Arsenal played in 19 successive Champions League campaigns during Arsene Wenger’s tenure at the club and he handed out plenty of debuts in that time.
The Gunners went closest to winning the competition in 2005–06, but they narrowly lost out to Barcelona in the final. Despite not getting their hands on the trophy, Arsenal had plenty of memorable moments in the Champions League under Wenger.
We’ve gone back through the archives and have found the 10 youngest players that Wenger handed Champions League debuts to at Arsenal and where they are today.
Arsenal’s original starboy. The hype surrounding Wilshere went into overdrive in 2011 when he bossed Barcelona’s midfield of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta as a fresh-faced 19-year-old.
Wilshere made his first ever appearance in the Champions League all the way back in 2008 when he was just 16. But a series of nasty injuries unfortunately robbed us of seeing exactly how good Wilshere could have become.
The 31-year-old retired from professional football last year and now works as the head coach of the Arsenal under-18 team.
🤩 Classic Champions League displays 🤩
Wilshere 🆚 Barcelona
The 19-year-old comes of age against Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets on an unforgettable night at the Emirates. pic.twitter.com/SuSdo10sNt
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) September 12, 2019
The versatile Arsenal academy graduate was handed his Champions League debut at 17 during a 4-1 triumph against Galatasaray back in 2014.
“I believe he is the future,” Wenger said when discussing Maitland-Niles. “He can play left back, right back, central midfield. Of the three positions, maybe the least natural for him is left back, but he adapts very quickly and is a good defender.”
Despite making over 100 appearances for Arsenal, Maitland-Niles never managed to establish himself as a first-team regular. The 26-year-old left Arsenal on a free transfer this summer to join Lyon.
The one that got away. Gnabry was handed his Champions League debut at 17 and Wenger clearly had high hopes for the German winger in his early days. Arsenal eventually lost patience with Gnabry after a subpar loan spell with West Brom and they decided to let him go.
Since leaving the Emirates in 2015, the 28-year-old hasn’t looked back since. He enjoyed an eye-catching campaign with Werder Bremen and was then promptly picked up by Bayern Munich.
With 13 trophies to his name, including five league titles and the Champions League, it’s fair to say that Gnabry won’t have any regrets over his Arsenal exit.
Teenage Fabregas was one of the brightest prospects the Champions League has ever seen. The Spanish playmaker established himself in the Arsenal XI as a teenager and made his European debut at just 17 years old.
Despite playing for the likes of Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea throughout his career, Fabregas never managed to get his hands on the Champions League trophy. However, that’s not to say he didn’t enjoy a wildly successful career.
The 36-year-old hung up his boots in the summer and he has since been appointed as the Como U19 and B team manager. A glistening coaching career awaits.
Only Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie have scored more Champions League goals for Arsenal than Walcott. The rapid winger made his European debut in September 2006 against Porto at the age of 17.
Walcott went on to spend 13 seasons with the Gunners and he racked up over 100 goals in that time. Aged 34, he hung up his boots this summer and has since been taking up punditry roles on Sky Sports.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 16, 2023
The Welsh midfielder got his first taste of Champions League action in a 5-2 triumph against Fenerbahce in October 2008. Ramsey even managed to get on the scoresheet that night, scoring his first European goal at 17 years old.
Always the man for the big occasions, Ramsey went on to make over 350 appearances for the Gunners and he managed to get his hands on five trophies during that time.
Following spells with Juventus, Rangers and Nice, Ramsey is now back where it all began and is playing for Cardiff City in the Championship.
“I honestly think Gedion has the talent to become a great player, but that will be decided in the next two or three years because he has to show that he has the mental level required to be a top-level competitor,” Wenger told reporters in 2014.
After making his Champions League debut at 17, there was plenty of hype surrounding the German midfielder. However, despite Wenger tipping the youngster for the top, it never quite materialised for the youngster in north London.
Following a series of unremarkable loan spells, Arsenal let Zelalem leave in 2019. After short stints with Sporting Kansas City and New York City FC, Zelalem joined Dutch second-division outfit Den Bosch last summer.
O’Connor only ever managed one senior appearance for Arsenal and it just so happened to come in the Champions League. The full-back replaced Mathieu Debuchy in the 77th minute against Galatasaray in 2014 and that’s all Arsenal fans got to see of him.
After making his debut at 17, O’Connor then went on a series of loan spells before he was picked up by Newcastle in 2017. Unfortunately, injuries hampered his career and he was forced to retire at the age of 23.
O’Connor is one of the many former Arsenal wonderkids that have left the game completely.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was on the scoresheet in his Champions League debut against Olympiakos. Taking centre stage at just 18 years old, the hype quickly snowballed with the Arsenal youngster.
“I am very proud to get my first goal in Champions League football on my debut, but the most important thing was the three points,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told reporters. “The goal settled my nerves a little bit. I just focused on helping the team in whatever way I could and get the three points.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s move to Liverpool in 2017 sent shockwaves through the Premier League and who knows how good he could have gone onto become had it not been for injuries. These days you can catch him playing for Besiktas – and scoring worldies.
Wenger handed Traore his Champions League debut at 18 in a clash against Sevilla. The Senegalese left-back never managed to establish himself as a regular under Wenger and he eventually left the club in 2011.
After spells with QPR, Nottingham Forest and Cardiff, Traore hung up his boots at the age of 31.