Arsenal

Where are they now? The Arsenal XI from Mikel Arteta’s first game as boss

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Where are they now? The Arsenal XI from Mikel Arteta’s first game as boss in 2019

Mikel Arteta took charge of Arsenal in December 2019, and one look at the starting XI from his first match on the sidelines indicates just how far the club has come under his management. 

Arteta took over from Unai Emery and, after spending three seasons working under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the former Gunners captain was bullish in his introductory press conference.

“We all know there is a lot of work to be done to achieve that but I am confident we’ll do it,” he said.

“I’m realistic enough to know it won’t happen overnight, but the current squad has plenty of talent and there is a great pipeline of young players coming through from the academy.”

After a number of sticky periods, Arteta has transformed Arsenal from mid-table mediocrity into a team of Premier League title challengers.

But his first game as manager, a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth on Boxing Day 2019, was an inauspicious beginning and the majority of the Arsenal players that day are no longer at the Emirates.

So we’ve done some digging to investigate where they are now. The results were mind-boggling…

GK: Bernd Leno

Leno left Arsenal after four seasons in 2022, joining Fulham in a cut-price deal after losing the goalkeeping jersey to Aaron Ramsdale.

The Germany international didn’t mask his frustration at being dropped and, after moving across London, told BILD Sport: “When I realised that it wasn’t about performance or quality, I knew I had to go.

“During the preparation, I saw that it’s not about performance, it’s just about politics. It was clear to me: I have to get out of here.”

In his reply, Arteta said: “I’m really surprised and I don’t know if he’s talking about the politics when he was starting every match or the politics when he wasn’t playing. Really surprised about it.”

Meow. Happily, Leno is performing well at Fulham as the Cottagers look to secure a surprise top-half finish.

RB: Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Maitland-Niles was an unexpected cog of Arteta’s early sides, helping the Gunners win the FA Cup in 2020 and scoring a cheeky penalty to beat Liverpool in the Community Shield.

But, like a bored Tinder user, Arteta soon moved on and the 25-year-old went to Roma on loan in January 2022 in a quest for more game time, even publicly posting on social media about his desire to “go where he was wanted”.

Maitland-Niles is now out on loan at Southampton, and his days at his parent club are surely numbered.

CB: Sokratis (Shkodran Mustafi, ’77)

Despite some encouraging performances under Emery, Sokratis ultimately joined Arsenal when he was past his prime and Arteta soon phased him out of the starting line-up.

The Greek centre-back was eventually deregistered and released in 2021. He joined Olympiacos, where he remains to his day.

Mustafi’s time at Arsenal is best remembered for his calamitous cock-ups and Arteta packed him off to Schalke in February 2021.

The World Cup winner made just 13 appearances for the club and was released following their relegation, only to suffer another demotion with new club Levante in 2022.

He remains on the books of the Segunda Division outfit.

CB: David Luiz

Already firmly established as football’s most Jekyll and Hyde player, Luiz didn’t change under Arteta’s management.

He gave away numerous penalties and goals – that disasterclass at Manchester City will live long in the memory – but was occasionally a colossal defender with an incredible passing range.

Luiz’s status as a leader and mentor to younger players saw Arteta hand him a contract extension in 2020, before the Brazil international departed a year later.

The defender is now back in Brazil with Flamengo. We’re pleased to report he’s still as bonkers as ever.

David Luiz during Flamengo's Brasileirao game agaisnt Sao Paulo at the Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 22 April 2022.

READ: David Luiz produced the miss of the year… & we love him even more now

LB: Bukayo Saka

From raw full-back to elite forward and national hero, it’s safe to say Saka has been one of the success stories of the Arteta era.

CM: Lucas Torreira 

A terrier during the early Emery era, Torreira picked up a bad injury away at Portsmouth in 2020, and never hit those heights again.

Arteta loaned him out to Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina, before eventually cutting the Uruguay international loose permanently last summer. He’s now playing at Premier League retirement home Galatasaray.

CM: Granit Xhaka

Xhaka has one of modern football’s great redemption arcs; from tantrums and fan-baiting behaviour, the midfielder has become a lynchpin to Arteta’s table-toppers.

The Switzerland international was reportedly close to joining Jose Mourinho’s Roma after impressing at Euro 2020 before doing a U-turn, signing a new contract that runs to 2024.

Many Arsenal fans have also made a U-turn on their certifiably mad hero. He’s almost worth the admission fee alone.

RW: Reiss Nelson (Nicolas Pepe, ’82)

After his saved shot was prodded home by Aubameyang for Arsenal’s equaliser in Dorset, Nelson struggled to make much more of an impact in Arteta’s first two seasons.

He played a bit-part role at Feyenoord last season, but returned to the Emirates and scored a brace against Nottingham Forest in October. There’s still hope Nelson will fulfil his talent at Arsenal.

Pepe became Arsenal’s record signing after a £72million move from Lille in the summer of 2019, but quickly became an infuriating figure with Arsenal fans and management.

Capable of the spectacular, Pepe was too inconsistent for Arteta’s liking and is spending the 2022-23 season at Lille. With Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe ahead of him, the Ivory Coast international is probably best served finding a new club.

CAM: Mesut Ozil (Joe Willock, ’75)

Getting the best out of Ozil was considered one of the first items of Arteta’s in-tray, but the Gunners boss soon came to the conclusion as Emery; Ozil’s best days were gone.

The Germany international’s long and sad goodbye was complete in January 2021, when he joined Turkish giants Fenerbahce. He failed to rekindle his career there and is now turning out for their Super Lig rivals Istanbul Basaksehir.

“My job is to get the best out of every player, to contribute to the team performance,” Arteta said after leaving Ozil out of his 2020-21 Premier League squad.

“Here I feel at the moment, today, that I have failed. I want the best possible Mesut for the team. And in some moments I was able to get close to that, and at the moment I have not been able to do it because I have to make the decision to leave him out of the squad.”

Willock never looked like working his way into Arteta’s first XI and moved on loan to Newcastle in January 2021.

After scoring eight times in 14 league matches for the Magpies, Arsenal cashed in when Newcastle offered around £25million for the midfielder.

He’s not been as prolific since, but the midfielder remains a solid member of Eddie Howe’s Champions League-chasing squad.

LW: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aubameyang helped the Gunners…

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