Saliba next? Eight players who became Arsenal regulars after a loan away

Quick Reads

While Bukayo Saka hit the ground running at Arsenal, some players have to get experience out on loan before establishing themselves in the first team.

The likes of William Saliba and Joe Willock are currently enjoying productive loan spells away from the club and will be hoping to establish themselves in Mikel Arteta’s side next season.

We’ve taken a look at eight players who became Arsenal regulars after enjoying successful loan spells away from the club.

Ashley Cole

After making his Arsenal debut in a League Cup defeat against Middlesbrough, Cole then joined Crystal Palace on loan in February 2000. 

The defender impressed during his brief spell at the Eagles, making 14 league appearances and scoring once as they secured a mid-table finish in the second tier.

He then went back to Highbury and established himself as their first-choice left-back ahead of the 2000-01 season following an injury to Sylvinho. 

Cole went from strength to strength over the next six seasons, winning two Premier League titles and three FA Cups with the Gunners.

It’s probably best to ignore what happened after that.

Nicklas Bendtner

Along with fellow Arsenal graduates Fabrice Muamba and Sebastian Larsson, Bendtner joined Birmingham City ahead of the 2006-07 season, where he was confronted by Steve Bruce about spending too much time in lap-dancing clubs.

“He [Steve Bruce] called me in fuming,” Bendtner told talkSPORT in 2020. “He was really upset. When he was explaining, ‘You’ve been out four times this week,’ I was like, ‘I’m really sorry, Steve, it was five.’

“He didn’t really know how to react. He was so mad but couldn’t stop doing a giggle to himself.”

The striker still made a big impact on the pitch, scoring 13 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions as they won promotion to the Premier League.

While Muamba and Larsson joined the Blues on permanent deals, Bendtner was slowly integrated into the first-team set-up at Arsenal. 

The maverick failed to live up to his own lofty expectations but did score a respectable 45 goals from 171 appearances for the Gunners.

READ: A celebration of Nicklas Bendtner, his modest talent & not-so-modest belief

Alex Song

Song initially struggled to impose himself in Arsenal’s star-studded midfield and joined Charlton Athletic in search of regular first-team football in January 2007. 

Despite receiving plenty of plaudits during his 12 appearances for the Addicks, he couldn’t prevent their relegation to the Championship.

The Cameroon international returned to Arsenal as a more mature and refined midfielder, eventually becoming an integral part of Arsene Wenger’s squad. 

He really came into his own in the 2011-12 season after Cesc Fabregas’ departure, registering 11 assists as the Gunners finished third in the Premier League. 

Five years after his spell at the Valley, Song headed to Camp Nou to play for Spanish giants Barcelona.

Alex Song

READ: Remembering the strange season Alex Song became Arsenal’s new Fabregas

Kieran Gibbs

With just two senior appearances for Arsenal under his belt, Gibbs decided to drop down to the Championship with Norwich City in January 2008. 

He started out as a winger and featured seven times for the Canaries during a three-month spell before returning to the Emirates.

After initially playing understudy to Gael Clichy, the left-back later established himself as a regular in the Arsenal team, making over 200 appearances in all competitions across a nine-year period.

But Gibbs fell down the pecking order following the arrivals of Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac, departing for West Brom in the summer of 2017.

Francis Coquelin

Another Arsenal academy graduate, Coquelin returned to his native France and got his first taste of regular first-team football with Lorient in 2010-11.

After spending two years on the fringes of the Arsenal senior squad, he went back out on loan with Freiburg and Charlton Athletic.

An injury crisis saw him brought back to the Emirates in December 2014 and the midfielder seized his chance, impressing in that away game at Manchester City. 

Coquelin kept his place in the Arsenal side for two seasons before leaving permanently to join Valencia in January 2018.

Wojciech Szczesny

Szczesny made his Arsenal debut in a League Cup win over West Brom in September 2009 and later joined Brentford on loan for the remainder of the season.

Despite only making 28 appearances for the club, he made a huge impression and was later voted as their goalkeeper of the decade in 2015.

Injuries to Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia paved the way for Szczesny to establish himself as the first-choice goalkeeper at Arsenal in 2010-11, and he went on to make over 150 appearances for the Gunners.

The Poland international did make some high-profile errors, however, and was eventually shown the door when Petr Cech arrived from Chelsea in 2015.

Jack Wilshere

Wilshere grew frustrated at being limited to only cameo appearances in the League Cup and pushed for a move away, joining Bolton Wanderers on loan in January 2010.

He delivered a series of impressive displays in the middle of the park and Bolton unsuccessfully tried to extend the loan for another season. 

“Owen Coyle was brilliant,” Wilshere told the Islington Gazette in 2018. “I think I said before it was like a finishing school but that’s wrong. It was more like a massive learning curve. 

“Playing in the Premier League. There was a different mentality. You’re playing with people who need to win games. Need to get their win bonus. Need to win for the fans. That’s a different mentality than youth football. It made me grow up.”

Having learned his trade away from north London, the midfielder became one of the first names on the Arsenal teamsheet and enhanced his reputation with a brilliant performance against Barcelona in February 2011. 

While a series of injury problems stopped him from replicating performances like that too often, Wilshere still remained at the Emirates until 2018. 

Aaron Ramsey

After recovering from a broken leg in 2010, Ramsey had brief loan spells at Nottingham Forest and boyhood club Cardiff City in order to gain match fitness. 

The Wales international bounced back and went on to scale the heights expected of him, developing into one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. 

He also played a starring role in the last three FA Cups won under Arsene Wenger before deciding to join Juventus on a free transfer in 2019. 


More Arsenal

Seven of Aaron Ramsey’s best moments at Arsenal: FA Cup, Liverpool, Spurs

Can you name Arsenal’s first all-foreign starting XI in the Premier League?

Alexander Hleb: I cried over Arsenal exit; most players regret leaving

Tomas Rosicky, Arsenal’s big-game hero who could have been even more

Planet Football Stories