Where are they now? The last 10 Arsenal starlets Wenger gave debuts

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Eddie Nketah celebrates his first goal against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup for Arsenal, Emirates Stadium, December 2021

Some special players came up through Arsenal’s academy during Arsene Wenger’s 22-year stint as manager, from Cesc Fabregas to Jack Wilshere to Hector Bellerin.

But what about in the latter days of his reign as Gunners boss? Both Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta inherited some exceptional young players, but how did they develop under the two managers since Wenger left?

Here are the last 10 players handed their senior debuts by Arsene Wenger, and how they’ve fared since.

Ben Sheaf

The Dartford-born midfielder, nabbed as a teenager from West Ham’s academy, made his debut as an 89th-minute substitute for Francis Coquelin in a 1–0 Europa League victory over Red Star Belgrade back in October 2017.

Shortly after, he made another late cameo in a 1-0 League Cup win over West Ham, but he never made another first-team appearance since.

He remained on Arsenal’s books last year when he finally left for Coventry City on a permanent basis, where he had been on loan for the 2020-21 season. Sheaf’s since been a regular in the Championship for the Sky Blues.

Marcus McGuane

“From Barcelona to Oxford” sounds like a George Orwell novel, but it’s a reality for Greenwich-born McGuane.

It’s been an interesting career path. He spent some of his teenage years at Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy after leaving Arsenal’s Hale End.

During his final season in charge, Wenger had given him a couple of opportunities in the Europa League before he made the switch to Barcelona as an 18-year-old in January 2018.

He made 24 appearances for their B Team but never broke through for the senior side and returned to England earlier in 2020, signing for Nottingham Forest.

Never making an appearance for Forest, he went to Oxford United on loan before moving there on a permanent deal last summer.

Joe Willock

Making his first appearance for his boyhood Gunners back in September 2017, a late substitute in a 1-0 League Cup win over Doncaster, plenty more appearances followed.

But eventually, Willock found himself on the fringes of Mikel Arteta’s squad and moved on loan to Newcastle in January 2022.

There he scored seemingly for fun to help keep the Magpies up, and Arsenal cashed in when Newcastle offered around £25million for the midfielder.

He hasn’t been quite as free-scoring as a permanent player, but he remains a solid squad player for Eddie Howe’s high-flying Magpies.

Josh Dasilva

Ilford’s very own Dasilva has had to forge his path away from the club he’d been at since the age of eight, making just three League Cup appearances for the first team in 2017-18.

He’s become a key player for Brentford since he joined them on a free transfer in the summer of 2018 and his contract now runs until 2024.

But he suffered a major hip injury in February 2021 and spent almost a year on the sidelines, missing the majority of the Bees’ debut Premier League campaign.

Dasilva’s back in action now and is featuring regularly for Brentford in the top flight.

Eddie Nketiah

Having joined Arsenal’s academy after being released by Chelsea, he made his debut all the way back in September 2017 when he played against BATE Borisov after impressing in pre-season.

Nketiah has torn it up for England’s Young Lions for years and is now holds the record as the highest-ever goalscorer for England’s Under-21s side.

His 2019 loan at Leeds wasn’t as ideal as he’d have hoped, and despite being given chances under Mikel Arteta’s he’s struggled to take a hold of them.

He’s had a mix of both impressive and lacklustre performances, but he did enough to earn a new contract – just as it looked like he might be leaving on a free – in the summer. Nketiah is playing back-up to Gabriel Jesus now, but he’s a more-than-decent option from the bench and to rotate into the cup competitions.

Reiss Nelson

Like several of his academy teammates, Nelson got his first shot at Arsenal in September 2017 as Wenger looked to navigate a busy fixture list with League Cup and Europa League outings.

He then had a fantastic loan with Julian Naggelsman Hoffenheim in 2018-19, which led to him being part of the senior setup back in London for the next two years. Nelson struggled to make a lasting impression and went on loan to Feyenoord for the 2021-22 campaign, where he played a bit-part role.

He’s now back with the Gunners and taking every opportunity that comes his way.

Chris Willock

The older brother of Joe got his break a little earlier, making two brief League Cup substitute appearances in the Autumn of 2016.

A move to Benfica followed in the summer of 2017, but he only turned out for the Portuguese giants’ B team.

He returned to England for loans with West Brom and Huddersfield, impressing at the latter especially.

QPR has been his home since 2020.

Fun fact: As well as Joe, Chris has an older brother in the form of Salford City defender Matty. They once all shared the same pitch when Arsenal’s reserves’s played Manchester United in 2017, with Matty a United youth player at the time.

Alex Iwobi

Born in Lagos, raised in London, and with Arsenal since he was at primary school, there was early hope and promise that Iwobi could become Theo Walcott’s successor at the Emirates.

Over two years after first being named on the bench for Arsenal, a 19-year-old Iwobi made his debut in a League Cup penalty shootout victory West Bromwich Albion in September 2015.

A total of 149 appearances (100 in the Premier League) and 15 goals would follow before a lucrative £28million transfer to Everton in 2019.

It took a while for Iwobi to justify the fee, but Frank Lampard has successfully turned the Nigeria international in a wonderfully dynamic box-to-box midfielder. Few would’ve seen that coming a couple of years back. 

Glen Kamara

Finnish international midfielder Glen Kamara made one solitary appearance for the Gunners, with his senior debut coming in an inauspicious 3-0 League Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in 2015.

Loans to Southend and Colchester followed before he was released in 2017. He’s since made a name for himself up in Scotland, impressing at Dundee before becoming a regular under Steven Gerrard at Rangers, where he remains.

READ: Where are they now? Every player to play once for Arsenal under Wenger

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Five years before earning his first England cap, Ainsley Maitland-Niles made his Arsenal bow against Galatasaray in 2014, becoming their second-youngest player to feature in the Champions League.

Once firmly established as part of Arteta’s team, he went to Roma on loan in January 2022 in a quest for more game time, even publicly posting on social media about his desire to “go where he was wanted”.

Maitland-Niles is now out on loan at Southampton, and his days at his parent club appear numbered.

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