During Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal, the Gunners became a club well known for developing young players
The likes of Ashley Cole, Hector Bellerin and Cesc Fabregas are major success stories at Arsenal but while there are a fair few success stories, there are also plenty of talented players who, for one reason or another, didn’t manage to reach their full potential at Arsenal.
Here are seven such players.
There is no place better to start than with Jack Wilshere.
After all, he was the golden boy in the early 2010s for Arsenal. The Englishman was once described as the best English talent since Paul Gascoigne and at just 19 it look like that was a pretty fair assessment of his ability given that he dominated Andres Iniesta and Xavi in a famous Champions League encounter.
Shortly after bursting onto the scene however, Wilshere would go on to have a number of injury-hit years at the Emirates.
Following this he was sent on loan to Bournemouth and then briefly returned before leaving Arsenal for West Ham in the same summer Wenger left.
Diaby is possibly the biggest ‘what if?’ story in Arsenal’s Premier League history. The French midfielder signed for Arsenal in 2005 and looked like a perfect replacement for Patrick Vieira.
Similarly to Wilshere, Diaby’s career was blighted by injuries however, and he only managed to make 139 league appearances over 13 seasons as a professional. Unable to forge out a career that matched his ability, the midfielder will always be remembered as a ‘nearly’ man.
Denilson was the definition of a ‘wonderkid’. He joined Arsenal in 2006 and was described by Wenger as a mix of Thomas Rosicky and Gilberto Silva.
Five years later he was on loan back in Brazil.
While Denilson did struggle with injuries, the main reason for his underwhelming Arsenal career was actually homesickness. James McNicholas, for The Athletic, wrote about his struggles adapting to life in England where the Brazilian admitted: “I couldn’t deal with the loneliness”.
He now plays for Sliema Wanderers in Malta.
David Bentley was touted as the ‘next big thing’ when coming through Arsenal’s academy in the early 2000s, so much so that he had a section dedicated to him in Arsenal’s 2004 season review – the year of the Invincibles.
Compared to both David Beckham and Dennis Bergkamp, he was expected to be key to both England and Arsenal’s hopes in the future. However, Bentley only made one senior appearance for Arsenal and retired at 29 – the only real highlight from his career being a 40-yard volley, against Arsenal, for Tottenham.
Jermaine Pennant was signed at the age of 15 for £2m by Arsenal – then a record for a trainee. He made his debut at 16 years old and became the Gunners’ youngest ever first-team player.
Pennant went on to only make 12 first-team appearances for the north London club however, and became more known for his off-field antics than his football – including an infamous story where he ‘forgot he owned a Porsche’.
The Englishman went on to play for another 13 clubs in four different countries including India and Singapore. Not quite the career he was hoping for then.
Fran Merida was Fabregas after Fabregas. The Spaniard was signed from Barcelona at 17 and great things where expected of him – especially after he scored (his only Premier League goal) against Bolton in 2010.
He left Arsenal later that year to join the team he supported as a child: Atletico Madrid. The move didn’t work out and he found himself in the Spanish third tier just five years later.
Now 30, Merida has joined Espanyol after they were relegated to the second division for the first time since 1994.
It had to be Lord Bendtner. The Dane joined Arsenal as a youngster and made his way through the youth teams scoring regularly. His success as a young player clearly got to him as in 2010 he said: “I am one of the best strikers in the world”.
Since then he has played for Juventus and Nottingham Forest and now turns out for Tårnby FF’s over-32 team. He has a reality TV show with his model girlfriend and has become an internet meme. There is no doubt that Bendtner didn’t have the career he would have anticipated, but he will never be forgotten. Ever.