After a six-year exile from the Champions League party, Arsenal have finally earned their continental stars once again and will make their return to Europe’s top table on Wednesday evening, hosting PSV Eindhoven in their opening Group B encounter.
Much has changed since the Champions League anthem was last reverberated around the Emirates Stadium, where an Arsene Wenger-led Arsenal side needed to pull off the comeback of all comebacks to overturn a 5-1 deficit against Bayern Munich in the second leg of their 2016-17 last-16 showdown.
There was to be no magical redemption arc for the North London crop, though, as they were subjected to an identical humiliation before trying their hand at Europa League football without success, albeit while reaching the 2019 final under Unai Emery before being thumped by Chelsea.
What followed was the Spaniard’s premature exit and months of teething problems under Mikel Arteta, but having defeated the #Artetaout brigade, the Spaniard – a previous Champions League participant with Arsenal in his playing days – led the Gunners back into the pinnacle of European football at the fourth time of asking.
Only one current Arsenal player – Mohamed Elneny – was around when the Gunners last played a Champions League match in March 2017, but the Egyptian missed out that night due to injury, and an entirely different XI will take to the field for Wednesday’s opener with PSV.
With that in mind, Sports Mole takes a look at where each member of Arsenal’s starting XI from their most recent Champions League night ended up.
With Petr Cech helplessly watching on from the sidelines, David Ospina was the beleaguered last line of defence for that 5-1 embarrassment against Bayern, who had a field day against the Colombian shot-stopper and his leaky backline.
Ospina would remain with Arsenal for one more season and continued to act as Wenger’s first-choice goalkeeper in the Europa League, but following the arrival of Bernd Leno, he was shipped out to Napoli, where he made over 100 appearances and won the Coppa Italia in 2019-20.
Still going strong at the age of 35, Ospina is now sharing a changing room with Cristiano Ronaldo and Sadio Mane at Al-Nassr and made his 128th Colombia appearance last November, but an elbow injury has plagued him throughout 2023.
Once tipped to nail down the right-back role at Arsenal for years to come, Hector Bellerin became a fan favourite with his bombing runs down the right flank during Wenger’s final years, but fitness problems began to catch up with him as well.
The 28-year-old continued to hold the fort after Arteta’s arrival, but he began to be lambasted by fans for a series of poor displays and played his final competitive match for the club in 2021, before officially departing last summer following mixed success on loan with Real Betis and Barcelona.
A short stint with Sporting Lisbon did not work out as intended for Bellerin either, and the defender has since rejoined Betis on a free transfer and will be due to return to British shores for his side’s Europa League opener against Rangers on Thursday.
Arsenal paid a pretty penny to bring World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi to the club in the summer of 2016, but after an initial purple match with the North London club, the defender soon became the subject of incessant ridicule.
Nevertheless, Arteta kept faith with Mustafi, who played an important role in the Gunners’ 2019-20 FA Cup triumph by helping his side keep a clean sheet against Manchester City in the semi-finals, only to sit out the final win over Chelsea due to a hamstring injury.
Less than a year later, Mustafi’s Gunners deal was terminated to allow him to join German crisis club Schalke 04, but the 31-year-old is now a free agent after making just 15 appearances during a two-season spell with Levante.
Laurent Koscielny’s evening ended prematurely against Bayern six years ago, as the captain was given a straight red card for hauling down Robert Lewandowski, who stepped up to score from the spot and put the German champions 2-1 ahead on the night.
The Frenchman was otherwise a reliable presence in the Arsenal backline for nine years, but his tenure ended in acrimonious circumstances with a 2019 switch to Bordeaux, where his arrival video saw him strip off an Arsenal shirt to reveal the Girondins jersey underneath.
Koscielny played a total of 65 games for Bordeaux, but midway through their doomed 2022-23 season, the 38-year-old was ostracised from the first-team squad on account of his extortionate salary, seeing him move into a behind-the-scenes role – where he would “contribute to the development of the club’s international partnerships” – a couple of months before he officially hung up his boots.
Mr. Consistent himself – Nacho Monreal had already seen it all in Arsenal colours before Bayern ran riot at the Emirates, having joined in January 2013 to provide cover and competition for Kieran Gibbs at left-back.
Following 251 matches and three FA Cup triumphs, the Spaniard bid farewell towards the end of the 2019 summer transfer window in order to join Real Sociedad, with whom he made another 69 appearances and enjoyed a heart-warming tunnel reunion with former Gunner Santi Cazorla – then on the books with Villarreal.
However, Monreal sat out the entirety of the 2021-22 campaign due to a knee injury, which forced him into retirement that same summer, and the former left-back is now working with Spanish agency firm Global Ases while also dabbling in trading.
A 5-1 loss to Bayern in his debut season would not be the only Emirates humiliation that Granit Xhaka would experience during his time with Arsenal, whose fans often subjected him to hostile treatment despite the odd long-range stunner.
Xhaka’s relationship with the fans was seemingly broken beyond repair following his infamous Crystal Palace outburst of 2019, which saw him stripped of the captaincy after effing and blinding at the home crowd, but he accepted Arteta’s pleas to stay on.
What followed was a remarkable salvation arc for the Switzerland captain, who saved his best season for last with seven goals and seven assists in the 2022-23 Premier League before bidding a fond farewell as he returned to the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, with whom he has already become a consistent starter.
Catching Manuel Neuer out at his near post, Theo Walcott opened the scoring for Arsenal on that fateful night six-and-a-half years ago before the Bavarian onslaught commenced, and that would prove to be his last-ever contribution to the Champions League cause.
After a disrupted first half of the 2017-18 campaign, Walcott ended his 12-year association with Arsenal to join Everton, with whom he netted 11 goals in 85 outings before a Southampton homecoming for the final three years of his career.
Of course, Walcott’s final professional goal just had to come against Arsenal at the Emirates in April’s pulsating 3-3 draw, and despite training with Reading over the summer, the former England international called time on his career and can now be seen on punditry duties with Sky Sports.
It is sometimes hard to believe that Aaron Ramsey is still only 32 years old, as the Welshman’s tearful departure from Arsenal to Juventus in 2019 now feels like an age ago, but his lucrative switch to Turin proved to be a forgettable affair for the injury-plagued midfielder.
A player who will forever be held in high regard by Gooners owing to his FA Cup final winning goals in 2014 and 2017, Ramsey could not repeat such heroics with Rangers – even missing the crucial penalty in the 2021-22 Europa League final – but he was a regular for Nice last term before his Cardiff City homecoming.
Returning to the Welsh capital 15 years after his switch to North London, Ramsey has already scored three times in six Championship outings for his boyhood team, including a penalty in a 2-0 win over Swansea City at the weekend while wearing the captain’s armband.
A 23-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was utilised as both a midfielder and right wing-back during his final campaign in the red and white strip, adding another FA Cup winners’ medal to his collection before becoming the Gunners’ record departure in a £35m move to Liverpool.
The Englishman won trophies galore under Jurgen Klopp, including the Premier League and Champions League, but he failed to become a consistent starter for the club and was not helped by a multitude of injuries.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was one of four high-profile exits from Anfield on free transfers this summer, and the 30-year-old is now plying his trade in Turkey with Bestikas, where he has gone four games without managing a goal or assist so far.
Amid more last-16 heartache in Europe, Alexis Sanchez was one of the Premier League’s brightest offensive talents in the 2016-17 campaign, scoring 24 top-flight goals to spearhead an ultimately unsuccessful charge for a top-four finish.
However, the Chilean burned bridges with many a Gooner by crossing the London-Manchester divide to join Manchester United in the winter of 2018, but he failed to hit the same heights at Old Trafford before becoming a Serie A title winner with Inter Milan.
A productive year at Marseille followed for Sanchez, who netted 14 Ligue 1 goals and 18 in total for Les Olympiens in 2022-23, and the 34-year-old has since returned to San Siro to don the Nerazzurri colours once again but was only an unused substitute in Inter’s 5-1 demolition of Derby della Madonnina rivals AC Milan a few days ago.
Another former Arsenal stalwart present at San Siro for that derby drubbing, Olivier Giroud slipped Walcott through to break the deadlock against Bayern in his final Champions League game for the Gunners, who lost the towering Frenchman to Chelsea in January 2018.
Despite scoring 105 goals for Arsenal, Gooners will still remember the hit-and-miss Giroud as an incredibly frustrating player to watch during his five-and-a-half-year spell, and he only angered the North London fanbase more by shouting “Thank you Arsenal!” on the coach ride home from Chelsea’s 4-1 Europa League final win over the Gunners in 2019.
The striker – who overtook Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time leading scorer at the World Cup – will turn 37 this month, but he is still terrorising opposing defences with AC Milan, scoring four goals in as many games during the earliest stages of the 2023-24 Serie A season and setting up Rafael Leao‘s consolation in their recent 5-1 loss to arch-rivals Inter.
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