Ex Files: Arsenal
All week we have looked back at three players from England's top clubs whom the fans have loved to hate, and those whom they wish had never left. Then one from a rival club whom they hate to say they love. James McNicholas delves into Arsenal's recent past.
Love to hate: Robin van Persie
Over the past decade, there have been so many deserters from Arsenal that there is fairly stiff competition in this category. Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor abandoned the Emirates Stadium to join Manchester City, incurring the wrath of the fans in the process. Adebayor then compounded his crimes by joining Tottenham. At times, it's felt like his primary aim has been to infuriate Arsenal supporters. If it is, he's not doing a bad job.
Ashley Cole's move across London made him persona non grata in Islington. It wasn't just his greed and duplicity that caused so much anger, but the fact he dared to join another club in the same city. Football fans are notoriously unforgiving of players who move to join rivals.
For similar reasons, the most despised former Arsenal player is undoubtedly Robin van Persie. His defection to Manchester United left a bitter taste in the mouth. Arsene Wenger spent such a long time developing Van Persie's talent, showing remarkable patience throughout the Dutchman's injury problems. As soon as Van Persie reached his peak, he opted to move elsewhere. Football is almost bereft of loyalty, but that act of betrayal stung more than most.
Love to love: Thierry Henry
Arsenal fans have no problem giving an ovation to a player who has served the club well and left with dignity. This summer, the club lost the pair of Bacary Sagna and Lukasz Fabianski on Bosman deals. Although both have chosen to join Premier League clubs, most Arsenal fans do not begrudge the men their moves. Throughout their time in North London, they played with unquestionable commitment. Sagna, for example, suffered two broken legs in Arsenal colours. He made sacrifices for the cause, even when it became clear his future lay elsewhere.
For similar reasons, Kolo Toure will always be guaranteed a good reception at the Emirates Stadium. Toure was a key part of the legendary Invincibles team of 2004. His gutsy style made him a cult favourite among the Arsenal faithful, and his departure was relatively cordial. Every time he comes back to London, he and the Gunners fans engage in mutual applause.
That being said, no former player is loved quite like Thierry Henry. The bond between Henry and Arsenal is something special, and may never be replicated. The Frenchman has represented the club in two spells, creating wonderful memories in both. This summer, Arsenal travelled to New York to play Henry's current team, the New York Red Bulls of MLS. No player got a warmer reception from the Arsenal fans than their fabled former No. 14.
Hate to love: Cesc Fabregas
I must admit I still hold a candle for Cesc Fabregas. Although stories circulate of supposed strikes, the truth is that Fabregas left Arsenal on fairly amicable terms. However, that once-cordial relationship is in danger of souring now that he has moved to Chelsea. Arsenal fans probably feel obligated to hate him now. The rivalry between the two clubs is intense. The better Fabregas performs in blue, there more it will stoke the ire of the Arsenal fans.
However, Fabregas is only at Chelsea because Arsenal rejected the opportunity to sign him. When it became clear he would have to leave Barcelona this summer, Wenger was sounded out about the possibility of securing Cesc a return to the Emirates Stadium. Instead of bringing back his former skipper, Wenger decided to persist with his current stable of midfield talent.
It was only then that Fabregas opted to join Chelsea. He's always spoken well of Arsenal and Wenger, even when discussing the fact that they chose not to re-sign him. Fabregas is a class act both on and off the field. There will be plenty of boos when he returns in Chelsea colours, but I won't be joining in.