The Top 10 players that improved after leaving Arsenal

It’s of course fun to see Serge Gnabry come back to London and score against Spurs and Chelsea, but it leads naturally to the sigh of; why did we let this talent go without much of a fight?

No one can help the serious injury he suffered after breaking into the first team squad, but let’s blame West Brom for him falling out of love with English Football.

Sent on loan as part of his rehabilitation, at that point he and Mr Wenger had shaken on a new contract. By the time he came back, having barely played, he wanted to return to Germany.

With Bayern Munich contenders to win the Champions League and a Euros on the horizon, something tells me this won’t be the last time we speak about Gnabry and wonder ‘what if?’.

Now like any list this one is subjective. Yet it’s not a case of who won more elsewhere (a lot).
We knew that Henry and Viera were world class before they left. We put up a fight to keep the likes of Van Persie, Fabregas, Cole, Sanchez, etc. They didn’t go on to be better elsewhere and you could argue are still more known for their time with us.

This is more about who became a household name after leaving us? Who maybe proved the club wrong? Where just for a moment you thought “we shouldn’t have let him go”….

So, this is a hard list, but here are my top 10 players who became better after leaving Arsenal..

Gervinho – sold to Roma for 8 million
Don’t get me wrong gooners won’t lose any sleep over this but viewers of Serie A will be shocked to read how he’s judged in this country. He’s one of the few players to question the man management of Arsene Wenger, blaming Le Prof for his loss of confidence. In one season in Italy, he bettered his entire total in North London, scoring, in total, 26 times for Roma and currently 18 for Parma. As much as we talk about players we brought in who had failed elsewhere and we turned into stars, it’s only right I point out when it happens the other way around.

Flamini – Left for free to Milan
He went on to win Serie A, then re-signed for us, winning two FA Cups. If you re-sign a player that’s a fair sign that you regret letting a player leave. This wasn’t a Campbell coming back as an emergency either, this was when we were in desperate need of some physicality in midfield, something we had missed during Flamini’s time in Italy. He admitted feeling undervalued, saying the fact that it took the club so long to offer him a contract extension was an indicator that he wasn’t rated highly. That he would be asked to return was his vindication.

David Bentley – Sold to Blackburn for not a lot of money but a percentage of any resale. He went on to move to Spurs for 17 million, helping them to qualify for CL for first time ever. He also played 7 times for England. Okay let me stress , maybe for a few years we regretted selling him. Not when he retired before the age of 30, admitting he lost his passion for the Sport. Perhaps Mr Wenger saw this which is why he was happy to make a loan move to Blackburn permanent. The Frenchman’s worked with enough top players to notice who mentally really has that hunger. Still, from a pure financial point of view, Spurs did end up paying 17 million for him (we got 7) and he played for England and was once dubbed the next Beckham. So maybe we missed out on a few quid?

Sylvinho – sold to Celta Vigo for 1.3 million
Went on to move to Barcelona where he won La Liga and 2 Champions League Titles. In a sign of things to come, Arsene Wenger perhaps was too quick to write off a player after a serious injury, although that was helped by the emergence of Ashley Cole. He used the move to Celta Vigo to show the world he wasn’t finished and fully earnt a move to Barcelona. Ironically, he won his first CL in Ashley Cole’s final game for us. The fact he was playing in another one, 3 years after Cole left shows he could have been an asset if he had stayed longer.

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst – loaned to Barcelona – took option to buy for 2 million
Went on to win La Liga, a Champions League and play in World Cup Final. Arsene Wenger greatly overestimated the seriousness of a knee injury. In many ways the Dutchman got better with age, credited for playing a big part in Barcelona’s recovery , playing every game on route to them winning the Champions League. At the age of 35, he played in a World Cup Final , the closest his nation have come from winning the holy grail.

Szczesny – Loan to Roma, then made a 12 million move to Juventus
Went on to win two Serie A titles (so far). Not that he wasn’t given a chance at Arsenal but Mr Wenger tired of his behaviour, the final straw being caught smoking in the showers after conceding 4 goals to Southampton. He was impressive on loan at Roma at which point should have been recalled to Arsenal. For what we paid for Cech and Leno, we already had just as good a keeper on our pay roll. His attitude can’t be that bad if he’s accepted in the Juventus dressing room.

Jose Antonio Reyes – loaned to Real Madrid before 12 million move to Atletico Madrid.
Went on to win 5 UEFA cups and La Liga title. Although he more than contributed for us, by the time he returned to La Liga he was no longer predicted to be Spain’s next big thing, mostly because of his complaint of being home sick almost from the day he arrived in England. The Premiership was deemed too physical for him with the likes of Man United often targeting him. Fittingly he won 3 Europa/UEFA cups with Sevilla, his local club.

Carlos Vela – Real Sociedad – 3 million.
Went on to score 73 goals for Real Sociedad and 53 goals for LA FC. In terms of starts/goals ratio, he looked like a talent for us, especially in cup ties. But he always faced accusations of whether the English game was too physical for him. A loan to Spain was part of his development, but he then asked for his agent to find a way for him to be able to stay in La Liga. There were rumours constantly that Arsenal had a buy back clause, but he moved to the MLS instead. The fact that the Mexican would move to America at the age of 28 shows he’s financially motivated.

Lassana Diarra – Portsmouth – 5.5 million – won an FA Cup.
Went on to move to Real Madrid for 20 million and won titles in Spain and France. Given how much game-time and chances Mr Wenger would give to other youngsters, it feels odd to think he would be so quick to give up on someone who would go on to play for who he did. Yes, we made a profit on someone we got for free but not as much as Pompey did. He’s the closest thing we had to a replacement for a Vieira or Gilberto Silva. Instead he was overlooked for Denilson.

Andy Cole – Bristol City – 500,000

Went on to win every single honour in the domestic game, including 5 League titles and a European Cup with Man United, and is the third highest goal scorer in Premier League history with 187 goals. It’s only because his fee would help pay for Ian Wright that Arsenal mostly get away with any criticism for this. The fact remains we sold one of Britain’s most prolific scorers after one senior game for half a million. Years later he would set records for how much he was being brought for. Don’t get me wrong we didn’t struggle in the striker department but even strictly from a business point of view we should have waited a little bit longer before we sold him.

Your opinions are welcome, and I am sure your top 10 players will obviously depend on your age range and the era you started watching Arsenal games…

Be kind in the comments.

Dan Smith


  1. Except 3 players I think the rest didn’t improve they just moved to weaker leagues and played for some of the best teams in those leagues,the rest of them ended up having short careers at the top and fell off the radar!

  2. Gnabry – sold for 5m, now worth 60-70m

    Malen – sold for 800k, now worth 20-30m

    Reine-Adelaide – sold for 1,4m, now worth 25m

    Bennacer – sold for 900k, now worth 15m

    So 7.5m gained, 140-150m lost.

    Someone needs to get fired for these mistakes!

  3. I’m sorry but I’m not losing any sleep for that list of players that left. They probably did do a bit better after they left Arsenal but none of them became world class players, except for Andy Cole, van Brockhort, and probably Sylvinho. Sczesny is also a lot better but I wouldn’t put him in the top 10 list for best goalkeepers in the world. The sale of Gnabry really hurts because everyone can see if he continues to play like this he is on the verge of becoming world class. And the only world class player we can point to in our team is Aubameyang. Ozil used to be world class but that was a while ago, and we sold our other world class player (Sanchez) to Man Utd two years ago.

  4. For necessary balance It must be added to this debate-and it is noticeably missing thus far- the truism that some players just do not thrive in our Prem, but are better suited to the less physical and frantic pace to be found in other countries. Of this list of ten I regretted losing only Cole who of course stayed in the Prem and just possibly also Szczesny, who had a real and prolonged chance to prove his worth here but never totally grabbed that chance. He was a classic late developer and I do NOT blame Wenger for losing him. The smoking incident was down to his own lack of maturity. I could not wait to see the back of Reyes, a total “woose” if ever I saw one and the “headless chicken” of Gervinho too.
    All clubs lose players they later regret and I WOULD VENTURE THAT IN OUR CASE, IT AMOUNTS TO RATHER FEWER THAN AVERAGE.
    I often regret FAR MORE, the ones we buy but do not sell soon enough or at all; or cannot sell, eg Ozil!

  5. I need to mention that of course I REGRET LOSING GNABRY BUT HE WAS NOT INCLUDEd ON THE LIST OF TEN, even though he should have been, obviously. I do blame Wenger for this and most of us saw his obvious ability far better than Wenger ever did.

  6. One of the best “buy back” players in premier league history, must surely be Martin Keown?

    Passion, commitment, reliability, loyalty and complete love of The Arsenal was his trademark.

    As for Gnarby (Jon), it seems as if there is more to the story than a Wenger error – hopefully he might address it further in his upcoming book, but I am always aware of gazidis in the background and it’s the third time (David Villa, Anton Griezman and Gnarby) that, seemingly, agreed verbal deals, somehow never materialised.
    Having said that of course, it could just as easily be AW’s error.

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