Two things encouraged me to write this list. Firstly, a week ago having paid respects to Santi Cazorla, a few readers got into a debate with each other about whether Santi better then Cesc Fabregas? With England playing Spain on Monday Night, I thought it be timely to rank from worst to best, the 10 Spanish players to represent Arsenal in the Premier League.
10- Fran Merida
Poaching the teenager from Barcelona’s academy was always going to see comparisons to Cesc Fabregas. This was big news in Spain who saw Merida has a hot prospect and were getting tired of UK laws allowing the likes of Arsenal stealing them from under their noses. Gooners learnt of Merida through the League Cup but Arsene Wenger at numerous times was quick to stress this was a man being prepared for the future. Loan moves were put into place to prepare him for the physical nature of English football. He was being transitioned into making the bench for Premiership games while his club had verbally agreed a contract extension. We would later accuse Atletico Madrid of tapping him up, taking advantage of homesickness common in Spanish players. This again created headlines in his native’s media, but he’s done little since to warrant the attention. In the short term he started more in La Liga then he would have in the Premiership. Long term though, history shows Mr Wenger was willing to give youth a chance. Merida’s yet to show why one of the biggest clubs in England and Spain had such a bitter tug of war over his services.
Made an impression for Spanish youth sides which had a who’s who of Europe chasing him. He started with our under-age squads, eventually being named captain. Paying off the stadium debt, Arsenal were open to giving youngsters a pathway. If you impressed in cup ties, you would be transitioned into the weekend plans. Loans would also be set up not to signal you were not in the managers plans but to give you experience of the physical demands of the English game. So, a spell in the Championship was sink or swim. Could he show the personality to cope? Despite promotion with Leicester, he only started 12 times, setting back his progress. Having not done enough in the second tier of the pyramid, all parties agreed on a permanent switch to Norwich. Now back home in Getafe,
8- Lucas Perez
One of the few players you could accuse Arsene Wenger of not giving a fair chance to. The few opportunities he was given, he made an impact, but it didn’t seem to alter his manager’s opinion of him. This was harsh when you consider he was ready to move to Everton before Arsenal called at the last moment. Some sources suggest he was guilty by association, becoming best friends with Sanchez at a time the Chilean was deemed a disruptive influence in the dressing room. Where management felt they couldn’t make an example out of their best player, they had enough fire power to phase out Perez. To be fair though, on loan back in Spain and now at West Ham, he’s yet to prove the old regime wrong,
Since Jens Lehmann, Arsene Wenger was accused of having a blind spot over goal keepers. Were there worse than Almunia? Yes. But not many so average in such a crucial position would play so many games for a top side. It’s not even a judgement on his ability. He simply didn’t have the mentality to cope with competing at the highest level. He inspired no trust in his back four and once he lost his confidence, it took him ages to get it back. Of all the evidence of Stan Kroenke’s lack of ambition, there were consecutive January’s where many thought were were primed to be champions if we just improved who was between the sticks. Both times we haggled over a million pounds to get Mark Schwarzer, refusing to budge on our valuation. A Billionaire worried about a million pound for the sake of a title?
6- José Antonio Reyes
After the Reyes experiment, no wonder Arsenal would never again pay over the odds for someone from Spain. When you buy someone from that part of the world, there’s always a danger of them hating the weather, finding our League too physically demanding and holding a dream of playing for Real Madrid. Still though, he was being paid thousands a week to at least try and fight his home sickness. From day one, he couldn’t settle in London, was targeted by Man United who kicked him off the pitch and was constantly linked with a switch to the Bernabeu. I never felt either party did enough to make it work, even when he showed his undoubted skill. Perhaps our board saw keeping someone not happy on such a huge wage, a waste of money, especially with a stadium to pay for.
Four years ago, you would have said Hector would end up higher on this type of list. After his breakout season, Barcelona were reportedly willing to pay 50 million for the full back, it assumed it a case of when – not if – he returned to Spain. It’s natural one so young, would struggle with consistentcy but few confidences seem to have suffered more than the right backs due to the turmoil at the club. Having come through our academy, he seemed more hurt then most by the constant abuse from his own supporters. This is where the likes of Sanchez let him down. Senior professionals were being paid hundreds of thousands to be leaders to a young dressing room. Instead of guiding them through a storm, teaching them it’s natural to have bad times, they let everything fall apart. Bellerin still relied on his speed but was no longer taking on his man and crossing into the box. One of Unai Emery’s first tasks is too get him to find his mojo, and the early signs are that it’s happening. Would you take the 50 million?
It took an 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford to pressure Stan Kroenke into even thinking about replacing Fabregas and Nasri, causing an unorganised last-minute trolley dash on deadline day. Of course, the American was never going to reinvest all the cash he just recruited, so we had to find cut price options. Arteta even had to take a pay cut and beg Everton for the transfer, realising it was the last chance for such a move. No one pretended he was better than Fabregas, but it’s perhaps underappreciated what the likes of him and Benayoun gave to us at the time. With the whole club in disarray, we needed a couple of steady hands to give professionalism and standards to a young squad. How we got into the top 4 that year with the squad we had is a mystery.
Originally an understudy to Gibbs, Monreal was an easy scapegoat for gooners, frustrated with the overall performance of the club. This was not helped when, in a bid to save some cash, instead of buying a new centre back, the left back was asked to learn the new role. His attitude and work rate over the years has stood out, as at times it’s contradicted some of his peers’ approach to the cause. It’s got to a point where Nacho’s grown into one of our few leaders. Adding goals to his game, he’s getting better the more he matures.
Such was the nature of how Van Persie left and how the club had already spent that incoming money, meaning they knew all along he was going, it overshadowed that summer that we brought in a quite beautiful player. The way Arsene Wenger spoke, this was his idealistic footballing prototype, if he had his way he’d have 11 Cazorlas. Midfielders like him would often prove to be lightweight but he could look after himself as well. They say, don’t appreciate things until they are gone but because we were told his original injury was minor we never really got to mourn what we lost, till he left in the summer. It’s too far-fetched to say his demise stopped us being Champions but a fully fit Cazorla wouldn’t have seen us fall as far as we have. The biggest compliment I can give the Spaniard is you could have put him in any previous Arsenal team and he would have not been out of place.
Having read comments last week of why it’s crazy to suggest Fabregas was better than Cazorla, I do feel some opinions are formed on how the two midfielders left our club. Santi was robbed of the best years of his career, the end was not how either party planned or wished. Cesc meanwhile always wanted to go home to Barcelona and now plays for one our biggest rivals. I do believe our ex skipper loved us though having been in London since a 15-year-old. Like, the likes of our old back 4 did a great job of teaching a young Viera and Henry the traditions of our history, they passed that onto the Spaniard. Fabregas was the perfect reflection of our club’s footballing values.
Ironically, he would be vocal about how Chelsea would bully us while we tried to do things, ‘the right way’. He led by example, enjoyed overseeing a young group, being himself only in his early twenties when made captain. For that group of players, I have always viewed the League Cup final loss to Birmingham the beginning of the end. Weeks before we had beaten Barcelona, were top of the Prem, with the media debating how many trophies we would win. We mentally fell apart after that loss, letting it impact on everything else. That was the moment I believed our captain realised without help, in terms of experience and physicality he wouldn’t be able to go to back to Spain with more than an FA Cup winner’s medal. Moving back to the UK, his chosen destination was North London, but his former boss declined a buy back clause. One of Wenger’s final mistakes?