Investigating Wenger’s claim players don’t improve after leaving Arsenal

In Depth

Arsene Wenger made a bold claim this weekend when he suggested players fail to improve after leaving Arsenal.

Kieran Gibbs will line up against his former club for the first time on Monday evening when West Brom visit Emirates Saturday. This summer also saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain swap Arsenal for Liverpool, while this could prove to be the last season for both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in north London if they run down their contracts.

Wenger, however, suggests the grass isn’t always greener for players after leaving north London.

“Once someone takes the decision to leave I wish them well and focus on my squad, but just look at the performances of the players who left us and then come back to me about it,” he said.

“Learning is an attitude in life. It doesn’t depend on your geographical status, but more of the attitude in your brain. Are you ready to question yourself every day to see if you can improve?”

To test out his theory, we’ve picked out 15 players to have left Arsenal under Wenger’s tenure and looked back at how they fared following their departure.

Marc Overmars

Record at Arsenal: 141 appearances, 40 goals. Honours: Premier League, FA Cup, Community Shield.
Last season at Arsenal: 47 appearances, 13 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 141 appearances, 19 goals. Honours: None.
First season at Barcelona: 46 appearances, 8 goals.

Overmars was a crucial member of Arsenal’s Double-winning team of 1997-98 and became the most expensive Dutch footballer in history when he joined Barcelona in a £25million move.

But the attacker failed to reach double figures in a single campaign at the Camp Nou as injuries began to take their toll.

Ashley Cole

Record at Arsenal: 228 appearances, 9 goals. Honours: Premier League x 2, FA Cup x 3, Community Shield x 2.
Last season at Arsenal: 15 appearances, 0 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 394 appearances, 8 goals. Honours: Premier League, FA Cup x 4, League Cup, Champions League, Europa League, Community Shield.

Though several players on this list enjoyed greater success in terms of trophies won after leaving Arsenal, Cole is arguably the only one who improved as a player, establishing himself as one of the world’s finest left-backs with Chelsea.

He actually won more Premier Leagues with the Gunners than the Blues, but four FA Cups, a League Cup, a Europa League and most importantly a Champions League trophy are unlikely to have had Cole regretting his decision at too many junctures.

Jose Reyes

Record at Arsenal: 110 appearances, 23 goals. Honours: Premier League, FA Cup, Community Shield.
Last season at Arsenal: 44 appearances, 6 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 385 appearances, 42 goals. Honours: La Liga, Europa League x 5, UEFA Super Cup, Portuguese Cup.
First season at Real Madrid: 38 appearances, 7 goals.

Reyes arrived at Arsenal as a promising 20-year-old but failed to truly kick on at Highbury.

The Spaniard scored two vital goals on the final day of the season to help Real Madrid win La Liga and has also lifted a plethora of Europa League titles, but he has probably failed to live up to expectations, last appearing for the national team in 2006.

Patrick Vieira

Record at Arsenal: 406 appearances, 34 goals. Honours: Premier League x 3, FA Cup x 4, Community Shield x 3.
Last season at Arsenal: 44 appearances, 7 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 179 appearances, 20 goals. Honours: Serie A x 4, Supercoppa Italiana, FA Cup.
First season at Juventus: 42 appearances, 5 goals.

The sale of Vieira is often used as an example that Wenger knows when to allow players to leave, and it is certainly true the midfielder’s best days came at Arsenal.

He still managed to win plenty of trophies in Italy, however, and would have had another title to his name only for Juventus to be stripped of the 2005-06 crown due to the Calciopoli scandal.

Thierry Henry

Record at Arsenal: 369 appearances, 226 goals. Honours: Premier League x 2, FA Cup x 3, Community Shield x 2.
Last season at Arsenal: 27 appearances, 12 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 263 appearances, 103 goals. Honours: La Liga x 2, Champions League, Copa Del Rey, Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup.
First season at Barcelona: 47 appearances, 19 goals.

After scoring only 10 Premier League goals during an injury-hit final season at Arsenal, some felt Henry’s departure came at the right time for Arsenal and Wenger.

However, while the Gunners certainly enjoyed most of his peak years, Henry was a key part of the Barcelona side that won an historic treble in 2008-09 and then added the Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup the following season.

Whether he improved as a player is open to debate, but it’s impossible to argue he was not right to make the move to Catalonia.

• • • •

READ: A glowing tribute to the wonderful Thierry Henry at 40

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Alex Hleb

Record at Arsenal: 129 appearances, 10 goals. Honours: None.
Last season at Arsenal: 42 appearances, 4 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 161 appearances, 11 goals. Honours: La Liga, Copa Del Rey, Champions League, League Cup, Belarusian Premier League x 4.
First season at Barcelona: 36 appearances, 0 goals.

“I was playing at the top of my game in London and it was the best moments of my career,” Hleb told Reuters last year. “On the one hand I regret that I did not stay at Arsenal. Wenger was like a father to me and trusted me. I get sad when I start to think about this.”

That probably says it all.

Cesc Fabregas

Record at Arsenal: 303 appearances, 57 goals. Honours: FA Cup, Community Shield.
Last season at Arsenal: 36 goals, 9 appearances.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 292 appearances, 61 goals. Honours: La Liga, Copa Del Rey, Supercopa de Espana x 2, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, Premier League x 2, League Cup x 2.
First season at Barcelona: 48 appearances, 15 goals.

Fabregas was a wonderful player when he left Arsenal and remains a wonderful – and much more decorated – player to this day.

The fact he has never had to be the main man at Barcelona or Chelsea means it’s difficult to say how much the midfielder has improved, but his honours list suggests he made the correct decision in leaving the Gunners.

Kolo Toure

Record at Arsenal: 326 appearances, 14 goals. Honours: Premier League, FA Cup x 2, Community Shield x 2.
Last season at Arsenal: 41 appearances, 1 goal.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 190 appearances, 4 goals. Honours: Premier League, Scottish Premier League, Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup.
First season at Man City: 35 appearances, 2 goals.

Toure is another who enjoyed his best years at Arsenal, but he won the Premier League in his first season at Manchester City and remained in the Premier League for six further seasons before heading to Scotland.

Samir Nasri

Record at Arsenal: 125 appearances, 27 goals. Honours: None.
Last season at Arsenal: 46 appearances, 15 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 201 appearances, 29 goals. Honours: Premier League x 2, League Cup, Community Shield.
First season at Man City: 45 appearances, 6 goals.

Were it not for a, shall we say, ‘difficult’ personality, Nasri would probably be better known as an excellent footballer. The midfielder carried Arsenal at times during his last season but was never really required to do so at City, meaning he did not stand out as often. Like Fabregas, his honours list suggests he made the right decision, but that is not the debate.

Emmanuel Adebayor

Record at Arsenal: 142 appearances, 62 goals. Honours: None.
Last season at Arsenal: 37 appearances, 16 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 207 appearances, 77 goals. Honours: Copa Del Rey.
First season at Real Madrid: 22 appearances, 8 goals.

There’s a sense that Adebayor’s career would have continued down the same path – undoubtedly talented but infuriatingly inconsistent – had he stayed at Arsenal. Despite brief glimpses at City and Spurs, the striker played his best football at Arsenal and doesn’t have the medals to reflect his talent.

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READ: A rare celebration of peak Emmanuel Adebayor & his super spell at Arsenal

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Gael Clichy

Record at Arsenal: 264 appearances, 2 goals. Honours: Premier League, FA Cup, Community Shield.
Last season at Arsenal: 44 appearances, 1 goal.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 204 appearances, 3 goals. Honours: Premier League x 2, League Cup x 2, Community Shield.
First season at Man City: 37 appearances, 0 goals.

Did Clichy even improve much after breaking into the Arsenal first team? The fact the left-back was released by City at the end of last season to collective shrugs speaks volumes.

Robin Van Persie

Record at Arsenal: 277 appearances, 132 goals. Honours: FA Cup, Community Shield.
Last season at Arsenal: 48 appearances, 37 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 187 appearances, 94 goals. Honours: Premier League, Community Shield.
First season at Manchester United: 48 appearances, 30 goals.

The quality was always there with Van Persie, but other than his final season at Arsenal, he just couldn’t stay fit.

He only managed to do so for one season at Manchester United but was sensational as he lifted the Premier League title for the only time in his career. It went downhill from there…


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Alex Song

Record at Arsenal: 215 appearances, 10 goals. Honours: None
Last season at Arsenal: 46 appearances, 1 goal.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 133 appearances, 2 goals. Honours: La Liga, Supercopa de Espana.
First season at Barcelona: 34 appearances, 1 goal.

It seems an awful long time ago Barcelona signed Song. The fact he now plays for Rubin Kazan, still only 30, suggests he never improved as expected.

Gervinho

Record at Arsenal: 63 appearances, 11 goals. Honours: None.
Last season at Arsenal: 26 appearances, 7 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 106 appearances, 29 games. Honours: None.
First season at Roma: 37 appearances, 12 goals.

Gervinho became a figure of fun at Arsenal but actually showed more glimpses of his talent in his first season at Roma.

Serge Gnabry

Record at Arsenal: 18 appearances, 1 goal. Honours: None.
Last season at Arsenal: 0 appearances, 0 goals.

Record after leaving Arsenal: 31 appearances, 11 goals. Honours: None.
First season at Wolfsburg: 27 appearances, 11 goals.

After falling completely off the radar at Arsenal and a difficult spell on loan at West Brom, few supporters would have expected Gnabry to take Bundesliga by storm last season, but the attacker broke into the Germany squad and earned a move to Bayern Munich with a number of excellent displays.

The 22-year-old can definitely tell Wenger he improved after leaving Arsenal.

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