For the last nine years Arsenal have seen some of their best (and worst) players depart but which former stars would get into the current starting XI?
I’m going to divide the list of 21 first-team players that have either left or been sold in the past nine years into two categories, for ease of reference. The first category will be players who were sold on because they were surplus to requirement or because they didn’t make the grade and the other category, which I will focus on predominantly, will comprise the players who ultimately left of their own accord or engineered their own departures for various reasons relating to wages, and silverware most commonly.
The likes of Eduardo, Emmanuel Eboue, Manuel Almunia, Carlos Vela, Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh, Andre Santos, Vito Mannone, Denilson and Andrei Arshavin were all sold or loaned out because they were, in effect, surplus to requirements, not in receipt of regular first-team football and, on that basis, none of them would get into the starting XI now (apart from maybe Vela who is being reportedly considered for a return but I don’t think he would oust a fit Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the line up).
However, Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry, Jose Antonio Reyes, Alexander Hleb, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Alex Song, and Robin van Persie were all first team players at the time of their departure but would they get in the team now, at their current level of performances?
The much-maligned left back, now 33, was one of the first defectors back in 2006 when he signed for Chelsea, due to the wages on offer at Stamford Bridge. Cole has made 229 appearances for the Blues since, won trophy after trophy, and been probably the best left back in Europe at the peak of his powers.
But, crucially, he has barely seen a game this term, has retired from England, and been overtaken by players for both club and country who are probably at the same level or near Kieran Gibbs at Arsenal and, for that reason, I think the younger Englishman would get the nod ahead of his elder for probably the first time in either of their careers.
The Gunners legend left the Emirates in 2007 after eight fabulous years of service in Arsenal’s most successful era in Premier League history. The Frenchman left for Barcelona, a path many have followed in the years since, but would the New York Red Bulls striker get in the team now?
He has been brought back on loan and scored that sensational goal against Leeds in his comeback which was a delight to behold, but I don’t think now, at 36 years of age, Arsene Wenger would see him as a first-choice forward, despite his superb record.
Jose Antonio Reyes
The 30-year-old Spaniard left in 2007 after just three years in England, which he never really adapted that well to, despite some memorable performances, but the Sevilla forward would not get in the team now.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Belarus international regrets his move in 2008 after three years at Arsenal. He went to Barcelona but failed to stake his claim over a place in the team packed with some of the world’s finest midfield talent and then went on loan to Stuttgart, Birmingham, Wolfsburg, and now plies his trade in Konyaspor and at the age of 33 there is no way he would get in the team.
The Ivory Coast international left for Manchester City in 2009 after seven successful years at Arsenal where he made his name and last summer signed on a free transfer for Liverpool after four years at the Etihad. He is not first choice at Anfield and, at 33, would have no chance of ousting Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny from the back-line.
The 30-year-old Togo international left the Emirates in 2009 after three years with Arsenal to join Manchester City where he was never really the first-choice striker and subsequently was sent out on loan to Real Madrid where he failed to make a big enough splash and then Tottenham where he eventually signed on a permanent deal.
He only recently reclaimed his place in the team at Spurs under Tim Sherwood who has now been sacked and replaced and I can’t see the striker having a future much longer than a year tops under the new management at White Hart Lane and, likewise, he would have no place in the Arsenal team either.
The Frenchman has been a divisive figure over the years. He left Arsenal quite controversially in 2011 after three years with the Gunners to join City and whilst he has undoubted quality, his attitude and application have been a matter for debate for some time now at both club and international level.
He lost his place in the first team under Roberto Mancini but reclaimed it this term under Manuel Pellegrini but has been left out in the cold by France boss Didier Deschamps predominantly for his personality, rather than for footballing reason.
The prodigal son is heavily linked with a return to the Emirates this summer but there is debate over whether he would be picked ahead of the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and, to a lesser extent, Mikel Arteta.
I think Fabregas is one of the few players who would possibly get in the team, simply because he too good to leave out. Where you would play the 27-year-old Spaniard is another matter for debate but I’m going to sit on the fence: he’d get on the pitch but not necessarily as a starter in his preferred position as a No.10. He could make the starting XI in place of his compatriot Arteta.
One of the most mispronounced names in football, Clichy left Arsenal in 2011 after eight years to join City and is still a quality fullback. At 28, he is still fit as a fiddle and has gained experience but I wouldn’t see him as an obvious choice to oust Gibbs.
Much like Cole, I don’t think Clichy would, at his current level, represent a clear improvement on what Arsenal already have in Gibbs who has come on leaps and bounds this term. He would certainly oust Nacho Monreal on the bench but then so would my grandmother on a good day.
The Cameroon international is another former Gunners to not find himself overly welcomed at the Camp Nou in recent years. Song went from being an integral part of the Arsenal midfield to a dissatisfactory centre back at Barcelona. Would the 26-year-old defensive midfielder represent a vast improvement on Arteta or Mathieu Flamini?
The jury is out on that one. Arteta provides more in the way of leadership and, let’s face it; Song was never the most protective as a holding midfielder so I think we’ll give the current vice-captain the benefit of the doubt.
Robin van Persie
Last but not least, the Dutch striker did the dirty on Arsenal, moving in the summer of 2012 to bitter rivals Manchester United where he won the Premier League title in his first season. But his fitness returned to its default position of ‘injured’ this term under David Moyes and, at 30 years old, he will now be delighted I’m sure to have Louis van Gaal in the hot seat at Old Trafford.
Truthfully, Van Persie if fit, would get the nod over Olivier Giroud. He and Cesc Fabregas are the only two departed stars that would probably make the current starting XI.
Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs – Fabregas – Ramsey – Ozil – Cazorla – Walcott - Van Persie