It says a lot about a player’s calibre and personality when, after just one year’s tenure at a club, he receives a unanimously fond farewell.
Yossi Benayoun arrived at Arsenal as a deadline-day loan signing from Chelsea, having gone through West Ham and a very successful spell with Liverpool.
It was never quite clear to me why Benayoun left the Scousers. I’m sure they’re probably still trying to live it down, especially given how Chelsea utilised him so badly.
For Arsenal, Yossi started off in the eyes as many as ‘good squad filler’, a quality player just short of ‘star’ status, he could be drafted in as cover on the wings or just behind the striker.
But, apart from a sweetly taken goal in the Champions League (in a match we lost), the Israeli’s lustre seemed to fade further as he became a regular fixture on the bench.
He’d pop up occasionally, even scoring a vital winner at the death against Aston Villa, but it was not until that game against Spurs at Ashburton Grove that he finally became a vital cog in the Arsenal machine.
It was as surprising a pick by Arsene Wenger as any he had made that season. But Benayoun was the perfect foil on the left flank, picked ahead of the totally out-of-form Gervinho.
I return to the Scousers again: watching that extraordinary match alongside a Liverpool supporting buddy (just before they fluked a penalty win over Cardiff in the League Cup), he was made to remark about how much he missed Yossi playing in the Red of his team, rather than Arsenal’s. He even joined in when the Arsenal fans got the Yossi chant going. How many times can you say that about a Liverpool fan and any other team’s chants?
His defensive work meant neither of Spurs wingers found any love down our left flank, and his hard graft allowed for Rosicky, Arteta and Theo to flourish in other areas.
But inspired managerial picks take two to tango. Wenger made the right call to pick Yossi, but Yossi did his part perfectly to not only help Arsenal to a memorable, crucial win over the neighbours, but made the spot his own for the rest of the season.
Goals against Norwich and West Brom proved just enough to secure third place and ensure yet another successive season in the Champions League.
I would have loved for him to stay at Arsenal as a fitting reward for all his hard work, and never once complaining about his time on the bench. The perfect squad player, doing a job when required of him.
Sadly, as the years go by his physique (already lightweight) will degrade, and he will be used even less frequently than the season past. His place now sits at mid-table level, but let that be no slight on a terrific little player who made his short time with the Gunners count.
Yossi, we’ll look back on your loan spell with great fondness. Thank you for being such a dependable pro. Mazel tov.