Is Arsenal’s number 14 shirt a curse or a blessing?
The number 14 shirt at Arsenal is without a doubt the most prestigious squad number at the club. At least, it is looked at with the most reverence and held in the highest regard following Thierry Henry’s time in North London where he scored 228 goals with the number 14 on his back. Simply put, there is no greater honour than having this iconic squad number bestowed upon you if you play for Arsenal, which, unsurprisingly, is why a lot is expected from any player who is asked to wear it.
It goes without saying but the onus will always be on the particular incumbent to find the back of the net with the same regularity as Henry did. Indeed, following the Frenchman’s insatiable appetite for goals while in North London, Arsenal fans will always expect to see their number 14 starting and scoring during most games in the same fashion that someone like Mohamed Salah, for instance, is able to do these days for Liverpool. In fact, such is Salah’s prolific nature in front of goal that one of the best bets on football to make this season could be to back the Egyptian to win the Golden Boot having been priced at 9/2 to end the campaign as the Premier League’s top goalscorer.
Indeed, Salah is probably the closest equivalent you can get to Henry in terms of sheer consistency in the world’s most demanding league having won three Golden Boot awards in his career so far. Sadly for Arsenal, though, the club have been without a star front man like Salah or Henry for a long time, which begs the question: does the weight of expectancy of the number 14 shirt at Arsenal cause players to underachieve?
There may be an element of truth in that theory as far as Henry’s direct successor Theo Walcott goes. In fairness, the 33-year-old did manage to rack up 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners, but when you think back to Walcott’s time at the Emirates Stadium, you can’t help but feel that he was unable to reach his full potential. Ultimately, the attacker was sold to Everton in the prime of his career at 28 years old, which perhaps tells you everything you need to know about the legacy that Walcott left at Arsenal.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was next in line to receive the number 14 shirt following Walcott’s departure to Merseyside and started off impressively having shared the Premier League’s top goalscorer award in 2019 with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah after netting 22 goals. It was, however, downhill from there with the Gabonese forward falling out of favour at the club owing to a rift with new manager Mikel Arteta that was played out very publicly and in detail on the latest sports news websites and newspapers. As it turned out, Aubameyang wasn’t even able to surpass the 100-goal mark before he was asked to leave; he eventually departed North London with just 92 to his name.
This was, arguably, a tale of what could have been with Aubameyang on his day capable of doing anything Henry did, but when all is said and done, it was yet another disappointing ending for an Arsenal player wearing the famed number 14 shirt.
Realistically, it’s probably too strong a statement to say that the number 14 shirt is a curse, but what can’t be disputed is that those who have taken it on have left a mixed legacy at Arsenal. Indeed, the wait goes on for someone to match Henry’s breathtaking record.