Patrick Vieira, Alex Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, these are just some of the players who have left Arsenal in recent years who have struggled to make a impact since leaving the club. Hleb recently stated that he regrets his decision to leave the Gunners for Barcelona, with Sky Sports News quoting him as saying,
“Of course it is my fault I left Arsenal but this has happened. Not a lot of players say no to Barcelona but if I had known before what would happen of course I wouldn’t have gone. I won the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2009 but I didn’t play a lot. I lost a bit of my form and confidence.”
Hleb is refreshingly honest about the situation, but many were predicting at the time that the move was unlikely to work out for him. Whilst he was a mainstay in his three years at Arsenal, he was never a first pick at Barcelona in a midfield jam packed with talent, and after just one season he was sent on loan to former club VfB Stuttgart, before joining up with Birmingham on loan this season. Hleb is not alone however, many players who leave Arsenal seem struck by a malaise which finds them struggling for form or a place in the first team.
Mathieu Flamini is another prime example. After an inauspicious start to his Arsenal career, in the 2007/08 season he excelled for the club, forming a superb central midfield partnership with Cesc Fabregas. Flamini though, unhappy with contract issues and in his mind having been undervalued in the past, signed with AC Milan on a free at the end of the season. Like Hleb, Flamini has struggled at his new club, failing to cement a first-team place and also being consistently absent from the French national team.
Other players who have left Arsenal and not replicated their form the Gunners include Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor. With some players such as Adebayor it seems money is the issue, with Arsene Wenger unwilling to bend from his strict wage structure. Others have left in the quest to win more silverware, with the club not having won a trophy since 2005.
One argument that may explain this situation is often when Wenger lets a player go it is because their powers are waning, due to age or a lack of form. This is certainly true of Henry, Vieira and Ljungberg who were sold at relatively late ages, though some have argued Robert Pires should have stayed for a few more seasons, instead of being sold to Villarreal. For these players, the answer to the question of why they have struggled is that they are not as young as they were, and they cannot perform to the level they once did.
For players like Flamini and Hleb, and now Adebayor, it has been a lack of first team action that has held them back. At Arsenal, all three of these players were nailed on first-picks, but it has not been the case when they moved on. The exception to the rule in recent years has been Ashley Cole, who has confirmed his reputation as one of the world’s premier full-backs at Chelsea, though Wenger was not exactly dying to see him leave.
It is strange that so many players have not performed after leaving Arsenal, and it may serve as a warning to those who might want to seek their fortunes elsewhere. It is true that Arsenal have not won any silverware in five years, but the club are still a fantastic one to play for and you could not ask for many better mentors than Arsene Wenger.