Where are they now? The six Arsenal teenagers to start on PL opening day

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Arsenal fans are excited about the potential of Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock after their performances in the win over Newcastle – but how have previous teenagers given a chance on the opening day of a Premier League campaign gone on to fare?

Unai Emery put his faith in Nelson and Willock by handing the duo starts in the 1-0 win at St James’ Park, meaning Arsenal had two teenagers in their starting XI for the opening game of a Premier League campaign for the first time since 2006.

We’ve looked back at the six other players to start the first fixture of a Premier League campaign for the Gunners as teenagers.

Nicolas Anelka

Anelka had been at Arsenal for around 18 months by the time he started on the opening day in 1998-99, but he was still just 19.

The previous season had seen the striker begin to establish himself at Highbury following an injury to Ian Wright, but his first full campaign as an established regular under Arsene Wenger allowed Anelka to announce himself to the world, bagging 19 times in all competitions – albeit he failed to net in the win over Nottingham Forest in their first match of the season.

At the end of the campaign, Anelka left north London for Real Madrid, setting the wheels in motion for a nomadic career. After retiring in 2015, he has moved into coaching and now works as attacking coach with Lille’s youth teams.


READ: A tribute to young Nicolas Anelka at Arsenal, one of the best transfers ever

Cesc Fabregas

Given just how much of a prodigious talent Fabregas was in his youth, it should come as no surprise that the midfielder started the opening match of a Premier League campaign three times as a teenager.

In 2004, he helped Arsenal win 4-1 at Everton. The following year, he was part of the side that saw of Newcastle United with two late goals in a 2-0 win at Highbury. In 2006, the Gunners had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa in the first competitive match at the Emirates.

Now 32, the Spaniard is entering his first full season with Monaco, although his appearance in their opening league game of the season didn’t quite go to plan as he was sent off after 30 minutes.

Johan Djourou

Djourou also played in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa to open the Emirates as a 19-year-old, although he never established himself as a reliable performer in the centre of the Gunners’ defence.

The Switzerland international has been without a club since leaving SPAL in January after making just six appearances for the Italian outfit.

Jack Wilshere

The great hope of Arsenal and England’s midfield was booked as Arsenal drew 1-1 at Anfield at the start of the 2010-11 season, which was at least better than both Joe Cole and Laurent Koscielny, who were sent off.

Wilshere started this season in the centre of West Ham’s midfield in the 5-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City, only to be substituted off before the hour mark with a dead leg. Because he’s Jack Wilshere.

Calum Chambers

Now fully settled into his routine of a season at Arsenal, followed by a season getting relegated from the Premier League out on loan, to a season at Arsenal, Chambers is back in north London after failing to help Fulham avoid the drop in 2018-19.

Injuries, the departure of Laurent Koscielny and the fact he’s not Shkodran Mustafi saw Chambers start the 1-0 win at Newcastle United this weekend, five years on from his Premier League debut in a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace on the opening day of 2014-15.

Matteo Guendouzi

An unknown signing from Lorient last summer, Guendouzi was one of the finds of the season, going from strength to strength after being one of Arsenal’s best performers in a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City on the opening day of the season.

And the midfielder started his second season in an Arsenal shirt with another promising display at St James’ Park, earning praise from Tony Cascarino, who wrote in The Times: “Matteo Guendouzi impressed me in midfield; he was always looking for the ball, keen to dictate the game and prepared to mix it with his tackling.”

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