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Arsenal are a club renown for giving youngsters a chance. It’s part of their DNA. Arsene Wenger has been responsible for this ever since he was appointed as manager and he wasted no time in signing a 17-year-old Nicolas Anelka from Paris Saint-Germain in 1997. Since then the club have become synonymous with signing fledgling talent and developing them. Cesc Fabregas, Fabrice Muamba, Hector Bellerin, Nicklas Bendtner, Seb Larsson, Jeremie Aliadiere, Jermaine Pennant and Johan Djourou are just a few who have been given the Arsene Wenger treatment to varying degrees of success.
It’s a club of opportunity, or it’s supposed to be.
It’s this that makes Serge Gnabry’s lack of opportunity while at Arsenal a bit of a head scratcher. The talented attacker had the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and compatriot Mesut Ozil blocking his way into the first-team but even so, a player with as many strengths as Gnabry has deserved that opportunity.
Gnabry made his debut for the club in 2012 and at the time became Arsenal’s third youngest ever debutant behind only Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere. He made his Champions League debut within the space of a week and went on to make another two first-team appearances during the season. The 2013/14 season saw Gnabry get even more exposure to the Arsenal first-team, making 14 appearances in all competitions, and the attacker netted his first goal for the club, a winner in a 2-1 victory against Swansea. But then an injury derailed his 2014/15 season and he didn’t make a single first-team appearance. Feeling the player needed first-team minutes Arsenal loaned him to Premier League club West Brom for the 2015/16 season but after just three appearances he was recalled in January.
This was a player desperately in need of first-team minutes but nowhere to play. That was until he was called up to the German 2016 Olympic squad and finally given the stage to perform. He helped his country finish as runners up and netted six goals in six appearances. Wenger wanted the player to sign a new deal at the Emirates but Gnabry had the appetite for regular first-team football and after initially being linked with Bayern Munich the versatile forward signed for Bundesliga club Werder Bremen for a fee of £4.5million.
When making the decision to move to Bremen it was evident that playing time was at the forefront of the 21-year-old's thoughts.
“I’m very happy to be here. Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil have only said positive things about the club. I had very good talks with the management and that has lead me here to Werder Bremen and the Bundesliga. The Olympics were a personal highlight for me and I’d like to carry on my development here. I’m confident we’ll have a successful season and push for the top half of the table. I’ve come to Bremen to get playing time, to develop further and to help the team.
He reiterated his desire for regular first-team action in another interview.
“I am looking forward to my time in Bremen. It was important for me to go to a team where I would be able to get a good amount of match practice. The people in charge in Bremen worked very hard to bring me here, and I am sure that this will be a successful move.”
Werder Bremen head coach Viktor Skripnik echoed Gnabry’s sentiment that with regular playing time he could develop into quite the player “He is a very young player, but in the recent Olympics he showed the ability he has, the pace he brings to the team and how much of a goal threat he can be. I am confident that he can fulfil his full potential with consistent game time in the Bundesliga.”
It’s early days at Werder Bremen but Gnabry is already repaying some of the faith that was showed in him by the management when they decided to bring him in. He’s starting on a weekly basis and he’s regularly involved in anything positive Werder can muster in attack. His goal against Gladbach, his first since returning to Germany, showed stunning technique as he ran on to a chipped through ball after drifting infield from his starting position on the left and lashed the ball home on the volley from the edge of the area giving the ‘keeper no chance.
His second goal in the green of Werder, this time against Darmstadt, showcased just how explosive his burst of speed is as he latches onto an overhit pass, nips in before the ‘keeper and slides the ball home. Then his third goal of the season, away to RB Leipzig, really emphasised why Gnabry is destined to be a regular goalscorer. His anticipation and desire to get into the penalty area meant as the ball was played across goal he was there to poke it home.
Gnabry seems to have everything a modern day wide player needs to be successful. He’s a goal threat, he glides across the ground effortlessly making up large areas of space in mere seconds, he’s switched on defensively and doesn’t shirk his responsibilities, he’s very direct in his play and aggressively attacks the space. Given he’s still only 21-years-old under the right manager he could be turned into quite the weapon.
His profile seems to match many of the players currently causing chaos in the Premier League. He shares similarities with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Sadio Mane, Nathan Redmond and Eden Hazard. All of whom are at times unplayable with many of the defenders in England not being able to deal with the pace, trickery and power that these players have in abundance.
Premier League clubs that Gnabry may appeal to.
Gnabry may be of interest to a few Premier League clubs. Spurs are interested in bringing in a quick wide player who offers a goal threat and are reportedly trying to sign Galatasaray’s Bruma, who shares a lot of traits with Gnabry and wouldn’t cost as much as the Portuguese player. Liverpool may be in the market for another attacker after seeing how successful Sadio Mane has been. The Senegalese speedster is heading to the AFCON in January and the Reds may want to bring in a like-for-like replacement to cover his absence. Perhaps a return to Arsenal may be on the cards with the Gunners reportedly showing an interest in Spurs target Bruma. Whether or not he would return to Arsenal is another question entirely but don’t rule it out completely, the player may feel he has a point to prove.