Football Features

Forgotten Arsenal players: from Bielsa’s vice-captain to AC Milan’s midfield dynamo

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:00, 1 August 2021

Not all Arsenal players leave a lasting impression after their time at the Emirates, or formerly Highbury Stadium.

Despite their quality (or lack thereof) elsewhere, people just genuinely forget that they once wore the famous red and white of Arsenal.

But Squawka didn’t. Here are 18 players you probably forgot played for the Gunners.

1. Isaac Hayden

Age: 26

Arsenal apps: 2

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Arsenal, Hull, Newcastle

Newcastle’s midfield stalwart was once destined for great things at Arsenal. Here was the homegrown holding midfielder the Gunners had been pining for. Set to make his Premier League debut in late 2014, a training ground collision with who else but Mathieu Flamini derailed that, and his whole season. The subsequent string of injuries kept him out of contention, and eventually led to his departure from the Emirates, first on loan, and then permanently.

2. Richard Wright

Age: 43

Arsenal apps: 22

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Ipswich, Arsenal, Everton, West Ham, Southampton, Ipswich, Sheffield United, Ipswich, Manchester City

Ipswich’s legendary goalkeeper proved himself to be an incredibly capable No.2, and that’s exactly what he was when he played for Arsenal in 2001/02. People forget, but Wright actually played 12 of the Gunners’ league games that season as David Seaman was out injured. He was a huge presence in goal (losing just once) as Arsenal won the title for the first time in four years.

3. Ismael Bennacer

Age: 23

Arsenal apps: 1

Arsenal goals: 0

Given he played a grand total of 61 minutes in a League Cup match for Arsenal, it’s easy to forget Ismael Bennacer’s time in north London. Since leaving for Italy in 2017, however, he’s gone from strength to strength, excelling for Empoli before joining the mighty AC Milan in August 2019. Bennacer is part of a Milan side who have rejuvenated their form under Stefano Pioli and will no doubt be vying for the Serie A title next term.

4. Lassana Diarra

Age: 36

Arsenal apps: 13

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Le Havre, Chelsea, Arsenal, Portsmouth, Real Madrid, Anzhi Makhachkala, Lokomotiv Moscow, Marseille, Al Jazira, PSG

The pint-sized pivot, Lassana Diarra is much better known for his time at Real Madrid. Or even Portsmouth, where he helped them with an incredible FA Cup win in 2008. But few recall that Lass spent the first half of that season barely playing at the Emirates as Wenger instead placed his faith in Mathieu Flamini.

5. Carlos Vela

Age: 32

Arsenal apps: 62

Arsenal goals: 11

Career path: Salamanca, Osasuna, Arsenal, West Brom, Real Sociedad, LAFC

After his legendary spell in the Basque Country with Real Sociedad and his current record-breaking stint in the USA with LAFC where he has scored 67 goals in 93 games to date, it’d be easy to forget that Carlos Vela got his start at Arsenal. The Mexican marvel was one of the bright lights of a young Gunners team and should have emerged as a star alongside the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. But he never managed to hit their heights and as a result, he’s only ever really remembered among English football audiences when transfer links crop up (less so, nowadays, of course).

6. Jermaine Pennant

Age: 38

Arsenal apps: 26

Arsenal goals: 3

Career path: Notts County, Arsenal, Watford, Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Zaragoza, Stoke, Wolves, Pune City, Wigan, Tampines Rovers, Bury, Billericay Town

Pennant is so well-travelled now that there are at least three different clubs people would associate him with more than Arsenal. A pulsating winger in his youth, Pennant never really made the grade at Highbury and it wasn’t until he played for Birmingham that he found his feet. He is probably best known for his time with Liverpool, where he helped the Reds reach the Champions League final.

Here’s some valuable trivia: Jermaine Pennant is the only English player to feature in a Champions League final not to be capped by England. Now you won’t forget him.

7. Mathieu Debuchy

Age: 36

Arsenal apps: 30

Arsenal goals: 2

Career path: Lille, Newcastle, Arsenal, Bordeaux (loan), Saint-Etienne

Mathieu Debuchy made almost 300 appearances for Lille, lifting a Ligue 1 title and a Coupe de France in the process, and has 27 caps for France. However, you’d be hard-pressed to remember him doing too much of note in an Arsenal shirt, which he donned after a short but successful spell with Newcastle United. Debuchy returned to his native France in 2018 to join Saint-Etienne but is now a free agent.

8. Matthew Upson

Age: 42

Arsenal apps: 57

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Luton, Arsenal, Nottingham Forest, Crystal Palace, Reading, Birmingham, West Ham, Stoke, Brighton, Leicester, MK Dons

Another Arsenal cast-off who made his name playing for Birmingham, Upson made a bigger splash at Highbury as a solid back-up continually in a state of “he’ll come good one day!”. Much of the hope attached to him as a young English defender went unfulfilled, but his spells for Birmingham and then West Ham were so relentlessly solid that no one will associate him with Arsenal anymore.

9. David Bentley

Age: 36

Arsenal apps: 9

Arsenal goals: 1

Career path: Arsenal, Norwich, Blackburn, Spurs, Birmingham, West Ham, Rostov, Blackburn

When you think of David Bentley, you think of the hat-trick against Manchester United or the 40-yard half-volley for Spurs against Arsenal, or tipping water over Harry Redknapp. You don’t remember him as a preening young wannabe Beckham, which is probably just as well for his reputation.

10. Sebastien Squillaci

Age: 40

Arsenal apps: 39

Arsenal goals: 2

Career path: Toulon, Monaco B, Ajaccio, Monaco, Lyon, Sevilla, Arsenal, Bastia

Sebastien Squillaci won a Coupe de la Ligue and reached a Champions League final with Monaco, won back-to-back Ligue 1 titles with Lyon, a Copa del Rey against Pep Guardiola‘s Barcelona in 2010 and absolutely nothing for Arsenal. He was disastrously bad for the Gunners, but such were his achievements elsewhere and the expedience of his exit, no one remembers him.

11. Luis Boa Morte

Age: 43

Arsenal apps: 37

Arsenal goals: 4

Career path: Sporting, Arsenal, Southampton, Fulham, West Ham, AEL, Orlando Pirates, Chesterfield

This one goes way back, but the Portuguese winger is most closely associated with his 12-year stay in London with Fulham and West Ham, but he actually spent his first two and a half years in England living in the capital and playing a back-up role. Boa Morte even has a league winner’s medal from Arsenal‘s 1998 triumph. His most recent footballing foray was as assistant manager to Marco Silva at Everton.

12. Yossi Benayoun

Age: 40

Arsenal apps: 25

Arsenal goals: 6

Career path: Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Maccabi Haifa, Racing Santander, West Ham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham, QPR, Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Beitar Jerusalem, Maccabi Petah Tikva, Beitar Jerusalem

Yossi Benayoun is a rolling stone who has played for clubs all around England‘s capital, including a season on loan at Arsenal. But that gets lost amid his time as a genuinely thrilling winger for West Ham and Liverpool.

Another stat you’ll thank us for later: Yossi Benayoun is the only player to score a hat-trick in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. Unsurprisingly, this was not achieved at Arsenal, but during his time at Liverpool instead.

13. Takuma Asano

Age: 26

Arsenal apps: 0

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Arsenal, Stuttgart, Hannover, Partizan Belgrade, VfL Bochum

Some Manchester United fans may remember Takuma Asano from their Europa League clashes with Partizan Belgrade in late 2019, but many may not have realised he was once on the books at Arsenal.

The Japanese winger joined Arsenal from Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2016 but was almost immediately sent on a two-year loan to VfB Stuttgart due to work permit issues. Another loan to Hannover followed after and Asano was sold to Partizan Belgrade in August 2019. His blistering form in Serbia was enough to make VfL Bochum take notice, and the new additions to the Bundesliga will see the forward wear their colours next term.

14. Chuba Akpom

Age: 26

Arsenal apps: 12

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Arsenal, Brentford, Coventry, Nottingham Forest, Hull, Brighton, Sint-Truiden, PAOK, Middlesbrough

Chuba Akpom came through the academy at Arsenal having joined the Gunners aged six but would only make 12 appearances for their first team. He spent six different spells on loan at clubs in the Championship and below, while also playing in Belgium for six months.

Akpom, who has featured for England at various youth levels, moved to Greek side PAOK in August 2018 and was a regular part of the team, picking up a league winners’ medal in his first campaign, in which they went unbeaten, before scoring 10 goals across all competitions in his second. He is now back in England with Middlesbrough.

15. Kristoffer Olsson

Age: 25

Arsenal apps: 1

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Norrkoping, Arsenal, FC Midtjylland, AIK, Krasnodar, Anderlecht

Even Arsenal fans may struggle to recall the one appearance Kristoffer Olsson made for their first team – 36 minutes in their 2013/14 League Cup third-round tie against West Bromwich Albion — but he actually did something vaguely memorable: scoring from the spot to keep Arsenal in a penalty shootout they went on to win.

Olsson had joined Arsenal’s academy two years earlier from Swedish side Norrkoping, aged 16, but could not make the transition to first-team member. One year on from his sole appearance, Olsson was loaned to Midtjylland and just a few months later that move was made permanent. After winning the league with Midtjylland, Olsson moved to AIK, winning the league there too. He moved to Krasnodar in Russia soon after, but has since joined Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht.

16. Nico Yennaris

Age: 28

Arsenal apps: 4

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Arsenal, Notts County, Bournemouth, Brentford, Wycombe, Beijing Guoan

Another Arsenal academy product, Nico Yennaris joined the Gunners aged seven and progressed through the ranks to eventually make his first-team debut in 2011. The London-born midfielder went on to have loan spells with Notts County and Bournemouth before being sold to Brentford in 2014.

Injury struggles hampered the start of his Bees career but with help of a loan move to Wycombe Wanderers, Yennaris became a key member of Brentford’s squad. He left Brentford, and England, in January 2019 to join Beijing Sinobo Guoan and has since become a Chinese international appearing seven times — known as Li Ke — due to his mother’s heritage.

17. Ryo Miyaichi

Age: 28

Arsenal apps: 7

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Arsenal, Feyenoord, Bolton, Wigan, FC Twente, St. Pauli, Yokohama F. Marinos

After impressing scouts while playing for his high school team, Japanese teenage sensation Ryo Miyaichi would sign for Arsenal before being loaned out to Eredivisie giants Feyenoord where he started to make waves. During his time in the Netherlands media outlets dubbed him “Ryodinho” after being likened to Ronaldinho, he’d return to England after registering three goals across 12 matches.

However, the Okazaki-born footballer would struggle to break into Arsene Wenger’s first-team squad making seven appearances, with two coming from the start, in one of those cameos against Bolton he’d incredibly run 100 meters in nine seconds. Miyaichi subsequently spent the majority of his Arsenal career on loan at several clubs before leaving for cult German team St. Pauli on a free transfer in 2015, though he recently returned to Japan, joining Yokohama F. Marinos last month.

18. Luke Ayling 

Age: 29

Arsenal apps: 0

Arsenal goals: 0

Career path: Arsenal, Yeovil Town, Bristol City, Leeds United

Having spent the majority of his playing career tussling between League One and the Championship, Ayling is now enjoying life in the Premier League under Marcelo Bielsa with Leeds United.

The buccaneering right-back is a key component of Bielsa’s system in West Yorkshire, but owes much of his development to north London. Despite being a boyhood Chelsea fan, Ayling went on to flourish at youth level for the Gunners, working his way up alongside the likes of Jack Wilshere.

However, it would be Wilshere who fluidly transitioned to the first-team, and Ayling moved down the football ladder to further his career. Having turned out for Yeovil and Bristol City, the 29-year-old is now a fully-fledged full-back at Elland Road, and locked horns with his former club twice in the Premier League last season, drawing 0-0 at home before losing 4-2 at the Emirates.