Over the 20 years of Arsene Wenger, one thing he has never done at Arsenal is release a youngster who has gone on to prove him wrong. Looking through the list of players sold, there is not a single player who has bought through, then sold, who has gone on to bigger and better things than Arsenal.
He has no Paul Pogba or Gerard Pique, Juan Mata or Jordi Alba on his resume.
But with his time running out at Arsenal, after 20 years there could well be one player who could come back to haunt Wenger as the one that got away Serge Gnabry.
A hat trick hero on his German debut over the weekend – although it was only San Marino – the German youngsters has hit 4 goals in 9 games for Werder Bremen since joining them in a cut price, transfer deadline day deal.
At the time he was sold, many were disappointed, and that disappointed has grown week by week as his performances in Germany have been reported back in England, and the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have continued to ‘struggle’ – although Chamberlain himself has had a decent start to the season, 5 goals in 14 games.
A lot of anger is due to fans short memory. They only remember the last game. They remember Chamberlain continually smashing crosses into row z, whilst Gnabry scored a hat trick.
Serge Gnabry is a path of bad luck and unfortunate circumstances.
In 2013/14 he looked exceptional. He was being talked about as the future of Germany. A long term replacement for Theo Walcott. Taking into account Walcott’s loss of confidence, form and ability, 2016/17 should have been Gnabry’s year. But it is not.
In what turned out to be his last senior game at Arsenal, Gnabry picked up a serious knee injury.
Arsenal took their time repairing the youngster, and he was not seen again for almost a year, playing for the youth side in the late stages of 2014/15.
The next year he was sent out on loan. The idea was simple. Send him to a Premier League club, he will play 38 games. Be a superstar, and return ready to fight for his place in the team.
Unfortunately he ended up at WBA, playing for Tony Pullis who clearly has an irrational hatred for attacking players. He played 13 Premier League minutes.
Pullis blamed Gnabry. Saying the young winger was unable to adapt to his defensive philosophy and lacked work-rate without the ball. Ignoring the fact that he was dealing with a young Eden Hazard or Lionel Messi, not a Robbie Savage or Lee Catermole. I do wonder why Pullis loaned an attacking player when what he wanted was defensive. Maybe he should have got in a couple of full backs to play on the wing?
So at this point Gnabry had lost 2 years of his career. 2 years of important development. He showed at the Olympics his natural ability. But with 1 year left on his contract, Arsenal were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Attempt to get him to sign a new 5 year deal, loan him out, risk him not developing, and we are stuck with an average player on a long contract. Or sell him, risk losing a talented youngster, something we might regret later.
Arsenal were actually trying to do the former. Gnabry was deep into transfer talks in the summer. The expectation was that he would sign a new contract. That he would be given the chance at Arsenal. But then Bremen came in on deadline day with the offer of a return to Germany and first team football.
The rumours are Gnabry pulled out of contract talks, which surprised Wenger, and made it very clear that he wanted to leave for first team football.
Arsenal had little choice but to sell him.
With his aforementioned injury problems and 2 years without playing, Arsenal could not promise him 1st team football. Even with Joel Campbell gone, he was still behind Sanchez, Walcott, Iwobi & Oxlade-Chamberlain. Add in Danny Welbeck and Gnabry was 6th choice winger. He would have struggled to see 1st team football at Arsenal.
Gnabry is still just 21. He has a bright future in the game. Hopefully Arsenal have a buy back clause and a sell on clause in the deal. That one day he might return ala Alvaro Morata at Real Madrid. Or we might do a Carlos Vela and use the clause to extort more money out of the club we are selling too. I wish him luck.
But with Gnabry, every cloud has a silver lining. With him departing, it has given Alex Iwobi a chance, and he has taken it with both hands.
Gnabry might come back to bite Arsenal and Arsene. There is already talk of a move to Bayern Munich on the cards. He is clearly a gifted player but, like Jack Wilshere, it would have been impossible for him to get the opportunities at Arsenal that he has got elsewhere.
Fair play to Gnabry for wanting to actually play football. He could have signed a new 5 year deal with Arsenal on big money and done nothing except build his bank account.
I wish him all the luck and maybe, one day, he might return.