Where are they now? The Arsenal XI from Mikel Arteta’s first game as boss in 2019

Mikel Arteta took charge of Arsenal in December 2019, and one look at the starting XI from his first match on the sidelines indicates just how far the club has come under his management. 

Arteta took over from Unai Emery and, after spending three seasons working under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the former Gunners captain was bullish in his introductory press conference.

“We all know there is a lot of work to be done to achieve that but I am confident we’ll do it,” he said.

“I’m realistic enough to know it won’t happen overnight, but the current squad has plenty of talent and there is a great pipeline of young players coming through from the academy.”

After a number of sticky periods, Arteta has transformed Arsenal from mid-table mediocrity into one of the best teams in the Premier League.

But his first game as manager, a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth on Boxing Day 2019, was an inauspicious beginning and the majority of the Arsenal players that day are no longer at the Emirates.

So we’ve done some digging to investigate where they are now. The results were mind-boggling…

GK: Bernd Leno

Leno left Arsenal after four seasons in 2022, joining Fulham in a cut-price deal after losing the goalkeeping jersey to Aaron Ramsdale.

The Germany international didn’t mask his frustration at being dropped and, after moving across London, told BILD Sport: “When I realised that it wasn’t about performance or quality, I knew I had to go.

“During the preparation, I saw that it’s not about performance, it’s just about politics. It was clear to me: I have to get out of here.”

In his reply, Arteta said: “I’m really surprised and I don’t know if he’s talking about the politics when he was starting every match or the politics when he wasn’t playing. Really surprised about it.”

Meow. Happily, Leno performed well last season at newly-promoted Fulham as they punched above their weight to secure an impressive midtable finish.

RB: Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Maitland-Niles was an unexpected cog of Arteta’s early sides, helping the Gunners win the FA Cup in 2020 and scoring a cheeky penalty to beat Liverpool in the Community Shield.

But, like a bored Tinder user, Arteta soon moved on and the 25-year-old went to Roma on loan in January 2022 in a quest for more game time, even publicly posting on social media about his desire to “go where he was wanted”.

Maitland-Niles subsequently went out on loan to Southampton, who suffered relegation, and he’s now a free agent after being released by his parent club. Watch this space for where he ends up next.

CB: Sokratis (Shkodran Mustafi, ’77)

Despite some encouraging performances under Emery, Sokratis ultimately joined Arsenal when he was past his prime and Arteta soon phased him out of the starting line-up.

The Greek centre-back was eventually deregistered and released in 2021. He joined Olympiacos, where he remains to his day.

Mustafi’s time at Arsenal is best remembered for his calamitous cock-ups and Arteta packed him off to Schalke in February 2021.

The World Cup winner made just 13 appearances for the club and was released following their relegation, only to suffer another demotion with new club Levante in 2022.

He remains on Levante’s books but barely featured in the Spanish second tier last term.

CB: David Luiz

Already firmly established as football’s most Jekyll and Hyde player, Luiz didn’t change under Arteta’s management.

He gave away numerous penalties and goals – that disasterclass at Manchester City will live long in the memory – but was occasionally a colossal defender with an incredible passing range.

Luiz’s status as a leader and mentor to younger players saw Arteta hand him a contract extension in 2020, before the Brazil international departed a year later.

The defender is now back in Brazil with Flamengo. We’re pleased to report he’s still as bonkers as ever.

David Luiz during Flamengo's Brasileirao game agaisnt Sao Paulo at the Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 22 April 2022.

READ: David Luiz produced the miss of the year… & we love him even more now

LB: Bukayo Saka

From raw full-back to elite forward and national hero, it’s safe to say Saka has been one of the success stories of the Arteta era.

CM: Lucas Torreira 

A terrier during the early Emery era, Torreira picked up a bad injury away at Portsmouth in 2020, and never hit those heights again.

Arteta loaned him out to Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina, before eventually cutting the Uruguay international loose permanently last summer. He’s now playing at Premier League retirement home Galatasaray, where he won the Turkish Super Lig title alongside the likes of Mauro Icardi, Dries Mertens and Nicolo Zaniolo.

CM: Granit Xhaka

Xhaka has one of modern football’s great redemption arcs; from tantrums and fan-baiting behaviour to becoming one of the lynchpins of Arsenal’s surprise title charge last term.

The Switzerland international was reportedly close to joining Jose Mourinho’s Roma after impressing at Euro 2020 before doing a U-turn, signing a new contract that runs to 2024.

Many Arsenal fans have also made a U-turn on their certifiably mad hero. It looks like he’s set to leave this summer, with Declan Rice lined up as his replacement, but Xhaka’s resurgence ensures he’ll leave a legacy as a popular player at the Emirates.

RW: Reiss Nelson (Nicolas Pepe, ’82)

After his saved shot was prodded home by Aubameyang for Arsenal’s equaliser in Dorset, Nelson struggled to make much more of an impact in Arteta’s first two seasons.

He played a bit-part role at Feyenoord in 2021-22, but returned to the Emirates and scored a brace against Nottingham Forest in October and that last-minute winner against Bournemouth in March. He only played a bit-part role all in all, but his vital contributions earned him a new contract.

Pepe became Arsenal’s record signing after a £72million move from Lille in the summer of 2019, but quickly became an infuriating figure with Arsenal fans and management.

Capable of the spectacular, Pepe was too inconsistent for Arteta’s liking and is spent the 2022-23 season at Lille. He didn’t do a great deal to put himself in the shop window and Arsenal will be lucky to recoup even half what they originally spent on him this summer.

CAM: Mesut Ozil (Joe Willock, ’75)

Getting the best out of Ozil was considered one of the first items of Arteta’s in-tray, but the Gunners boss soon came to the conclusion as Emery; Ozil’s best days were gone.

The Germany international’s long and sad goodbye was complete in January 2021, when he joined Turkish giants Fenerbahce. He failed to rekindle his career there and moved to their Super Lig rivals Istanbul Basaksehir before announcing his retirement earlier this year.

“My job is to get the best out of every player, to contribute to the team performance,” Arteta said after leaving Ozil out of his 2020-21 Premier League squad.

“Here I feel at the moment, today, that I have failed. I want the best possible Mesut for the team. And in some moments I was able to get close to that, and at the moment I have not been able to do it because I have to make the decision to leave him out of the squad.”

Willock never looked like working his way into Arteta’s first XI and moved on loan to Newcastle in January 2021.

After scoring eight times in 14 league matches for the Magpies, Arsenal cashed in when Newcastle offered around £25million for the midfielder.

He’s not been as prolific since, but the midfielder remains a solid member of Eddie Howe’s squad.

LW: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aubameyang helped the Gunners win the first trophy of the Arteta era, scoring both goals in the 2020 FA Cup semi-final and final as they overcame Manchester City and Chelsea.

But the striker’s form nosedived after signing a new contract that summer and he left for Barcelona in January 2022 after a huge falling-out with the Arsenal boss.

The Gabon international scored 13 goals in 24 appearances for the La Liga giants, but was promptly replaced by Robert Lewandowski, and returned to the Premier League with Chelsea.

His time at Stamford Bridge has been so unsuccessful that his departure this summer feels inevitable.

Mikel Arteta gives instructions to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium, London, July 2020.

READ: 7 Arsenal players that fell out with Mikel Arteta – & what happened next

ST: Alexandre Lacazette

Lacazette was considered one of Europe’s hottest strikers at Lyon, but he rarely looked capable of replicating that status at Arsenal.

The striker still boasts a respectable record of 71 goals and 36 assists in 206  club appearances, but his lack of mobility was arguably one of the reasons Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League last May.

He left the Gunners at the end of last season when his deal expired, and is now back at Lyon. He scored 27 Ligue 1 goals last term and finished only behind Kylian Mbappe in the French top flight’s Golden Boot rankings.

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