Serge Gnabry left Arsenal and turned into a world-class winger. Many bemoan the Gunners’ decision, but there is a major hole that is missed: would he have developed in the same way without leaving?
Serge Gnabry is one of the biggest regrets in recent Arsenal history. The German winger was a superb talent, as noted by then manager Arsene Wenger, was seemingly set on taking a starting role at the club one day, and would likely turn into a legend should he stay long enough. Then, disaster.
Gnabry was quite clear: he believed that his career would be better served by him leaving north London and finding another club. And so, having refused all contract negotiations, the Gunners were forced to sell. Gnabry arrived at Werder Bremen, although Bayern Munich were the ones behind the deal and would eventually get their man.
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Fast forward almost four years and Gnabry is now one of the best players in the world. He was named Bayern’s Player of the Season in his first year at the club, scoring ten goals and assists seven in the Bundesliga alone. This year, he has upped his performance level and currently sits on 11 goals and nine assists in the league in only 1,619 minutes. He also scored six goals with one assists in just six Champions League matches, including four against Tottenham Hotspur.
Fans have bemoaned Gnabry’s departure for years, and now, that he has fulfilled his potential as an elite winger at 24, those groans are only intensified. And given the quality of his performances and the need that Arsenal currently have for an elite-level, direct, goalscoring winger who could replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left side of the attack, there is good reason for the complaints.
However, there is one major flaw in these disgruntled arguments, something that must be considered when recognising the Gnabry tragedy: Would he have developed in the way that he did had he not left the club?
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While Gnabry is now an elite winger, he certainly wasn’t when he left. He trained and developed, first in Bremen, then with Hoffenheim, under renowned coach Julian Nagelsmann, and finally at Bayern. He is better than he was, and given the recent record of young talent from Hale End and their failures to make dents in the first team, it is fair to question whether Gnabry would be the same player now had he remained at the Emirates.
Moreover, Gnabry himself believed that he wouldn’t. It was the right decision [to leave Arsenal],” Gnabry said in 2016 following his exit. “Everybody who compares my development over the last four months to my time in England before that can’t come to a different conclusion. That was the main reason for the transfer – I wanted to get more playing time and it worked. Arsenal wanted to keep me, badly. But I had to look after my development.”
So yes, it is frustrating to see Gnabry flourishing in Germany and performing so consistently and so brilliantly. But in reality, he likely would not have been the same player had he stayed in north London, and that tells you plenty about the club’s recent struggle to develop elite players.