Ranking Barcelona’s eight signings from Arsenal: Henry, Hleb, Cesc…
With Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang leaving Arsenal for Barcelona, it marked another player to move between the two clubs.
Before Aubameyang, a remarkable eight previous players had made the trip from North London directly to Barcelona to a variety of successes and failures.
For some it was a case of returning home, for others it was a case of trying to elevate their game and for yet more it was admittedly the appeal of money.
Yet for Aubameyang, it seems to be more a case of rescuing his career than anything else. He flew to Catalonia by his own accord, with the deal nowhere near finished nor promised, in a desperate effort to leave Arsenal.
“It has been a long time since I played a match but I am clear that I am ready to play and help,” the Gabonese international explained.
But how did his predecessors get on at Barca?
We’ve ranked all eight of the previous players who swapped the Gunners for the Blaugrana by how they fared at the Camp Nou.
8. Emmanuel Petit
Petit left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2000.
In North London, he had been a midfield stalwart and one of the finest in the country and won the World Cup with France in 1998, but things went badly from almost his very first game with Barcelona.
“I turned up for a friendly, and when I went in to meet my team-mates most of them ignored me,” Petit recalled years later.
It turned out he had only really been signed in order to strengthen the club’s president hand in the upcoming club elections, which feels like something out of a shit footballing version of Succession.
“The night I arrived, the boss asked another French player, Richard Dutruel, to translate. Richard, visibly embarrassed, told me not to laugh, but said the boss wanted to know what my best position was!”
“I thought he was joking. But I soon realised I was only there as part of Gaspart’s plot to become president.”
One year after arriving Petit escaped Catalonia and returned to London, signing for Chelsea.
7. Alexander Hleb
Hleb had one full season at Barcelona after leaving Arsenal in 2008, during which he played intermittently.
He was sent out on loan to former club VfB Stuttgart the next season, bringing to an end a poor Barcelona stint.
Except, of course, for the little detail that he won the 2008-09 treble.
6. Thomas Vermaelen
Oh yeah, Vermaelen played for Barcelona.
In five seasons at the club he played just 34 league matches, with a succession of serious injuries hampering the player after he left Arsenal for the Nou Camp in 2014.
But luckily for him that was during one of Barcelona’s best periods.
He won everything there was to win; the Champions League in his first season, four La Liga titles, and much more.
In fact, for less than every four league matches he played he won a major honour with Barcelona. That’s some going.
5. Alex Song
When Alex Song moved from Arsenal to Barcelona, some probably wondered what he was doing.
He was never going to get much game time, averaging around 20 matches a season while at the Nou Camp, so why did he go?
“I met Barca’s sporting director, and he told me I would not get to play many games, but I didn’t give a f*** – I knew that now I would become a millionaire,” Song has since said.
Ah, that would explain it.
“When Barcelona offered me a contract, and I saw how much I would earn, I didn’t think twice.
“I felt my wife and children should have comfortable lives once my career is over.”
That’s fair enough, especially considering he didn’t have a bad time on the pitch too, and helped the team win the 2012-13 La Liga.
But Song’s time at the club will ultimately always be remembered for this. Think of the most mortifying moment of your life and take comfort in the fact it wasn’t a tenth as bad as this.
I think often about the time Alex Song genuinely thought Carles Puyol wanted him to lift La Liga trophy ahead of liver cancer survivor Eric Abidal pic.twitter.com/DMO5pz2mzF
— Adam Boultwood (@adamboultwood) August 13, 2019
4. Marc Overmars
Overmars joined alongside Petit, but unlike the Frenchman he had a much better time of it in Barcelona.
He often struggled for game time and may have won nothing in comparison to others on this list, but he stayed as part of the first-team squad for four years and produced some memorable performances, taking him to the end of his career.
That makes Overmars a considerably more successful signing than the four ranked below him, but unfortunately due to severe injuries, it’s another that can’t quite be considered a success.
3. Cesc Fabregas
From the moment Fabregas left Barcelona for Arsenal as a youngster in search of opportunities, his return seemed inevitable.
Come the summer of 2011, it finally happened. The technically gifted midfielder left Arsenal as club captain and one of the first names on the teamsheets but soon found himself struggling to break into a Barcelona team that still featured Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets.
That’s not to say he didn’t have a good time back in Catalonia, still playing regularly and scoring as well as assisting, but it was not perhaps the perfect return of the prodigal son he had imagined.
He won one La Liga title in three years with the club, a relatively paltry return for a side that otherwise racked up silverware in that era.
The season before he arrived they won the Champions League and La Liga double, and the season after he left they won a second treble, with Croatia international Ivan Rakitic proving more effective than the La Masia graduate that was theoretically the perfect fit.
Fabregas left for Chelsea in 2014, where he twice won the Premier League he never managed to clinch with Arsenal. His time at Barcelona had him feeling like he had been given too hard of a run by the fans.
“My case was different because the supporters saw me as someone who’d been here as a kid, who’d left and who the club had to pay a lot of money for,” he has since said.
“Without that, I would have been viewed differently.”
2. Giovanni van Bronckhorst
The current Rangers manager left North London in 2003, swapping Highbury for the Nou Camp.
It was there he adapted his game to become a left-back and became a Barcelona legend thanks to his role in the 2005-06 Champions League triumph, lifting the trophy as the only player to have played in every game during that campaign.
In doing so he defeated his old club Arsenal in the final, the first time he had played them since leaving.
“Of course, it’s special [playing Arsenal],” he said post-match, wearing an Arsenal shirt he had swapped after the final whistle.
“It’s special playing in a Champions League final, even more, special playing against your old team.
“It felt a bit strange but those things happen, but I’m happy and feel lucky to be on the winning side.”
Would the result have been different if he had stayed in London?
1. Thierry Henry
Unequivocally the best player on this list, no matter how you would decide to rank it.
Henry was Arsenal’s undisputed star man and it pained them when he left in 2007. Many still consider him the Gunners’ greatest-ever player.
But for Henry the decision became a simple case of wanting to compete at the top of Europe, something Arsenal could no longer offer him.
“It was not easy and when I left I cried. I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m a competitor and I had to leave,” he has since said.
“I’d never considered leaving Arsenal. But I was 29 years old and in form.”
He undoubtedly peaked at Arsenal, and was nowhere near the same talismanic figure at the Camp Nou, but his decision to move was vindicated when he lifted the Champions League in 2008-09, completing a famous treble.
The France international wasn’t the star man for Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side, but an important cog in arguably the greatest side in history.