The digit which adorns the back of a shirt has become so much more than an efficient way of identifying which one of the 11 players charging about the pitch happens to be on the ball.
For some, the number nine and ten may go down as the more iconic figures in footballing history, but the number seven shirt is almost unique in the sense that it is more readily associated with a player rather than a position.
Arsenal have hardly been starved of iconic players in this particular strip. As Bukayo Saka makes the natural progression from 77 to seven, he is the newest name on a star-studded roll-call of talent.
When Herbert Chapman – Arsenal’s legendary manager – sent his players out on the opening day of the 1928/29 season against Sheffield Wednesday, football history was made. Whether Chapman ‘invented’ the idea of squad numbers is up for debate but on that August afternoon, Arsenal’s red and white shirts were adorned with digits for the first time.
As the side’s outside right, Joe Hulme became Arsenal’s first ever number seven. Fittingly, Hulme was a fantastic player, making more than 350 appearances for the club over more than a decade and he still sits among Arsenal’s top ten goal scorers of all time.
On the day Arsenal sealed their first ever League and Cup double in 1971 – at the time, unquestionably the greatest achievement in the club’s history – George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong was patrolling the flank proudly sporting the number seven.
Unlike many of the players to have worn the shirt since, Armstrong was as eager to track back and help his full-back as he was to burst forward in attack throughout a career lasting 16 years.
Armstrong was even Arsenal’s record appearance maker at one time – before he was passed by David O’Leary.
Liam Brady once said: “Thinkers are the deadliest men.” By that logic, there have been few footballers more threatening than the ethereal Irishman.
A subtle drop of the shoulder, a graceful glide across the pitch – at a time when there was often more mud than grass – were hallmarks of his elusive genius.
Brady’s spell in north London may have ended with a missed penalty but there can only be one regret in his Arsenal career: it didn’t last longer.
The overwhelming outpouring of appreciation for David Rocastle’s character, as much as his footballing talent, by anyone to have even enjoyed the merest of contact with him, whenever the slightest opportunity presents itself, is testament to the person he was.
Following his rapid rise from the academy, Rocastle was part of a wonderfully talented generation which guided an Arsenal side lacking in honours and finances to two league titles in three years.
Although, his impact on the club and those around him could scarcely be measured solely in silverware.
Robert Pires was one third of arguably the deadliest trio in Arsenal’s history. In front of left-back Ashley Cole and behind striker Thierry Henry, Arsenal’s left-hand side seemed capable of dismantling the country’s most formidable opponents on their own.
The Frenchman – who wonderfully seemed to run as though always ready to control a pass with his instep – brought flair, creativity and a goal threat as a vital cog in the greatest side of the club’s long history.
Tomas Rosicky’s decade in a (number seven) Arsenal shirt was punctuated by a cruel run of injuries. Nevertheless, the Czech midfielder’s subtlety and guile stood out among a team which was rapidly deteriorating in quality.
The unbridled joy which accompanied every goal celebration and a propensity to score against Tottenham Hotspur endeared him to a notoriously fickle fan group.
Arsène Wenger summed up his number seven perfectly when he said: “If you love football, you love Tomas Rosicky.”
Alexis Sánchez may not have left Arsenal on the best of terms – although his tally of as many goals as yellow cards (five) for Manchester United must have somewhat softened the blow. Yet, during his three and a half years in north London, the Chile international, at times, almost singlehandedly dragged Arsenal through matches.
In his third season, Sánchez shifted from 17 to his favoured number seven and somehow improved upon his first two remarkable campaigns. That term Sánchez, largely playing as a winger, netted a remarkable 24 Premier League goals and laid on ten assists – the only player to hit double figures for both that season.
The other half of the swap deal which took Sánchez to Old Trafford – Henrikh Mkhitaryan – inherited the number seven. But with Mkhitaryan looking increasingly likely to stay at Roma, Saka will be the latest in a long line of illustrious players to don that famous shirt.