With the transfer window officially slamming shut last Friday, here are six Arsenal players who, for one reason or the other, failed to break into the Gunners’ first team despite boasting either a wealth of experience, immense potential or indefatigable loyalty.
But ill luck, superior talent of those ahead of them and indiscipline (both on and off the pitch) barred their way from making a name for the Gunners, and they left North London looking for fulfilment elsewhere.
Havard Nordtveit (2007-2010)
Norway defender Nordtveit was said to have been personally scouted by Arsene Wenger when he played for Haugesund in his native country. Bought for an initial fee of half a million Pounds, Nordtveit was praised by then Haugesund captain Kevin Nicol and erstwhile Norway national team coach Nils Johan Semb called him ‘the brightest defensive talent Europe has seen’.
Nordtveit was made captain of Arsenal‘s Reserves in 2007, and spent time on loan at UD Salamanca, Lillestrom and Nuremberg the following seasons.
In 2010, however, Nordtveit was sold to Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee of £800,000. Wenger had been reluctant to sell the versatile Norwegian, who can also play in midfield and at right-back, but had conceded that the 6 feet 2 inch 22-year-old needed game time, which he wasn’t getting at Arsenal.
He has since gone on to make 54 appearances for the German side, scoring 2 goals.
Luke Ayling (2002-2010)
Ayling joined Arsenal as a ten-year-old, and progressed through the ranks at the Arsenal Academy.
Ayling was offered his professional contract in 2009, with former Guardian reporter Steve Claridge praising him for “his reading of the game, communications skills, organisation skills, aerial prowess, two footedness and use of the ball.”
Ayling was also a key member of the Gunners’ Youth Team which won the FA Youth Cup and the FA Reserve League in the 2008-09 season, and was sent to Yeovil Town on loan in March 2008. He was not offered a new contract by the Gunners, possibly due to his disciplinary issues. The 21-year-old has received 13 yellow and two red cards for Yeovil – whom he joined on a permanent basis after leaving the Gunners – despite playing more than forty times.
Mart Poom (2005-2007)
Some might consider him funnily named, but the 6ft5in Estonian goalkeeper was at Arsenal between 2005 and 2007, though he managed just one appearance in the league.
As third-choice keeper behind Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia, he was originally signed on loan from Sunderland in the summer of 2005, though the deal was made permanent the following January.
Poom was 33 when he joined the Gunners, but came with experience in the Premier League, having turned out for both Derby County and Portsmouth, in addition to the Black Cats.
He made his debut for the Gunners at half-time in a League Cup game against Everton, replacing an injured Manuel Almunia. Arsenal won that game 1-0, courtesy an Emmanuel Adebayor strike.
His league debut came on the final day of the 2006-07 season, playing in a goalless draw against his former side Portsmouth.
Poom left Arsenal at the end of that season, and joined Watford, where he played 14 times as the Hornets’ first-choice keeper, but a shoulder injury saw him released at the end of his contract in 2009.
He has also represented Estonia 120 times, and was selected as his Country’s Greatest Player Over the Last 50 Years in 2003.
Paul Rodgers (2005-2009)
Another product of the Arsenal stable, the versatile six-footer who could play anywhere across the back four made his debut for the Gunners in their 2-0 defeat against Burnley in the League Cup in 2008 and was substituted for Henri Lansbury at half time.
In January that year, Rodgers went on a season-long loan to Northampton Town, after which his stay away from Arsenal was made permanent when Northampton signed him permanently the following summer.
Having spent two years with Northampton, Rodgers moved to Conference National (one step below League Two in the Football League pyramid) side Newport County in 2011, playing for a year there before he was released by the Club.
Rodgers is now a free agent.
Kerrea Gilbert (2003-2010)
Of all the Arsenal players to wait for an opportunity to arise in the first team to be grabbed with both hands, Gilbert could be the most unlucky.
He had featured for Arsenal even when the Invincibles squad was present, making his debut in the League Cup in 2005 against Reading. He then went on to play at right-back – his natural position – when Cameroonian defender Lauren picked up an injury in a Champions League game against Ajax that same year. Stints in the first team continued, with regular League Cup appearances and two Premier League appearances seein g Gilbert play for the Gunners.
Loan spells at Cardiff (2006), Southend United (2007), Leicester City (2008) and Peterborough (2010) saw Gilbert regularly shipped out of the Emirates Stadium. Gilbert was scheduled to be a part of the new Major League Soccer franchise, and had nearly agreed a transfer to Portland Timbers, but he was denied a visa for alcohol-related disturbances.
He then agreed to join fellow Arsenal graduate Luke Ayling at Yeovil on a permanent basis in 2011, but moved to Irish side Shamrock Rover just a year later, where he currently plies his trade.
Graham Stack (1998-2006)
Another youth product of the Arsenal side, Stack was the Gunners’ League Cup keeper during the Invincibles’ unbeaten run behind Jens Lehmann. Unfortunately, he failed to make a single league appearance for the Club.
Having joined Highbury in 1998, Stack spent several seasons on loan away from London, with stints at Beveren, Millwall and Reading, before joining the Royals in 2006. Similar to his situation at Arsenal, Stack did not feature in a single league game for Reading, being loaned out to Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Plymouth Argyle snapped him up in 2008, and though he managed five appearances in the league for them, he was sent on loan to Blackpool and back to Wolves. He moved to Hibernian in 2009, and made 56 appearances in three years in Scotland. At the end of his contract in 2012, Stack joined League Two side Barnet on a free transfer.