Lucas Perez is not a happy man.
Having joined Arsenal from Deportivo de La Coruña late in the transfer window of summer 2016, he found game-time hard to come by, but still finished with a creditable tally of seven goals from 21 games.
His chances of playing receded further when Arsenal made Alexandre Lacazette their record signing and insult was added to injury when the Frenchman was given Perez’s number 9 shirt, the Spaniard being bumped up to number 28 (displacing Joel Campbell in the process).
Perez is reported to have aired his grievances with Arsenal’s transfer negotiator, Dick Law.
The thing of taking the shirt number without telling me to give it to a companion, it seems to me the last straw.
I cannot continue this way. I have given everything, but that has not been reciprocated, so I can’t stand it any longer. I feel cheated. In February I was not allowed to leave for China with the promise that I would play more and after that I had even fewer opportunities.
But the shirt number is an ugly gesture. On the trip, Lacazette asked the boss and he accepted. Afterwards, he told me. Last year he [Wenger] told me that he understood that I was upset. I think this season things will get worse, so help me out.
Interestingly though, he’s not the first Arsenal number 9 to be re-assigned to a higher number.
When the Premier League mandated squad numbering in 1993-94, Alan Smith was unsurprisingly given 9 by George Graham. He had worn it in the two cup finals the previous spring, when Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday piloted squad numbers and, apart from wearing 8 in the first two games of 1992-93 (Kevin Campbell wore 9), it was ‘his’ number.
Unfortunately for Smith, he would struggle with injuries over the next two seasons and didn’t feature that much. When Dennis Bergkamp was signed by Bruce Rioch from Internazionale for £7.5m in 1995, there was a knock-on effect in numbering, as the Dutchman took number 10, which had been Paul Merson’s. Merson was still considered an important part of the first team though and he was placated with the allocation of 9.
That meant that Smith was moved to 19, but as things transpired, he was forced to retire in the summer of 1995 anyway. The number 19 ended up being worn by John Jensen – he had been 17 in 93-94 and 94-95, but with contract talks at an impasse and his exit expected, he was initially switched to number 30. After an agreement was reached, he moved to 19, with his old 17 taken by David Hillier, who had made the fairly pointless switch from 18.
Merson kept 9 for two seasons before joining Middlesbrough in 1997, whereupon Nicolas Anelka inherited the shirt, having worn 11 at the tail-end of 96-97. When Anelka moved to Real Madrid in 1999, it was a signing from Real, Davor Suker, who wore 9 for a forgettable season. The shirt was empty in 2000-01, but Arsenal fans will always wonder about how Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have fared in it if he hadn’t taken umbrage to Arsène Wenger’s offer of a trial.
Instead, Francis Jeffers became Arsenal’s number 9 when he transferred from Everton in the summer of 2001.
He couldn’t break into what was admittedly a team laden with stars, managing eight goals in 38 games in his first two seasons. A harsh red card against Manchester United in the 2003 Community Shield marked what would prove to be his final Arsenal appearance, as he returned to Everton on a season-long loan for 2003-04.
In January of that season, he played a key part in setting up Everton’s equaliser against Arsenal at Goodison Park and that month also marked the arrival at Highbury of José Antonio Reyes. With players on long-term loans considered to have vacated their number (though it seems nobody has told Swansea), the Gunners were able to give Reyes the number 9.
He played a key part in Arsenal winning the league without losing a game and he began the following season in superb form, earning a player of the month award. Jeffers returned to Arsenal in the summer of ’04 but his departure was inevitable and he signed for Charlton Athletic in August. He did appear for Arsenal in the Amsterdam Tournament though, with the number 29 on his back.
Reyes couldn’t build on his good start and in the 2005-06 season he struggled to exert his influence. It was no surprise when he joined Real Madrid on a season loan at the end of August 2006, with Julio Baptista going the other way and wearing 9. He scored ten goals for Arsenal, and four of those were in the one Carling Cup game at Anfield, where he missed a penalty too.
Eduardo da Silva replaced him as number 9 in 2007 and looked to be establishing himself before sustaining a broken leg at Birmingham City in February 2008. He did make a full recovery but wasn’t the same player and he left in 2010, with the shirt again vacant for the 10-11 season. It wouldn’t be filled until deadline day of 2011.
There is definitely a story to be told around the purchase of Park Chu-young from Monaco – hijacking a proposed move to Lille – but one fears we may never hear it.
Early on, Wenger spoke about the need for an “adaptation period” and Park scored against Bolton Wanderers in the league cup and even started a Champions League tie against Marseille. However, his only Premier League appearance came as a late sub in a 2-1 home defeat by Manchester United.
When Lukas Podolski signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2012, it was expected that he would take the number 10 vacated by Robin van Persie. Instead, that shirt went to Jack Wilshere and Podolski was given 9, meaning Park was bumped up to 30. The South Korean didn’t wear it at all in 2012-13 as he was sent on loan to Celta Vigo, but did appear in the league cup in 2013-14 before joining Watford in the second half of that season as his contract ran out.
With Podolski dispensed with after 2014-15, the number 9 lay fallow once more in 15-16, allowing Perez to take it when he signed. Arsenal fans will be hoping that Lacazette can break the hoodoo that seemingly surrounds it, or at the very least keep it on his terms without being given a higher number instead.