Highbury legends often wore the number 9 shirt because its what center forwards do, or at least did. Great players including the likes of Ted Drake, Reg Lewis, David Herd, Joe Baker, John Radford, Frank Stapleton and right through to Alan Smith all graced the number 9 shirt and banged in the goals.
Ted Drake a good old fashioned number 9
That is up until the 1994-95 season when under Premiership rules it became just another squad number. Since then it has had a rather chequered history. The incumbent in 1994-5, who had worn the shirt quite heroically for no less than eight seasons, was Alan Smith. However in the one season he wore it as a squad number he had a miserable injury prone time and netted just four goals. When Smudger retired through injury the following season he was replaced by another legend. But Dennis Bergkamp didn’t want the 9 shirt; he wanted and got the number 10, which rather forced the Merse to take over Smudger’s old number.
Smudge celebrates his most famous goal
Now Merse is a much beloved Gooner and rightly so, but he certainly wasn’t without his problems and most of us, I imagine, still regard him as a number 10 which was his allotted number for so many seasons. After his addiction problems he had a resurrected career at Highbury but the 9 shirt did him no favours. Had it done so he wouldn’t be permanently stuck on his tantalisingly annoying 99-goal tally with the Arsenal.
We were surprised to see a young French kid handed the 9 shirt next, however Arsene quite often 'knows' and for a couple of seasons Nicholas Anelka was challenging Wrighty for his place in the team. Anelka was an ace footballer but was also a totally miserable shit. Surely the only player in the history of the Premiership to sport a longer face than Van Nistelrooy and certainly the sourest-faced moaner to ever wear Arsenal’s 9 shirt. In all fairness it has to be said he top-scored for us with nineteen goals in a season wearing the 9 shirt, but as despised ex-Arsenal men go he’s well up there with the Cashleys of this world. Real Madrid were welcome to him and if there was a consolation for Arsenal it was the huge profit margin on a youngster Arsene had stolen from France. Two seasons in the 9 shirt at least paid for a state of the art training facility.
To replace the Horse Le Boss landed us Davor Suker, seen as a short-term purchase due to his somewhat advanced years. Suker was a world class striker in his time, but that time was not with us. He’d been the darling of the Bernabeu and top scored in a World Cup tournament but he couldn’t hold down a regular place at Arsenal. His 11 goals in thirty-nine outings can best be described as meagre. One season at Highbury was more than enough before he departed to West Ham.
A fallow season for the nine shirt followed, which was hardly surprising really since the squad number remained vacant.
Next up we got the ‘Fox in the box’, or at least we thought we had. Franny 'Glass ankles' Jeffers came along to adorn our treatment table and pick up a few medals by virtue of being a squad member. He was a calculated gamble that didn’t come off and so was shipped out on loan before being moved on. To replace him we picked up an expensive grinning Spaniard who looked the part but flattered to deceive. Jose Antonio Reyes who when he was good was brilliant, but unfortunately the Premiership was not for him. His family couldn't settle, plus either he couldn’t be bothered or he was too thick to learn English. His desire to return to the Spanish sunshine and not be kicked by the Neville brothers was obvious despite his signing an extended contract. So Real Madrid did a deal on the eve of the transfer deadline and although technically only on loan to the Gallaticos no one seriously believed that Jose Antonio would ever return.
So the swap deal for Reyes saw a new number 9 appear on loan with a view to purchase. Julio Baptista a.k.a. 'The Beast'. Quite why anyone would call this pussycat a beast is beyond me. His party piece as I recall was trundling along like a runaway steamroller before crashing to the ground and damaging the turf. One decent game at Anfield was his lot for us and we can only be thankful that he was only on loan and not another failed over-priced purchase.
Next up we got a sprightly and much loved centre-forward with a massive smile and the ability to find the net with all the instincts of a natural poacher. Unfortunately this number 9 was the unluckiest of them all and had his career wrecked by a vicious Brummie thug. As horrific injuries go this one was seriously career threatening and he was out for well over a season. Eduardo was never the same again and so he too unfortunately departed. His departure saw yet another fallow season for the 9 shirt with no one deemed worthy enough to wear it.
So who did we get next? I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already forgotten about this player. He was less an individual than the captain of Korea namely Ju-Young Park, so you would think all might be well this time around. Well it might well have been if he was actually any good. It seemed as if he was with us to sell shirts rather than contribute to the team. A total waste of space and money, so our number 9 shirt still had still not found the perfect fit.
Podolski. Rare to see him without a huge grin
Our last incumbent was the cheery faced Lukas Podolski. He came and he scored with some really stunning thunderbolts unleashed from his left foot. But he wasn’t a centre forward because he couldn’t play as you’d want a centre forward to play – bringing other players into play or making runs off the shoulder of defenders or making runs at all unless the ball was imminent. Nor was he a left sided winger, he wouldn’t work back, often lost the man he was supposed to be marking and his work rate was on a par with that fat kid at school who wore out an area of the field about 3 yards square The Pod is a really likeable character but we didn’t need a left sided goal-hanger who just hung around up front and wouldn’t/couldn’t. Great smile, superb exponent of social media, a really good laugh. Sadly he wasn’t quite the player Wenger thought he could turn him into.
Thanks for reading - If this article looks familiar it is because an earlier version appeared in The Gooner Fanzine. Obviously I've decided to revamp it on Podolski's departure. Here's hoping we can find a top quality number 9 this time around.
Brian Dawes @Gooner48