The 23 Arsenal academy graduates playing elsewhere in major leagues

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Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry celebrates after scoring against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League.

While the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have established themselves at Arsenal, other academy graduates have had to look elsewhere for first-team opportunities.

Not everyone can make the grade at the Emirates but a lot of these players are still able to enjoy successful careers in the biggest leagues.

We’ve taken a look at the 21 Arsenal academy graduates that are currently playing in one of Europe’s top six leagues – the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and the Primeira Liga.

Joe Willock

Willock, who joined the Arsenal academy at the age of four, made his first-team debut in 2017 but struggled to nail down a starting spot in their midfield.

The 22-year-old spent the second half of 2020-21 on loan at Newcastle United and scored eight goals in 14 appearances before making the move permanent in a £25million deal.

He is yet to rekindle the goalscoring form he showed during the loan spell but is starting to pick up his form under Eddie Howe.

Isaac Hayden

After failing to add to two League Cup appearances with any Premier League action, Hayden dropped down to the Championship with Newcastle in 2016.

The midfielder helped them win promotion in his first season and has stayed in the North East ever since, making over 150 appearances for the club. His injury-stricken 2021-22 campaign has been one to forget, though, and he’s been on the sidelines while Eddie Howe’s Magpies have climbed up the table.

Dwight Gayle

Having left Arsenal as a teenager, Gayle worked his way through non-league before making his Premier League debut at 22 with Crystal Palace.

He moved to Newcastle in 2016 and hit 23 goals as they got promoted from the Championship but has never quite been able to make the step up to the top flight.

The striker is behind Chris Wood, Callum Wilson and Joelinton in the pecking order and has only played 29 minutes of Premier League football in 2021-22 at the time of writing.

Emiliano Martinez

While Aaron Ramsdale has made an impressive start to his Arsenal career, we can’t help but feel that the Gunners are still regretting their decision to sell Martinez to Aston Villa.

READ: Emi Martinez: From the Arsenal bench to Argentina’s Copa ‘phenomenon’

Alex Iwobi

Iwobi made 149 first-team appearances for Arsenal but was deemed surplus to requirements following the big-money arrival of Nicolas Pepe in 2019.

While the Nigeria international is yet to justify the £34million price tag at Everton, he made some progress under Rafa Benitez and has scored some important goals under Frank Lampard in the Toffees’ battle against the drop.


Eberechi Eze

Eze spent five years at Arsenal’s academy but was released at 13 after being deemed too small by the club.

The 23-year-old had unsuccessful stints at Fulham, Reading and Millwall but has been a revelation for Crystal Palace since moving across London from QPR in 2020.

He scored four goals in 36 appearances last season and was reportedly set for an England call up, only to suffer a ruptured Achilles tendon during a training session. It’s been a long road back for the ridiculously entertaining winger, but he’s slowly but surely getting there.

Luke Ayling

Despite being part of Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup-winning side in 2009, Ayling never made a competitive appearance for the club and was released a year later.

The right-back had to work his way back up through the Football League pyramid before helping Leeds United win promotion to the Premier League in 2020.

He remained an ever-present throughout Marcelo Bielsa’s tenure and looks to be just as important under Jesse Marsch as the Yorkshire outfit fight against relegation.

Sam Greenwood

Having starred for Arsenal’s youth sides, Greenwood was snapped up by Leeds in a £3million deal in 2020. He was on the fringes throughout Bielsa’s time in charge, but a freak injury crisis handed him an opportunity in their recent bonkers 3-2 victory away at Wolves.

The striker didn’t score in the comeback victory at Molineux but he got an assist. Watch this space for a youngster tipped for a bright future at Elland Road.

Nathan Tella

After being released by Arsenal in 2017, Tella joined Southampton and made his Premier League debut in June 2020.

The 22-year-old winger had an impressive breakthrough season in 2020-21, entertaining fans with his skills and scoring one goal in 18 Premier League appearances.

He has had to be more patient this season but is reportedly highly regarded behind the scenes at St Mary’s.

Dominic Thompson

Thompson failed to make the grade at the Emirates and joined Brentford in the summer of 2019.

He’s only made a handful of appearances for the Bees in 2021-22 and was loaned out to Ipswich Town in January.

Fin Stevens

After being released by Arsenal in 2019, Stevens spent a season at Isthmian League Premier Division club Worthing before linking up with Thompson at Brentford.

The 18-year-old was awarded their B Team Player of the Year award in 2020-21 and has also made eight first-team appearances for Brentford. He made his Premier League debut with a 14-minute cameo in their 4-1 defeat to Southampton in January.

Serge Gnabry

After infamously struggling on loan at West Brom, Gnabry was allowed to join Werder Bremen for just £5million in 2016.

“[Arsenal] had so many wingers at the time – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, [Tomas] Rosicky, Theo [Walcott], [Santi] Cazorla, Alexis [Sanchez], Mesut Ozil – so I just had to go,” Gnabry said in 2019.

“I was still confident I could’ve got in the team but I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to be fourth or fifth choice any longer.

“It was the hardest decision I had to make in football, leaving a club like Arsenal – the fans, the players – but to keep playing I had to take a step back and it was the right decision.”

The winger moved to Bayern Munich in 2017 and has since developed into one of the most exciting forwards in Europe, winning three Bundesliga titles and the Champions League. Expect more silverware to follow this season.

Wojciech Szczesny

After Szczesny became renowned for making high profile mistakes, the Gunners ran out of patience and brought in Petr Cech to add some title-winning pedigree.

The Poland international spent a season on loan at Roma before sealing a permanent move to Juventus, where he became Gianluigi Buffon’s successor.

He remains their first-choice goalkeeper and has won three Serie A titles, as well as two Coppa Italia and two Supercoppa Italiana successes. He’ll also be at the World Cup later this year after keeping a clean sheet in Poland’s 2-0 play-off victory over Sweden.

Hector Bellerin

Bellerin joined Arsenal from Barcelona’s La Masia academy in 2011 and became a regular in the side, making over 200 appearances for the club in all competitions.

But he fell out of favour under Mikel Arteta in 2020-21 and decided to join Spanish side Real Betis on a season-long loan deal.

Asked where he thinks he will be next season, the right-back told ElDesmarque: “I don’t know, but I’ve always said if I didn’t want to be here next season, I wouldn’t have come from the beginning.

“There are many things to be decided but what I want to do is enjoy this season that I am here. And what has to happen will happen.”

Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis are currently vying for a top-four finish and Bellerin has been an automatic starter.

READ: The 23 Arsenal players out on loan in 2021-22 and how they’re faring

Yunus Musah

Musah was considered one of the standout prospects at Arsenal but left for Valencia in 2019 in search of regular first-team football.

That decision was vindicated when he made his senior debut at 17 and scored two goals in 36 appearances in 2020-21. He’s continued to get regular playing opportunities at Mestalla this season.

Francis Coquelin

Coquelin eventually fell out of favour at Arsenal but has rediscovered his best form since leaving for Spain in January 2018.

The midfielder lifted the Copa del Rey with Valencia in 2019 before helping current side Villarreal beat Manchester United in the 2021 Europa League final. Soon enough he’ll be playing in a Champions League quarter-final, with Unai Emery’s Yellow Submarine set to face Bayern Munich.

Fran Merida

Once regarded as the next big thing at Arsenal, Merida failed to live up to expectations and made just 16 appearances for the club.

After spells at Atletico Madrid, Hercules, Athletico Paranaense, Huesca and Osasuna, the 32-year-old can now be found at Espanyol.

Fran Merida wheel away in celebration, arms spread, after scoring for Arsenal against Liverpool in October 2009.

READ: Fran Merida at Arsenal: High hopes, one wondergoal & a very long road back

Cesc Fabregas

Fabregas may have spent most of his youth career at Barcelona’s La Masia, but the Spaniard was still only 15 when he arrived in north London so we’re counting him.

The 34-year-old is now in the twilight years of his football career and finds himself on the fringes of the Monaco team, having made just two substitute appearances in Ligue 1 in 2021-22 at the time of writing.

Stephy Mavididi

Mavididi made headlines by joining Juventus in 2018, becoming the first English player to represent the Old Lady since David Platt.

But he only made one appearance for their first team and was sold to Ligue 1 side Montpellier two years later.

The 23-year-old striker netted nine goals in 40 appearances in his debut season and already has eight goals in 22 Ligue 1 games in 2021-22.

READ: Arsenal fans look away, Stephy Mavididi’s become a hero in France

Joao Virginia

Virginia was snapped up by Everton in 2018 and impressed in the reserves before making three first-team appearances last season.

The goalkeeper is spending 2021-22 on loan at Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon but has only made three appearances – none of which have come in the Primeira Liga champions’ league campaign.

Rui Fonte

Former Southampton and West Ham defender Jose’s younger brother, Fonte made just one appearance for Arsenal in the League Cup.

Apart from brief spells at Fulham and Lille, he has spent the last eight years in his native Portugal and recently signed a one-year deal with Estoril.

Amani Richards

The 17-year-old forward joined Hale End a year ago, signed his first professional deal in December, and then somewhat surprisingly signed for Leicester City in January.

He’s yet to make his senior debut for the Foxes and is progressing with their Under-18s. One to keep an eye on.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Reluctant utility man Maitland-Niles joined Jose Mourinho’s Roma on loan in January in a bid to get more opportunities in his preferred position.

Things haven’t worked out that way. He’s been on the fringes of the Giallorossi’s squad, with no Serie A appearances since February. Reports suggest the 24-year-old will return to the Emirates with his tail between his legs this summer.

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