Arsenal launched their new first-choice kit for 2022-23 on Thursday and in tandem with that was the announcement that Gabriel Martinelli would wear the number 11 shirt.
The Brazilian had had number 35 since he joined in 2019 but, with Lucas Torreira – who has spent the last two seasons on loan – set to depart, he will follow the recent trend of young attackers moving downwards, after Bukayo Saka (77 to 7) in 2020 and Emile Smith Rowe (32 to 10) last summer.
Martinelli will become the 12th different Arsenal player to wear number 11 since the Premier League introduced squad numbers in 1993 and, from a traditionalist’s point of view, it’s good to see a left-sided forward wear the shirt as that has become something of a rarity.
Incidentally, the first player to wear 11 as a squad number for Arsenal was Ray Parlour, who did so for the 1993 Coca-Cola Cup and FA Cup finals against Sheffield Wednesday.
Parlour was also the last Arsenal player to wear 11 in a game where they started 1-11 – the 1995 European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Real Zaragoza – but his squad numbers for the Premier League were 23 from 1993-95 and then 15 from 1995 until his departure at the end of the 2003-04 title-winning season.
Eddie McGoldrick (1993-95)
George Graham assigned the number 11 to Eddie McGoldrick when he signed from Crystal Palace for £1m in the summer of 1993. Anders Limpar, so good on the left wing in his first two seasons, had fallen out of favour during 1992-93 and was given 15, departing to join Everton in the spring of 1994.
McGoldrick never really established himself a first-teamer and, when new manager Bruce Rioch implemented a number clean-up upon his arrival in 1995, the Republic of Ireland international was given number 21.
Glenn Helder (1995-97)
The Dutch winger was the last signing made by George Graham before he was sacked in February 1995 and it was indicative of the bloated nature of the squad that he was given number 32 (Chris Kiwomya, signed just before him was allocated 31 while John Hartson, Britain’s most expensive teenager, nipped in to take the vacant 16).
Helder was switched to 11 for 1995-96 and played on the left for much of that campaign, with Paul Merson wearing 9 on the right as the man who had taken 10, Dennis Bergkamp, partnered number 8 Ian Wright.
While he did feature as a sub four times in the early part of 1996-97, the switch to 3-5-2 late in the previous campaign had marginalised him and he didn’t play at all under new manager Arsène Wenger, joining Benfica on loan during the Frenchman’s first season in charge and then returning to the Netherlands with NAC Breda.
Nicolas Anelka (1997)
Only four outings, all as sub, in the number 11 shirt for the French teenager, signed from Paris Saint-Germain in the spring of 1997.
When Merson departed that summer, it freed up 9, better suited to the centre-forward Anelka and allowing 11 to be taken by Marc Overmars. While he was initially back-up to Wright and Bergkamp during 1997-98, an injury to Wright allowed him to stake his claim and he played a key part in the double win before improving further in 1998-98, drawing the attention of Real Madrid, who signed him for £23.5m.
Marc Overmars (1997-2000)
Injuries meant that Overmars stayed at Ajax longer than much of the rest of the all-conquering 1995 Champions League-winning team, but Wenger took a chance on him for a fee of £4.5m that turned out to be a bargain.
As close to an old-style number 11 as you could get, Overmars dazzled in the double season, scoring 16 goals, including two in the 4-0 win over Everton that clinched the league and another in the FA Cup final victory over Newcastle United. Like Anelka, he too would end up leaving Arsenal for Spain as Barcelona completed a joint deal for him and Emmanuel Petit in 2000.
Sylvain Wiltord (2000-04)
Arsenal’s new number 11 was a Euro 2000 winner with France. Arsenal signed the player that wore number 11 as France won Euro 2000. Those two sentences mean different things.
While Robert Pirès was 11 for his country and often played on the left, he had favoured number 7 at Metz and was given that shirt upon joining Arsenal, displacing Argentinian full-back Nelson Vivas, who had to move to 23.
Centre-forward Wiltord was 13 for France at the tournament but he had been 11 for previous club Bordeaux and slotted in at the same number for Arsenal after his signing for a club record £13m. In the latter part of his Highbury career, he sometimes played on the right wing, giving the Gunners a reversal of the traditional wide numbers.
Robin van Persie (2004-10)
Wiltord left on a free transfer at the end of the double season and his replacement as 11 was 20-year-old van Persie.
While he showed signs of potential and quality throughout the mid-2000s, he had bad luck with injuries. It wasn’t until he moved to number 10 after William Gallas’s departure in 2000 – citing the Bergkamp influence – that he began to enjoy a run of appearances and regular goals.
Carlos Vela (2010-11)
As van Persie dropped down one digit, so did the next number 11, Mexican Carlos Vela.
Given number 12 for 2008-09 after three years on loan abroad following his initial transfer, Vela showed signs of promise, with four goals in three Carling Cup appearances.
Even so, the move to 11 wasn’t reflective of status as a first-teamer – Andrei Arshavin generally played on the wide left spot in Arsenal’s 4-3-3 at the time – and Vela departed Arsenal for Real Sociedad in 2011 having started just three Premier League games (with 26 substitute apperances in the competition) over three seasons.
Andre Santos (2011-13)
The next man to wear 11 was also from Latin America, Brazilian left-back Andre Santos signed from Fenerbahçe as part of the deadline-day dash in 2011 that also included Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Yossi Benayoun and Park Chu-Young.
There has been a growing tendency for attacking left-backs to wear 11 and, without wishing to sound stereotypical about a Brazilian, Santos was better going forward than on the back foot.
He scored a key goal in the 3-2 win over West Bromwich Albion on the final day of 2011-12 to secure fourth place but left halfway through 2012-13 to move to back to Brazil with Grêmio.
Mesut Özil (2013-18)
In September 2013, Arsenal broke their transfer record to sign German playmaker Özil from Real Madrid for £42.5m and, while number 10 was his preference, Jack Wilshere had taken that when van Persie left for Manchester United and so 11 was the next best option.
Ozil won FA Cup medals in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and set a Premier League assists record when Arsenal finished second to Leicester City in 2016.
Wilshere’s exit in 2018 paved the way for him to replicate van Persie’s switch of eight years previously.
Lucas Torreira (2018-22)
Uruguayan defensive midfielder Torreira was an unusual fit for number 11 – it wasn’t that he was a Steve McMahon fan but rather he maintained that it allowed him to sit next to Özil.
He had a good start to life at Arsenal but ultimately couldn’t settle in England and spent 2020-21 on loan at Atlético Madrid – where he wore the number 5 shirt vacated by Thomas Partey, who had joined Arsenal – and then 2021-22 with Fiorentina.
Torreira will leave the club in the summer but on good terms – as indicated by his joke after the Martinelli announcement:
Because Torreira’s stint in Spain was a season-long loan, Arsenal were allowed to re-assign the number 11 shirt when Ødegaard joined on loan from Real Madrid in January 2021.
After good performances, Arsenal sought to make the Norwegian’s move permanent and he was signed just after the beginning of the 2021-22 season. This time, he opted for the number 8 shirt that had been worn for the previous two campaigns by another Madrid loanee, Dani Ceballos.
Now, with Saka, Ødegaard, Smith Rowe and Martinelli wearing 7, 8, 10 and 11 respectively, Arsenal could field a perfectly numbered front five – all they need is a top-quality new number 9.