After Serge Gnabry excelled for Bayern Munich against Chelsea this week, scoring twice to add to the four he got against Tottenham earlier on in the Champions League, you couldn’t move on social media for a wide range of smart arses mocking Arsenal for letting him go all of those years ago.
Thomas Muller got in on it too, saying in his post-match interview when asked about Gnabry’s brilliant night: “Yeah, Arsenal are perhaps asking themselves that! I’m happy he is scoring so much in London now and not five years ago, because if that were the case he probably wouldn’t be with us now.”
For a start, Arsenal wanted to keep him, but instead of signing the new contract on offer he chose to join Werder Bremen back home in Germany.
But even if that wasn’t the case, it’s incredibly easy to forget – and many people have chosen to do exactly this – that while he had talent in his younger days, he hadn’t exactly shown the form he has now, back then, as Julien Laurens pointed out on this week’s Totally Football Show.
“It’s similar with Alphonso Davies [who had a trial with Manchester United], or Ismail Bennacer [who was also in the Arsenal youth set-up], who’s playing really well with Milan and Algeria. They were just not ready. But it happens: when you sign a player, he might not be ready straight away for your team.
“Gnabry was very young, he had to learn a lot, he had problems with injuries, I think he had some problems with his weight at the time as well. It was just not meant happen because it was early.
“It’s easy to say “Oh, look at him at Bayern, why didn’t he do that four years ago?” Because he was not ready! He had to go through two loan spells in Germany before being able to come into that club and establish himself.
“Davies is similar: people will say “why didn’t an English club or a French club scout him in MLS?” – French clubs made offers, he had trials in England, one with Manchester United, but he chose Bayern for many reasons. But until Nicolas Sule, and Theo Hernandez, and Jerome Boateng got injured, he was not in the team.
“He was a left winger who couldn’t get into the team. David Alaba moved from left-back to centre-back, they needed another left-back and said “let’s try Alphonso because he’s left-footed, he’s a quick learner and a clever kid”. It worked out great, but if those players didn’t get injured, I don’t think he’d be having the season he is.
“It’s not Wenger’s fault, or Gnabry’s fault, or Arsenal’s fault. He wasn’t good enough at the time for the first-team. He had a few appearances, he played in the League Cup with the young players – you could see there was talent there, but it was too early.”
And as Duncan Alexander pointed out: “Football is littered with these sliding doors moments. Remember when Harry Redknapp nearly sold Gareth Bale to Birmingham, because he wasn’t working out at Spurs. But at the time, nobody would’ve batted an eyelid.”
Gnabry was part of an excellent Bayern team who tore Chelsea apart, but the 3-0 result also had plenty to do with the performance of Frank Lampard’s team, as Pat Nevin pointed out.
“I think Chelsea got it wrong, tactically – and I understand it, because I would’ve made exactly the same mistake. They went with the 3-4-3 that went so well against Tottenham: they played this high-tempo game and you thought “yeah, you’ve got to go with that again.”
“But they tried the same against Arsenal, and it was a shambles, so it was one of those: do you take the chance? They took the chance…wrong.
“There were a variety of reasons it was wrong: one of which Jorginho and Kovacic usually completely dominate things, but there were only two of them in there against the quality of Bayern. They didn’t get a kick: they got 35 per cent of possession, at home, when they’re a possession-based team. When they played Manchester City at home, they got more possession.
“It wasn’t Frank’s naivety: it was a perfectly reasonable mistake to make. Whether it would have been different any other way I doubt, but if you had a midfield with N’Golo Kante in there as well as Kovacic and Jorginho – I’m not saying Chelsea would’ve won, but it would’ve looked very different.”
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