Where are they now? Arsenal’s youngest Champions League side
Having already sealed top spot in their group, Arsenal played their youngest ever Champions League team against Olympiakos in 2009.
The Gunners lost 1-0 in Greece, but Arsene Wenger was still impressed with his young outfit, which featured a starting XI with an average age of just 21 years and 215 days.
We’ve revisited that team to see how they’ve fared since.
GK: Lukasz Fabianski
Fabianksi spent most of his seven years at Arsenal as back-up goalkeeper amid plenty of criticism for conceding a number of soft goals.
“It was a massive challenge, psychologically,” Fabianski told Sky Sports in 2019. “I had come from Poland and the attention on you is much bigger when you get to the Premier League, so everything was doubled or tripled.
“Obviously, there were times when I struggled to deal with the criticism. It’s a process and, in my case, it took a bit of time to learn how to deal with it.”
The 36-year-old has since rebuilt his reputation at Swansea City and West Ham, establishing himself as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the Premier League.
RB: Kerrea Gilbert
Gilbert came through the youth system at Arsenal but struggled with injury and was allowed to leave permanently in 2010.
After a move to Portland Timbers collapsed, the right-back had spells at Yeovil Town, Shamrock Rovers, Maidenhead United and St Albans City before retiring at 27 to become a personal trainer.
CB: Kyle Bartley
Making what was his first and last appearance in an Arsenal shirt, academy product Bartley was at fault for Olympiakos’ winner.
He was later sent on loan to Sheffield United and Rangers before moving to Swansea on a permanent deal in 2012.
The centre-back joined West Brom in the summer of 2018 and has been a regular in the side, making over 150 appearances in the last five seasons.
CB: Mikael Silvestre
At 32, Silvestre was the elder statesman in Arsenal’s starting XI.
The defender was released at the end of the 2009-10 season before spells at Werder Bremen, Portland Timbers and Indian Super League side Chennaiyin.
After hanging up his boots in 2014, Silvestre was appointed as director of football at former club Rennes but left by mutual consent in 2016.
He has since done a lot of charity work and is also the co-founder of a successful rum business called Rhum St Barth.
LB: Thomas Cruise
Just like Bartley, this proved to be Cruise’s one and only competitive appearance for Arsenal.
The defender was released in 2011 and had trials at Sampdoria and New England Revolution, but he eventually joined Torquay United in 2012.
He spent three years in the south-west but trained to become an accountant after being released.
“I think it’s important to look beyond the career as a footballer because it comes to an end between the ages of 34 and 38 – sometimes sooner due to injury,” Cruise said in 2016.
“I’ve had a few serious injuries in my career, and you should always have qualifications to fall back on.”
RW: Theo Walcott
Walcott never quite fulfilled his full potential at Arsenal due to a mixture of injuries and plain bad luck.
The forward fell down the pecking order under Arsene Wenger and moved to Everton in 2018 in search of regular first-team football.
He remained extremely Theo Walcott at Goodison Park before returning to boyhood club Southampton in 2020.
READ: How the football Gods conspired to deny Theo Walcott Arsenal hero status
CM: Aaron Ramsey
Ramsey proved to be one of the few success stories of this Arsenal side, despite breaking his leg two months after the game.
The Wales international bounced back to become a key player for the Gunners, hitting two FA Cup-winning goals in 2014 and 2017.
After 11 years at Arsenal, the midfielder signed for Juventus in 2019 but has endured a difficult time in Italy and is now in France, featuring alongside Kasper Schmeichel, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ross Barkley at Nice.
CM: Alex Song
Song became a fan favourite at the Emirates, and his impressive performances in the 2011-12 season saw him earn a move to Barcelona.
However, the midfielder’s contract at the Camp Nou was terminated in 2016 and he spent time at Rubin Kazan and Sion. In November 2020, he joined Djiboutian club Arta/Solar7. No, us neither.
READ: Remembering the strange season Alex Song became Arsenal’s new Fabregas
LW: Jack Wilshere (Giles Sunu, ’77)
Once the future of English football, Wilshere’s terrible luck with injuries continued during spells at West Ham and Bournemouth. He retired in the summer following a short stint with Danish club AGF and is now back in north London, coaching Arsenal’s Under-18s.
This proved to be Sunu’s last appearance for the Gunners, meanwhile, and the winger is currently playing for French third tier side Chateauroux.
ST: Fran Merida
Merida showed glimpses of his talent in north London but grew frustrated over his lack of first-team opportunities and joined Atletico Madrid in 2010.
“It was a mistake, I wasn’t patient,” the 31-year-old told Yahoo Sport in 2015. “I realise that now, but I’ve never been a patient person.”
The midfielder only made 30 appearances for Atletico and had spells with Hercules, Atletico Paranaense, Huesca and Osasuna. In August 2020, he signed for Espanyol on a free transfer and then won the Segunda Division in his debut season. He joined Chinese outfit Tianjin Jinmen Tiger in the summer.
READ: Fran Merida at Arsenal: High hopes, one wondergoal & a very long road back
ST: Carlos Vela
Vela was considered one of the most exciting young players in the world at Arsenal and scored a stunning hat-trick on his first full start for the club.
But he never truly managed to establish himself in Wenger’s starting XI and was sold to Real Sociedad in 2012.
Vela is now thriving in America with Los Angeles FC, having scored 67 goals in his first 100 appearances for the club. Mexico might’ve done with his services in Qatar.
stop what you're doing and watch this Carlos Vela goal (🎥 @mls) pic.twitter.com/djqbgf6Lcr
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 1, 2020
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