Arsenal FC were once the premier destination for many of Europe’s elite footballers. However, times have changed and Arsenal is no more a top priority for world-class footballers. In the past decade or so, many talents have come to Arsenal and left the club without making a mark. In this article, we will look at five surprising names who once represented Arsenal.
#5 Jermaine Pennant
Pennant started his youth career at Notts County before earning a move to Arsenal in 1999. His transfer fee of 2 million pounds was a record fee for a youth product at the time. But Pennant spent the majority of his six seasons at Arsenal on loan to other EFL clubs.
Pennant primarily played as a right-winger and was capable of beating defenders in a 1v1 situation. Pennant was unlucky as he was simply not good enough to break into a first-team with names such as Henry, Pires and Bergkamp. After leaving Arsenal, Pennant played for many clubs, including FC Pune City in the Indian Super League.
#4 David Bentley
An Arsenal youth product, Bentley did not get enough chances to play for the first team. The reason for the lack of opportunities is similar to Pennant, as Arsenal had several world-class forwards in their ranks. In three seasons at the club, he made only one Premier League appearance and was transferred to Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2005.
In 2008, he joined Arsenal’s North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. In 62 appearances for Spurs, he scored five goals. He retired from football in 2014 stating that he has lost interest in football due to the robotic nature of the modern game.
#3 Matthew Upson
Upson joined Arsenal in the summer of 1997 but struggled for game time due to injuries. He was subsequently loaned out to several clubs and finally sold to Birmingham City in 2003. In four seasons at Birmingham, he made over 100 appearances and joined West Ham United in 2007.
For West Ham, he famously scored the winner against defending champions Manchester United in December 2007. He also captained West Ham in the 2009-10 season and left the club in 2011 after they were relegated. Upson is among the surprising names who once represented Arsenal because he was always a second choice to the more experienced Tony Adams.
#2 Lassana Diarra
After not getting many opportunities as a youngster at Chelsea, Diarra joined Arsenal in 2007. He was expected to be a vital part of Arsenal but did not get enough playtime.
After just one season, Diarra joined Portsmouth and established himself as a hard-working central midfielder. He then joined Real Madrid in January 2009 and under José Mourinho, he became a regular in the first team. He won the League in 2012 before leaving for Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala. Diarra finally represented PSG before hanging up his boots in 2019.
#1 Carlos Vela
Carlos Vela tops the list of surprising names who once represented Arsenal. Vela started his career in Guadalajara and joined Arsenal in 2005 as a 16-year-old. Arsenal failed to offer him regular first-team football and kept loaning him out to clubs across Europe.
In Real Sociedad, he finally found a club that appreciated his talent. In 213 appearances for Real Sociedad, he scored 61 goals. Vela is now a star player in MLS, representing Los Angeles FC. He has also been linked with a move back to Europe, but at the age of 32, a transfer to PL looks unlikely.