The 21 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 remains a key player for Steve Bruce’s side.

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.

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 Callum Wilson and Joelinton in the pecking order and has only played 20 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 has made some progress under Rafa Benitez.

“I can see the improvement under the new manager because he’s vastly experienced and has worked with different players at major clubs,” Iwobi told BBC Sport Africa in September 2021.

“He came in and told me the part of my game that needs improvement, and so far I can see the progress and impact. When you work under someone who’s managed top players in his career, you have to listen because the gaffer has already seen things you are only just learning.”

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.

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 remains an ever-present in Marcelo Bielsa’s side and is closing in on his 200th appearance for the club.

READ: Alternative highlights of 2020-21: The ‘Ayling Flop’ goes mainstream

Sam Greenwood

Having starred for Arsenal’s youth sides, Greenwood was snapped up by Leeds in a £3million deal in 2020. He has made just one first-team appearance at the time of writing but is 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 spent the second half of last season on loan at League One side Swindon Town and has made just two EFL Cup appearances for the Bees in 2021-22.

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 six first-team appearances for Brentford.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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 31-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 two goals in four Ligue 1 games in 2021-22.

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 is yet to make his debut for the club.

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.


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