoring seven goals, two of which were on the last day of the season as they came back from a goal down against Mallorca to win the league. Reyes moved to cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid permanently for a fee of 12 million Euros. But he found himself frozen out of the squad for long periods of time due to the presence of Simao Sabrosa and Maximiliano Rodriguez, which meant he was farmed out to Benfica for a season, where for the first time since his departure from Arsenal, he found consistent form, developing a telekinetic understanding with Pablo Aimar as he helped them win the League Cup in Portugal.
His return to Atletico in 2009 saw a new manager in Quique Sanchez Flores – who was his manager at Benfica – who gave him the opportunity to shine. He was soon featuring regularly for los Colchoneros, earning a man of the match award in his side’s 2-1 win over Barcelona. In August 2010, he assisted Sergio Aguero’s opener against Inter Milan in the Super Cup, with the Mattress Makers eventually winning 2-0. Reyes continued to establish himself during the 2011-12 season, as he became one of Atletico’s standout performers. But a fallout with new manager Gregorio Manzano saw him being relegated to the bench more and more frequently, culminating in his departure to boyhood club Sevilla.
He continued his good form there, as Sevilla finished 9th in La Liga
2.) Pascal Cygan
When the 6’4″ Cygan joined Arsenal in 2002, he had already made a name for himself in his native France, where as captain of Lille, he had guided the team to a third-place finish in Ligue 1 the previous season, securing Champions League football. Having been bought for just 2 million Pounds aged 28, Wenger seemed to have pulled off a transfer coup.
Cygan started well enough, being deployed as a utility player in his debut season in English football, but featured eighteen times in 2003-04 to earn a winner’s medal alongside Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell and co. He even scored a brace in the opening game of the 2004-05 season against Fulham, earning the nickname ‘Zinedine Cygan’.
He also had the abilityto play at left-back, doing so several times during his Arsenal tenure, covering for the likes of Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy, and played a pivotal role in Arsenal’s march to the Champions League final in Paris.
But that’s the good side of Cygan, which came about as often as maroon-coloured oatmeal.
The bad side of Cygan was that he was prone to lapses in concentration. One of my closest friends, Oliver, is a lifelong Arsenal fan and has the good fortune of being a season ticket holder for many years now. As he puts it,
I remember when Cygan played for Arsenal one game. Everybody had to come back to defend. Even Pires, Ljungberg and Henry had to come back to help him out.
Simply put, the man was a nervous wreck. He would give away possession to easily, commit simple defensive errors and lose composure at the worst moments possible. An injury to him in 2006 saw him relegated to fourth-choice centre-back, behind Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Philippe Senderos, while Johan Djourou was also beginning to edge into the frame.
Cygan was shipped to Villarreal, where he joined Robert Pires and saw a good amount of first-team action, putting in decent performances, leading to him signing a one-year extension on his contract. But in his third year in Spain, he saw himself being relegated to the bench more often than not, which led him to leave the Yellow Submarine in search of first-team action.
While he was searching for a new club, he amazingly issued a ‘please save me’ plea to Arsenal, but his reputation in London had been left in tatters, and the man who’d left North London with the title of ‘Calamity Cygan’ went to newly-promoted Segunda side Cartagena on a one-year deal, after which he retired from football aged 37.
What one can see from the careers of Reyes and Cygan is that they began life at Arsenal in a manner that predicted good things to come. But somewhere down the line, their careers took a turn for the worse, and had to spend the next few years trying to resurrect them. But they never quite reached the heady heights predicted for them when they first wore the Red and White. Call it fate, call it ill luck, these players became household names among faithful Gooners for all the wrong reasons. Yet we can’t help but wistfully think of what would’ve been had they made it big with the Gunners.
In my next article, I take a look at Eduardo da Silva and Mikael Silvestre.