In Arsene Wenger’s first season at the club, Paul Merson played 40 games in all competitions. At the end of the season, Merson was sold to Middlesbrough for £5 million.
There are no reports of a falling out between him and the club, the move was purely money orientated. The club had offered the midfielder a new 2 year deal, but he had rejected it with Middlesbrough offering to double his money (this was the days before tapping up was so newsworthy). Merson was happy to go from the 3rd placed team in the Premier League to a First Division club.
Merson, who had a history of drink, drugs and gambling, clearly needed the money, so left for the North-West. Arsene Wenger’s 1st Number 9 lasted 1 season.
1997/98 – 1998/99
And so the curse begins properly. Whilst with Paul Merson, there were financial reasons for him to leave after just one season, the saga that surrounded Nicolas Anelka’s time at the club may well be what put the curse on the Number 9 shirt.
Signed as a 17 year old from PSG for just £500,000, Anelka became a key player in Arsenal’s double winning season of 1997/98 – scoring the second goal in the FA Cup Final against Newcastle.
Pace, power, and ice cool infront of goal, he dislodged Ian Wright from the side and showed the kind of ability that had people wondering just how long Wrighty’s goal scoring record would last.
17 league goals in 1998/99 saw Anelka be named PFA Young Player of the Year. And that’s where it all begun to unravel.
Anelka started to make noises about being unhappy in England, that press intrusion had resulted in unhappiness. The press nicknamed him ‘Le Sulk’. It all seemed like an engineered move, led by his brothers, to get Anelka a big money move. It was clear that same people in the Anelka camp saw the 20 year old as a cash cow.
After just two full seasons at Arsenal, he packed his bags for Real Madrid, where he lasted for 1 year before rejoining PSG. Moves to Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbache, Bolton, Chelsea, Shanghai Shenhua, Juventus, WBA and Mumbai City followed.
Anelka and his advisor’s pocketed million’s in signing on fees as a result of moving him on every few years, but Anelka never really became the legend which his talent deserved.
Signed as part of the Anelka to Real Madrid deal. Lasted a year, missed a penalty in the UEFA Cup final. Joined West Ham.
2000/01 – 2002/03
The young Englishman joined Arsenal with a reputation of being the next big thing, having made his debut for Everton at just 16 and scoring 20 goals in 60 games.
He joined Arsenal for £8million at just 20 years old. However a string of injuries and poor form meant he never became the ‘fox in the box’ he was expected to.
He ended up being loaned back to Everton, before joining Charlton. His career then took him to Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United Jets (Australia), Motherwell, Floriana (Malta) and Accrington Stanley.
He ended up scoring just 40 league goals, 18 of which were netted before he joined Arsenal.
2003/04 – 2005/06
Jose Antonio Reyes
Joined in January 2004 for £10.5m (rising to £17m), big things were expected of the talented Spaniard who had made his debut for Sevilla at just 16.
His Arsenal career got off to a rocky start, scoring an own goal in just his second game. But it was a two goal performance which knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup which will forever live in the memory of Arsenal fans.
For the remainder of the unbeaten season, he showed glimpses of his natural ability. Arsenal fans were excited.
2004 started brilliantly. Hat tricks in friendlies, a virtuoso performance in the Community Shield against Manchester United, where at one point he seemed to dribble past their entire team and 6 goals in his first 6 games. However, things started to go downhill when Arsenal’s 49 game unbeaten run was ended by Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Reyes was continually singled out for rough treatment, with the Neville brothers taking it in turns to bring him down. At one point he nut megged Gary Neville on the half way line, and was immediately hacked down. No yellow card was given.
His struggles continued after the Manchester United match, with reports of him being homesick (rumours were he could barely read and write in Spanish, and could not speak a word of English). There was also the reported ‘bullying’ of Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, the race row started by Luis Aragones and a prank by a Spanish radio show where Reyes admitted he would welcome a move back to Spain and that there were “bad people” at Arsenal.
Reyes eventually left in a loan swap to Madrid for Julio Baptista (who took his number 9), but his career never really his the heights of 2004. He won his last Spain cap at 23.
A long term Arsenal target, Julio Baptista chose Real Madrid over Arsenal in 2005. However, after just a single season, he was swapped for Jose Reyes for a year long loan.
Despite scoring 4 goals against Liverpool in the League Cup and a further 2 against Tottenham in the same competition, he only managed 3 in 24 in the league. He looked overweight, slow, and had poor technique. He certainly was not the player that scored 47 goals in 79 games for Sevilla. The loan deal was never made permanent.
2007/08 – 2009/10
So far the Curse of the Number 9 had claimed a few victims for reasons from greed, to homesick, to simply flopping. but the curse decided to do its worse to Eduardo Alves da Silva. It tried to rob him of his career through injury.
Everything was looking bright for Eduardo in the Arsenal Number 9 shirt. Joining in 2007 for £7.5m, his career started slowly with Wenger preferring a strike force of Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor. A string of League Cup performances, and an injury to van Persie saw Eduardo gain a place in The Arsenal first team over the festive period.
He scored his first 2 Premier League goals on 29th December, and then opened the scoring on New Years Day after just 72 seconds. Throughout January he was on fire, showing an ability as a creator as well as a goal scorer. Had Arsenal finally replaced Thierry Henry?
He sent Arsenal to the top of the league with a sublime effort against Manchester City.
And then the curse kicked in.
In a game against Birmingham on 23rd February 2008, he was a victim of a despicable foul by Martin Taylor. It left Eduardo on the floor, with a broken leg and an open dislocation of his ankle. It left Eduardo’s career in tatters and destroyed Arsenal’s title chances.
He returned to the side nearly a year to the day of the injury, and, despite doing enough to earn a new contract, looked a shadow of the player. His sharpness had gone. In 2010, Arsenal accepted a bid from Shakhtar Donetsk and he left.
The Curse of the Number 9 had taken Eduardo’s Arsenal career from him.
One of the oddest transfers of recent memory. Park Chu-Young was halfway through a 2 day medical with Lille when, overnight, he disappeared from his hotel room, and ended up in London.
Despite rumours of having to return to South Korea for National Service, Arsenal signed the Monaco forward.
Three seasons at Arsenal saw him play 1 league game – an 8 minute substitute appearance against Manchester United. This led to people wondering whether he had only been signed to sell shirts?
This was certainly one of the oddest transfers in Arsenal history.
2012-13 / 2014/15
The mercurial striker joined Arsenal in 2012 following the relegation of his boyhood club Koln. Great things were expected of the man who, whilst At Arsenal, became the youngest European to reach 100 caps. But it never quite clicked for him.
A fans favourite due to his social media presence, he had a hammer of a left foot, scoring 31 goals in 81 appearances for Arsenal.
Despite averaging a goal every 145 minutes, he was never able to break into the Arsenal 1st 11 for an extended run (after his 1st season). Was it the player? Was it the manager? Or was it the Curse of the Number 9?
Whoever is next to take The Arsenal Number 9 shirt is a very brave man.