Julio Baptista

Arsenal fans never saw the best of Julio Baptista. Maybe only fans of Seville have.

The man can be brilliant but also very average. In 24 Premiership appearances for Arsenal, he only scored 5 goals. Yet, against Liverpool in the 2007 Carling cup quarter-final at Anfield, he managed to score 4 goals and miss a penalty.

No man has scored that number of goals at Anfield post World War Two.

Four days earlier, Arsenal had beaten Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield in the FA cup 3rd round. To beat them at Anfield again, but with a reserve team 6-3, was stunning. At one point Arsenal led 5-1.

In the Carling cup semi-final against Spurs, Baptista showed his Jekyll and Hyde character. In the first half he was awful. He scored an own goal and missed a sitter from from 4 yards after an Arsenal corner had landed conveniently at his feet. At that stage Arsenal were 2-0 down and looking dead and buried. But after the break Arsenal and Baptista were a different story. Baptista atoned his first half nightmare with a second half retort – scoring two and bringing Arsenal back in the game.

The man was on fire and I wanted to Wenger to sign him permanently. But it seemed that Baptista had peaked. He never repeated his Spurs and Liverpool goal fest. In fact, he only managed to score two more goals that season – at home to Reading and Fulham.

Baptista would argue that he only started 16 games for Arsenal. True, it was only after Thierry Henry got injured that he saw more playing time. 17 of Baptista’s appearances were as a sub. In fact, he scored his first Arsenal goal as a substitute against Hamburg in a Champions League group match that Arsenal won 3-1.

Baptista, however, was the big transfer story of the summer 2005. For three months, like a fool, I stayed obsessed with the race for his signature. There were rumors that he wanted to stay another year in Spain so that he could claim his EU passport. Spurs had made a bid of 14 million pounds. Arsenal had a 13.75 million pound bid rejected. He eventually signed for Real Madrid, only to arrive at Arsenal a year later in a loan swap deal involving Jose Antonio Reyes.

Apart from his Carling cup goals, Baptista also missed three penalties. The first was against Liverpool in that famous 6-3 thrashing. The second was against Bolton Wanderers in a 4th round FA cup replay at The Reebok stadium. Gilberto also missed a penalty that night, which allowed Bolton to score a last minute equalizer.

Nevertheless, Arsenal eventually won the match 3-1 in extra time.

Baptista’s last penalty miss was against Portsmouth in the last game of the 2006/07 season. It was to be his last game in Arsenal shirt. Wenger couldn’t off load Reyes to Real Madrid and therefore decided against signing Baptista. Madrid’s asking price was too high, so Wenger signed Eduardo instead.

Tomorrow Baptista returns to The Emirates with Roma. He’s scored 6 goals in 18 games for them.

I like Baptista. Mainly because he reminds me of a striker Arsenal had in the late 1970’s called Malcolm Macdonald or Super Mac.

Macdonald holds the record for scoring the most England goals in one game. He scored five against Cyprus in a match England won 5-0. Macdonald only scored once again for England, with his international career fizzling out after just 14 caps.

Baptista’s Arsenal career also seemed to fizzle out after his Carling cup goal flurry. But Macdonald will always be remembered for his 5 England goals in one match. So will Baptista for his 4 goals at Anfield.

However, Macdonald is now only remembered as a trivia question. I get the feeling that the same will eventually be true of Baptista with his time at Arsenal soon to be forgotten. His goal record at Anfield will probably never be touched in my life time, but then Baptista will never never be one of The Untouchables either.

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