The imminent return of Alexandre Lacazette to first-team action is great news for Arsenal, who have missed his energy and predatory instincts upfront. The French star, who signed for £46 million in the summer, has yet to cement his partnership with the Gunners’ other new striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but the prospect of them playing together regularly is an exciting one for Arsenal fans, who have been encouraged by the team’s efforts recently.
Reaching the quarter-finals of the Europa League offers Arsenal the chance to rescue something from this dispiriting season, and with Aubameyang cup-tied for this tournament, Lacazette could have a huge role to play. Arsenal are strong favourites with online betting companies to overcome CSKA Moscow, and with the dynamic French international back in the side, their chances of progressing to the semi-finals are greatly increased.
That is, assuming he can shake off the curse of the number 9. In claiming the number 9 shirt on joining the club, Lacazette joined a long line of Arsenal strikers whose career has faltered while wearing that particular number on their back.
It wasn’t always so. During the 1990s, the number 9 was worn by Alan Smith, one of the club’s most successful strikers. The curse didn’t really begin until 1996, when Arsène Wenger arrived at the club. The number 9 at that time was Arsenal legend Paul Merson, who played 40 games for Wenger in his first season. However, in May 1997, Merson was sold to First Division Middlesbrough for £5 million, having rejected a new deal from the Gunners.
That move marked the beginning of a gradual decline in Merson’s career, but the curse really took off with the next number 9. Nicolas Anelka made an immediate impact, playing a key role in the 1997/98 double-winning season and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award. However, Anelka was unhappy. With some people in his camp agitating for a move, he left Arsenal for Real Madrid in 1999, having worn out his welcome.
At the turn of the century, the curse really began to bite. Davor Šuker replaced Anelka but never settled, staying for just one season. Next came young hopeful Francis Jeffers, who had made his debut with Everton at the age of 16, but he was hit by a string of injuries and was never able to command a regular starting spot, eventually being sold to Charlton.
José Antonio Reyes fared a little better, at least initially. His debut season in 2003/04 showed promise, and he began the 2004/05 campaign in fine form. However, tough treatment by Manchester United in a game at Old Trafford, allegations of bullying behind the scenes, and a severe case of homesickness led to Reyes leaving on loan to Real Madrid, and he didn’t return.
Arsenal attempted to replace Reyes with Júlio Baptista, but he proved a failure, scoring three goals in 24 appearances, while the next number 9 wearer, Eduardo da Silva, was the victim of a horrific tackle in a game against Birmingham City in 2008 that kept him out for a year and more or less ended his Arsenal career. He was followed in 2012 by Park Chu-Young, who played just one league game for the Gunners, and in 2012 by German striker Lukas Podolski. Despite being prolific for FC Köln, he couldn’t repeat that form for Arsenal, and was never able to hold down a regular first-team place. Lucas Pérez arrived for the 2016-17 season, but he left on loan to Deportivo last summer to make way for Arsenal’s new number 9 from Lyon.
The knee injury that forced Lacazette out of action for over a month was unfortunate, but in his time at the club, the striker has shown glimpses of good form, and Arsenal fans will hope that finally the Gunners have found the player to break the curse of number 9.