The five kids handed Arsenal debuts by Unai Emery & how they’ve fared

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Arsenal's Bukayo Saka (left) celebrates with Emile Smith Rowe after scoring against Wolves but it is disallowed after a VAR check during the match at the Molineux Stadium, February 2021.

While Unai Emery failed to live up to expectations during his time as Arsenal boss, he did give first-team opportunities to some talented academy graduates. 

Emery had the unenviable task of replacing Arsene Wenger at the Emirates in 2018 and was sacked after less than 18 months in charge.

We’ve looked at the five academy players he handed debuts to, to see how their respective careers have developed since.

Emile Smith Rowe

Smith Rowe was handed his first-team debut early in Emery’s reign, coming off the bench against Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League in September 2018.

The midfielder scored on his full debut against Qarabag and followed that up with goals in wins over Blackpool and Vorskla Poltava before spending the second half of 2018-19 on loan at RB Leipzig.

After another loan spell at Huddersfield, he made his breakthrough under Mikel Arteta in a Boxing Day win over Chelsea in 2020 and hasn’t looked back since.

Smith Rowe helped fill the creative void in Arsenal’s midfield and was handed the iconic No.10 shirt after committing his long-term future to the club in 2021.

The England international now faces competition from Martin Odegaard but has managed to add end product to his game in 2021-22, scoring 10+ goals in a season for the first time in his career.

“He has improved the dynamic and the attacking threat of the team with his movement and the way he links and finds relationships on the pitch,” Arteta said in December 2021.

“His threat on goal this season has been much, much better, with the capacity that he has to create chances, to open spaces for other teammates, and he’s been a key player. Hopefully we can sustain that over time.”

Julio Pleguezuelo 

Pleguezuelo joined Arsenal from Barcelona just after he had turned 16, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin.

He made his first, and last, appearance for the Gunners against Blackpool in the League Cup in October 2018 and was released a few months later.

The 25-year-old joined Eredivisie side FC Twente on a free transfer in 2019 and has since established himself as a first-team regular, making over 60 appearances for the club.

Charlie Gilmour

Gilmour joined Arsenal’s academy at the age of six and made the first of two first-team appearances against Vorskla Poltava in November 2018.

After being released by the Gunners at the end of the 2018-19 season, he joined Norwich City on a free transfer but never made an appearance for the club.

The midfielder was immediately sent on loan to Dutch outfit Telstar and then agreed to mutually end his two-year contract with the Canaries in 2020.

“You sort of know that you’re not going to get a chance or that you’re not in a club’s plans, so you just need to be honest with yourself and say this isn’t going to be the club for me to have a career,” Gilmour told The Athletic in November 2020.

“It’s recognising it and doing something about it, because a lot of people can just be in their comfort zone. I could’ve just stayed at Norwich for the last year of my contract, had nice facilities, good coaching. But I just want to start my career now.”

He returned to his native Scotland with St Johnstone in February 2021. Gilmour spent the first half of this season on loan at semi-professional side Alloa Athletic before returning to his parent club in January 2022.

Bukayo Saka 

We love him. We love him. We love him. We love him.

Bukayo Saka celebrates his goal against Norwich City, Carrow Road, December 2021

READ: Saka is learning Henry’s arrogance: this nutmeg shows he’s an assassin

Zech Medley 

Having joined Arsenal’s academy from Chelsea in 2016, Medley was handed his first-team debut against Vorskla Poltava in November 2018.

The centre-back only made two more appearances for the club and spent the 2020-21 season on loan at Gillingham and Kilmarnock.

Arteta reportedly wanted to keep him at the Emirates, but the 21-year-old decided to seek a new challenge abroad and completed a permanent move to Belgian side KV Oostende.

Arsenal insisted on both a sell-on clause as part of the deal as well as having the first option on the player if he leaves Oostende.

He’s been in and out of the side during his debut season in Belgium but looks to have helped them avoid relegation from the top tier.


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