Serge Gnabry showed he’s still Arsenal with his wonderful Bayern backheel
Arsenal’s first season since Arsène Wenger’s exit has often carried an unfamiliar element of efficiency, and we’re not sure what to think about it.
Marrying mediocre performances with impressive results isn’t what we’d come to expect from the club, so minor slip-ups like the home draw against Wolves and the concession of two penalties against Crystal Palace at least offered some degree of reassurance that they hadn’t entirely cut ties with the past.
Still, we have often found ourselves scratching our heads and looking around for the old Arsenal, attempting to find beauty in defeat.
Frankly, we should have know where we’d be able to find it.
This sort of thing never really abandoned those with Arsenal DNA: it was merely hidden in the box of tricks of the one who got away.
Serge Gnabry made a huge impression when he came through at Arsenal, scoring on his second Premier League start for the club.
However, thanks to a serious knee injury and a lapse in judgement from Wenger resulting in a move to Tony Pulis’ wingless West Brom, the German winger saw his career stall.
Instead of loaning him to the Bundesliga, as has happened with Reiss Nelson, Gnabry was allowed to leave in a cut-price deal when it became clear he needed to play regular first-team football, and it’s a move which many Gunners fans were beginning to regret even before he followed a switch to Werder Bremen with a permanent transfer to Bayern Munich.
And those fans will have had pangs of nostalgia while watching Bayern take on Borussia Dortmund over the weekend when Gnabry pulled off a move that was pure Arsenal.
Gnabry’s pass to Joshua Kimmich was as unnecessary as it was beautiful.
A simple sidefoot pass would have found the right-back, yet he makes things more difficult for himself by contorting his body and executing a perfectly-timed flick into the path of his team-mate, allowing Kimmich to stand the ball up for Robert Lewandowski to score.
It’s a statement pre-assist, which is surely Gnabry’s way of telling his former Arsenal colleagues he still remembers them and everything they stand for. Well, that combined with the fact that it helped give his team the lead in a big game which they would go on to lose.
The touch could only have been more Arsenal if he had wheeled away celebrating and lifted his shirt to reveal the message “this is for you, brother Mesut”.
After all, there’s something of a symmetry to Gnabry’s and Özil’s careers: both made their first starts at the Emirates Stadium in the same game – a 3-1 win over Stoke City in September 2013 – and Gnabry’s first goal for the club came from a move in which his compatriot was involved.
That was not the first time Gnabry has produced something special during his time in Germany, and we’re not even talking about the solo run and finish which saw him open his Bayern account against Freiburg.
Last season, en route to helping Hoffenheim sneak into the Champions League places despite finishing 29 points behind the league leaders (again, how Arsenal of him), the youngster scored what is surely the best goal of his career to date.
During a 4-0 win over RB Leipzig in December, Gnabry picked the ball up on the edge of the centre-circle and decided now was not the time to drive at a visiting defence which was mostly stranded upfield.
Instead, having spotted Péter Gulácsi off his line, he let fly from nearly 45 yards and produced the only thing close to being as satisfying as the ball going in off the crossbar: the ball landing on the inside frame of the goal and bouncing back over the head of the stranded goalkeeper.
Oh, and by the way, after eight goalless games at the start of his time with Hoffenheim, his first goal for the club had arrived just 10 minutes earlier.
There’s riding a wave, and then there’s this.
Unlike Reiss Nelson, who will likely be back at Arsenal after his stint in the Bundesliga, Gnabry is gone for good.
However, like plenty of others who have excelled after leaving North London, he’ll continue to pop up with reminders of what he learned at the club.
Sometimes it’s better to have backheeled and lost than to never have backheeled at all.