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222/22: The Wenger Years – 2014 to 2018

Arsène Wenger at Arsenal 2014 to 2018
The Wenger Years 2014-18

The last of a six-part series chronicling the list of 222 players who have played under Arsene Wenger’s 22 years at Arsenal.

After two wins out of the opening eight games of the 14/15 campaign, the team clawed their way to the third spot. Another glorious failure in the Champions League – losing on away goals to Monaco. All was forgiven when the team lifted back-to-back FA Cups when they beat Aston Villa 4-0 in the final.

The 15/16 league campaign was a topsy-turvy affair as Arsenal bundled their way to second place. Unable to retain the FA Cup and knocked out by Leo Messi & Co once again, the only silver lining was Tottenham finishing third in a two-horse race.

In the 16/17 season, the club finished outside the top four for the first time since 95/96. A humiliating 10-2 two-legged loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League gave more impetus to the #wengerout brigade. Arsenal did win the FA Cup by beating Chelsea 2-1 in the final as Wenger went on to become the most successful manager in FA Cup history.

Wenger’s final season. The 17/18 league campaign was the worst under Wenger as the team finished in sixth place. The #wengerout brigade grew louder. A first-round exit in the FA Cup to Nottingham Forest was followed by a League Cup finals loss to Manchester City.

On April 20, 2018, Wenger announced his departure from the club.

There was one last shot at glory in the Europa League only to be undone by Atletico Madrid in the semifinals. The 0-1 win at Huddersfield Town brought an end to the 22 years, 1235 matches, three league titles, and seven FA Cup trophies.

The Arsene Wenger era was over.

PART SIX: FA Cups, #wengerout, the end of an era 

191. Calum Chambers
The Southampton Academy product was signed in the summer of 2014. Chambers was deployed at either right-back or center-back by Wenger. After a decent start at Arsenal, which led to a call-up for the England national team, Chambers was loaned out to Middlesbrough in the 16/17 season.

Injuries hampered the 2017/18 season where he had a total of 24 appearances, primarily in the cup competitions. A second loan spell at Fulham for the 18/19 season saw him flourish in the role of a defensive midfielder as he was voted as the player of the season at Fulham.  His injury worries continued in the 19/20 season after another decent start to the season.

Chambers does not score many goals, but when he does it’s a beauty

192. Mathieu Debuchy
Signed from Newcastle to replace Bacary Sagna in 2014, Debuchy was unlucky with injuries. the worst coming in January 2015, courtesy an unnecessary shove in back by Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic which led to a dislocated shoulder.

The defender struggled to win back his place as his understudy, Hector Bellerin, flourished in the right-back role. The lack of game time made him look for a loan move which materialized with Bordeaux in February 2016.

Despite having six months remaining in his contract, he was signed by Saint-Étienne on a free transfer in the summer of 2018. His fortunes have changed dramatically since he left the Premier League as he has been playing regularly.

193. Alexis Sanchez
Signed from Barcelona in 2014, Alexis scored 25 goals in his first season, including a worldie in the 2015 FA Cup final. The following season he missed a month due to injury but ended up scoring 17 goals across all competitions.

The 2016/17 season was his best for the Gunners: 24 goals in the league and 30 across all competitions, including the opening goal in the FA Cup final which the Gunners won 2-1 against Chelsea.

His final season started a love-hate relationship with the fans. After a move to Manchester City was rejected, his on-field performance began to suffer. In January 2018, Alexis joined Manchester United in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan move to London.

The Chilean’s bonkers salary of £391,000 a week with an extra £75,000 for every game he plays has seen a return of five goals in two seasons. Sanchez was shipped off to Inter Milan on loan.

Absolutely electric on his day, Alexis brought much joy to the Emirates with his dogged, never-say-die attitude. Although, that looks like a thing of the past now.

(L to R) Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck,
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Stefan O'Connor, Gabriel Paulista, David Ospina
(L to R) Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck,
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Stefan O’Connor, Gabriel Paulista, David Ospina

194. Danny Welbeck
The forward joined on deadline day from Manchester United in the summer of 2014 – as Robin van Persie went the other way.

A crowd favorite, Welbeck struggled with injuries in the latter half of the 14/15 campaign which signaled a pattern during his Arsenal career.

A return to the first-team action in the 15/16 campaign in February against Leicester City where he scored an injury-time winner kept the title hopes alive. More injuries followed the next season.

In the 17/18 season, Welbeck scored 10 goals across all competitions and featured in the FA Cup final. An injury picked up in September ruled him out for the rest of the 18/19 season. After his contract ran out, Welbeck joined Watford in 2019.

195. David Ospina
The Colombia international was signed after impressing at the 2014 World Cup. He took over as the No.1 keeper after Szczesny was punished for smoking.

The arrival of Petr Cech in 2015 restricted his game time in the league for the following seasons which culminated in a loan move with Napoli in 18/19. Ospina signed a permanent deal with the Serie A club in 2019.

If there is a statue of Ospina to be installed outside the stadium, it would of him lying on the turf clutching a part of his body as he invariably injures himself yet again. Ah yes, his brother-in-law is fellow Colombian international footballer, James Rodriguez.

196. Ainsley Maitland-Niles
A name that sounds like a Conservative political candidate, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a versatile player. The Academy product has been associated with the club since 2003 and was drafted into the senior team in the 17/18 season.

The winger spent more time in the full-back positions than his preferred positions in the wings or the midfield. The lack of a fixed position could put his future association with the club in doubt – especially if his mother has something to say.

197. Stefan O’Connor
The center-back joined Arsenal’s academy as a 13-year-old in 2010. He made his debut as a late substitute as the Gunners beat Galatasaray 4-1 in the Champions League in 2014.

Sent on loan to York City and MVV Maastricht in the Dutch second division where he struggled for game time.

O’Connor signed with Newcastle United in the summer of 2017 and is yet to play for the senior team.

198. Gabriel Paulista
Signed from Villarreal in January 2015, the Brazilian spent two full seasons at the club. According to Wenger, the center-back struggled with instructions due to his lack of comprehension of the English language.

A good tackler, but prone to a mistake or two, Gabriel couldn’t quite adjust to English conditions – especially cricket.

He returned to Spain in 2017 when his move to Valencia materialized.

199. Petr Cech
After losing his place to Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea, Cech signed up with Arsenal in 2015 and ended the season with the cleanest sheets in the Premier League.

After three seasons, which included an FA Cup medal, Cech made way for Bernd Leno in the 2018/19 season before announcing his retirement from the sport.

A legend at Stamford Bridge, Cech commanded respect from the Arsenal dressing room and fans alike.

200. Alex Iwobi
A Hale End graduate, Iwobi was associated with the club since 2004. The winger was drafted into the first team in the League Cup in 2015, followed by substitute appearances in the Premier League.

Iwobi featured regularly in the Arsenal lineup from his second season but lacked the end product i.e. goals.

The nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha, Iwobi has represented Nigeria in international football. In 2019, Iwobi was the subject of racism from Indian actress Esha Gupta.

201. Glen Kamara
A defensive midfielder who did not get much of a look in his five-year stay at the club.

Kamara featured in one League Cup match in 2015 – a 3-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday. He was sent on loan to Southend United and Colchester United the following seasons before signing for Dundee United in the Scottish League.

He now plays for Rangers and has gone on to represent the Finland national team.

202. Ismael Bennacer
A skillful attacking midfielder, Bennacer also made his debut in the League Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday.

His appearance came under extraordinary circumstances: He was subbed in for an injured Theo Walcott, who in turn was subbed in following an injury to Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. This occurred within the first 20 minutes of the match. Peak banter.

Following a loan spell at Ligue 2, Tours, Bennacer signed a permanent deal with Empoli in 2017. His stature grew as he helped the club win the promotion to Serie A. He signed with AC Milan in 2019.

After playing for France at the youth level, Bennacer chose to represent Algeria at the senior level. He was voted the player of the tournament in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

(L to R) Petr Cech, Glen Kamara, Ismael Bennacer, Krystian Bielik, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Alex Iwobi, Mohamed Elneny, Rob Holding
(L to R) Petr Cech, Glen Kamara, Ismael Bennacer, Krystian Bielik, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Alex Iwobi, Mohamed Elneny, Rob Holding

203. Krystian Bielik
The Polish youth international was signed from Legia Warsaw in January 2015. He has represented the Gunners in a League Cup match – yes, that the 3-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday in 2015, again.

Tipped to be a top future midfield enforcer, the Pole was spent his time on loan at Birmingham City, Walsall, and Charlton Athletic.

The change in manager meant that Bielik was surplus to requirement. He signed with Derby County in 2019.

204. Jeff Reine-Adelaide
The midfielder came through the youth ranks at the French club, Lens, before signing with Arsenal in the summer of 2015.

Good on the ball, the midfielder’s decision-making process was questionable. After making eight appearances in domestic cup competitions, Reine-Adelaide was sent on loan to Angers in January 2018, and at the end of the spell, he signed a permanent deal with the Ligue 1 side. At the start of the 19/20 season, Reine-Adelaide signed with Olympique Lyonnais

Here’s a nice story on how Reine-Adelaide’s signing for Arsenal saved RC Lens from bankruptcy. 

205. Mohamed Elneny
Signed from FC Basel in January 2016, the Egyptian midfielder impressed towards the end of his opening season. Elneny spent the next two seasons on the fringes and was advised by Unai Emery to find a different club.

An intelligent reader of the game, Elneny spent the 19/20 season on loan at Besiktas.

Elneny is a minimal fuss person. In 2013, his Egyptian teammate at Basel, Mohammed Salah, caused a political controversy by announcing that he refuses to play a Champions League tie in Israel. Elneny on the other hand quietly went about his business. “I don’t talk about politics“, he said.

But then, on the other hand, there is this brutal takedown of Alexis Sanchez

206. Rob Holding
Rob Holding came through the youth ranks at Bolton Wanderers. After a single season in the first-team, the defender was picked up by Arsene Wenger in 2016.

A defensive crisis forced Wenger to throw him straight in at Liverpool on the opening day of the 16/17 season. At the end of the season, he started in the FA Cup final – alongside Per Mertesacker – as Arsenal lifted their 13th FA Cup win. The defender featured regularly in the following seasons before an injury in 2018, which kept him out for nine months.

Holding was voted as Bolton Wanderers’ Player of the Year for the 15/16 season despite not featuring for the full season.

207. Granit Xhaka
The Swiss midfielder arrived from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2016. A mainstay in the team, Xhaka has polarized opinions among the Arsenal faithful.

The hard-tackling midfielder is prone to collecting cards (47 yellows, 2 reds in 163 matches) but scored absolute bangers. He was also lauded for his leadership skills – which was put to test after he was awarded the captain’s armband. In October 2019, the skipper was caught up in the infamous moment when he reacted against the home fans at the Emirates.  He has restored his place in the squad since the incident. 

The son of a political prisoner of 1980s Yugoslavia. Xhaka – alongside Xherdan Shaqiri – caused a stir in the World Cup 2018 match against Serbia when they celebrated their goals with the Albanian nationalist symbol of the double-headed eagle.

208. Shkodran Mustafi
When Wenger signed the German international from Valencia in 2016, the defender went unbeaten in his first 18 games – a record for Arsenal.

Then came the criticism from the fans and the manager, Unai Emery. Out of favor, Mustafi was asked by Emery to leave in 2019, but could not force a move. After spending time on the sidelines, Mustafi earned back his place under Arteta and is determined to extend his stay at Arsenal. 

Fun fact: Mustafi was in the Everton youth ranks when Mikel Arteta was captain of the Merseyside club.

209. Lucas Perez
Wenger pipped Everton to land the forward from Deportivo La Coruna in 2016. The Spaniard made 21 appearances, scoring seven goals – including a hat-trick against FC Basel in the Champions League.

After a frustrating season at London, Perez was loaned out to Deportivo – his home town – in 2017. A season with West Ham culminated in a permanent move to Alaves in 2019.

Perez spent the first years of his career in the lower leagues in Spain. His stints in Ukraine and in Greece prompted a move to Deportivo, where his career turned for the better.

Without a cap for Spain, Perez has represented the Galicia autonomous team.

210. Chris Willock
Signed at the age of five, the forward played a single match at the senior level – a League Cup tie against Nottingham Forest in 2016 against in the League Cup.

Willock ended his 14 years association with Arsenal when he signed a five-year deal with Benfica in 2017.

Unable to break into the first team, he was sent on loan to West Bromwich Albion in 2019 and Huddersfield in 2020. Chris is the middle of the three Willock brothers – Matty and Joe.

211. Alexandre Lacazette
Wenger splashed the cash on the Lyon striker in the summer of 2017. Lacazette had a fine start to his Gunners career, scoring on his Premier League debut against Leicester.

After an injury layoff, Lacazette struck up a partnership with Aubameyang. His strike partner gave up on the chance of a hat-trick when he let the Frenchman take the penalty against Stoke.

Lacazette played on the left to accommodate Aubameyang. With 19 goals, he was voted by Arsenal supporters as the club’s player of the season

Fun fact: Lacazette scored the winner in the finals of the 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Championship. His teammates at that point were Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin and Gilles Sunu.

(L to R) Granit Xhaka, Alexandre Lacazette,
Shkodran Mustafi, Lucas Perez, Chris Willock, Sead Kolasinac, Reiss Nelson, Josh Dasilva
(L to R) Granit Xhaka, Alexandre Lacazette,
Shkodran Mustafi, Lucas Perez, Chris Willock, Sead Kolasinac, Reiss Nelson, Josh Dasilva

212. Sead Kolasinac
Signed on a free transfer from Schalke in 2017, Kolasinac scored on his debut in the Community Shield against Chelsea. The Arsenal fans voted him the player of the month twice in his first season.

The Bosnian international appears to be better as a wing-back and had to compete for his place in the Arsenal lineup.

Known as ‘The Tank’, Kolasinac hit the headlines when he fended off robbers in an attempted carjacking incident.

Kolasinac has the unfortunate record of scoring the fastest own goal in World Cup history.

213. Reiss Nelson
A youth product, Nelson joined Arsenal at the age of eight. Drafted into the Arsenal first-team in pre-season ahead of the 17/18 campaign. The forward went on to make 16 appearances in the campaign.

It was during his loan move to 1899 Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, where he made a significant impact. Upon his return to London, Nelson featured regularly in the 19/20 season.

The kid will shine, especially under the watchful eye of manager Mikel Arteta – who is clearly an admirer. A close friend of Jadon Sancho, these are exciting times ahead for the lad. 

214. Josh Dasilva
A Hale End Academy product, Da Silva joined Arsenal at the age of eight. Before settling in the role of a midfielder, Dasilva played in the wings and upfront in the youth setup.

He made three appearances in the 17/18 League Cup matches and ended his 12-year association with the club when he signed for Brentford FC in 2018. He has featured regularly in the Championship.

It was very emotional. I wanted to play for Arsenal for the rest of my life, but I had to do what was best for my career,” he said.

Having represented England at the U-19 and U-20 level, Dasilva is open to playing for Angola.

215. Joe Willock
Associated with the club since the age of four, Willock has risen through the ranks and was drafted into the first team in a League Cup tie against Doncaster Rovers in 2017.

Willock can be deployed in various midfield positions and has featured regularly in the 19/20 season where he scored four goals, including this banger in the League Cup.

He is now the only Willock brother at a top club, as Matty signed for Gillingham, and Chris is at Benfica’s B team.

“If there’s people coming from bad areas or estates like I have, and I’ve inspired them to live out their dreams as well, that would make me really happy,” he said. The lad has a good head on his shoulders.

216. Eddie Nketiah
Is that Marlo Stanfield coming around the corner? No, it’s Eddie Nketiah to score for Arsenal!

Signed from Chelsea in 2015, the forward was scoring for fun at the youth level. Nketiah made a real splash for in October 2017 when he scored within 15 seconds after coming in as a substitute to take the League Cup match against Norwich into extra time. He wasn’t done yet. The young striker scored the winner.

In 2019, Nketiah was sent on loan to Leeds United where made a significant impact. He was recalled from his loan spell in January 2020.

For the record: Nketiah is the first player to score for Arsenal after Wenger was appointed as Arsenal manager.

217. Marcus McGuane
A Hale End Academy product who joined the joined at the under-six level in 2005. The midfielder made a couple of appearances as a substitute in the Europa League in 2017.

In January 2018, McGuane signed with Barcelona’s B team. In 2019, he joined former Arsenal Academy manager, Andries Jonker, at Telstar on loan before signing a long-term deal with Nottingham Forest in the winter transfer window.

In March 2018, McGuane became the first Englishman to play for Barcelona FC since Gary Lineker, after making a substitute appearance against Espanyol in the Catalan Super Cup Final.

218. Ben Sheaf
Signed from West Ham Academy in 2014, Sheaf was handed his made his senior debut in October 2017 in the 1-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in 2017. Another senior appearance soon followed, this time in a 1-0 win against West Ham in the League Cup quarter-finals.

The tall, languid midfielder was sent on loan to Stevenage in January 2018, followed by another loan spell with Doncaster Rovers.

“He’s always ahead of the game and his anticipation quality is absolutely huge,” said Wenger about the midfielder.

(L to R) Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Marcus McGuane, Ben Sheaf, Matt Macey, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
(L to R) Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Marcus McGuane, Ben Sheaf, Matt Macey, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

219. Matt Macey
At six-foot-seven, the goalkeeping giant joined the club after a trial in October 2013.

Macey made his debut in a League Cup win over Norwich, before starting in the Europa League against Red Star Belgrade in 2017. Macey has had three loan stints at Accrington Stanley, Luton Town, and Plymouth Argyle.

Fun fact: Macey played youth football for a club called “Avon Arsenal Comets” in Somerset.

220. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Signed joined in January from Manchester United as a swap deal involving Alexis Sanchez. The midfielder provided a hat-trick of assists on his debut against Everton.

After a decent full season, Mkhitaryan was sent on loan to Roma for the 19/20 season. The Armenian was at the center of controversy ahead of the 2019 Europa League Final in Baku, Azerbaijan. Owing to the anti-Armenian sentiments in Azerbaijan, Mkhitaryan opted not to travel.

Mkhitaryan’s late father, Hamlet, was also a professional footballer who represented the Armenian national team.

221. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
When the fans yearned for a big name signing, Wenger delivered with the signing of the hitman in January 2018. With a price tag of £56 million, Aubameyang is Wenger’s most expensive signing.

The price tag has since been justified as the Gabonese led the scoring charts for the club. 49 goals in 75 matches already. Aubameyang took over the role of the captain in November 2019  

Fun fact: The striker had the option to turn up in Spanish, French, and Italian national team colors. 

222. Konstantinos Mavropanos
Wenger’s last signing was another big name. With 22 characters in his name, Konstantinos Mavropanos arrived from PAS Giannina in January 2018.

The defender was handed his debut against Manchester United in April 2018. Within a month, he received his first red card.

With injuries hampering his development, Mavropanos had made only five appearances since the start of the 18/19 season. He was sent on loan to FC Nurnberg where he had begun to settle in quite nicely before picking up another injury.

READ

Part 5: The Wenger Years 2010-2014

Top four was now a trophy for Wenger. Then Arsenal went on to actually win one in 2014.

Part 4: The Wenger Years 2006-2010

The move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium saw the start of a trophyless drought for Arsenal and Wenger.

Part 3: The Wenger Years 2002-2006

Wenger creates history with the Invincibles while Arsenal say goodbye to Highbury.

Part 2: The Wenger Years 1998-2002

Wenger’s team finished in second place for three consecutive seasons before winning his second double in 01/02.

Part 1: The Wenger Years 1996-1998

Newspaper headlines asked “Arsene Who?”, as the Frenchman began his journey to transform Arsenal FC – and English football forever.

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