How Serge Gnabry is proving Arsene Wenger wrong in Germany
Arsenal had the opportunity to renew Serge Gnabry one season after bundling him off to Werder Bremen. Arsene Wenger had other priorities. When squeezed about the German's potential return last summer, he replied: “No, we do not re-sign him”. Gnabry was eventually snapped up by Bayern Munich then loaned to Hoffenheim. Under Julian Nagelsmann, he is enhancing his reputation; shaming sceptics like Le Professeur.
Wenger has always been and perhaps will forever remain a strict believer in youth. Although sometimes overbearingly detrimental to the team, he is stubborn to his increasingly dated principles. While the Frenchman has spotted, lured, and honed several prospects into world beaters; some aren’t that lucky. For every Thierry Henry, there was a Jeremie Allediare and a Jose Antonio Reyes. For each Cesc Fabregas, a Denilson and Emmanuel Frimpong. The list goes on.
Gnabry belongs to this class of unfulfilled talents. Signed as a 15-year-old, he was earmarked for stardom. He had it in his DNA. Gnabry's father, Jean-Hermann, was an Ivory Coast international. At the famed Stuttgart academy, known for producing a constellation of stars, Serge was the brightest. Blessed with electric pace, predatory instincts, and crafty feet, Gnabry seemed tailor-made for the English game. Only, the tailor made some unexpected alterations.
Gnabry's Premier League foray was uneventful, as though he never showed. Six seasons yielded just 11 appearances, including a single show on loan at West Brom. For all his exquisite offensive traits, he managed just one goal for both sides. Wenger was fed up. Gnabry himself too. He needed to face up to the harsh reality that a scenery change may be his career tonic. Moreover, he had proved how deadly he could be with seven goals at the Rio Olympics. When Werder Bremen visited North London, he returned with them to Hanseatic.
In a familiar environment, he rediscovered his mojo. In 27 Bundesliga outings, he notched 11 goals, finishing the campaign as his country’s fourth-most-prolific scorer, behind Timo Werner, Max Kruse, and Mario Gomez. The winger's return is even more impressive considering the others are strikers who play for top teams.
He has been as dangerous on international duty. A sumptuous treble on his Die Mannschaft debut vs San Marino in November earned him Bild's Bundesliga shooting star accolade. Though his Hoffenheim career began quite modestly due to injuries, his charm returned after recovering in November. Gnabry has become more effective.
After spending two games at right wing-back, the Stuttgart native has netted five times in six Bundesliga outings, with just 16 attempts on goal. His impressive shots-to-goals ratio of 3.20 puts him on a par with the division's top marksman Robert Lewandowski, who has netted from every 3.66 shots over the same period. Tuck in two more strikes and four assists and it’s a massively red-hot return for the 22-year-old.
Even more impressive is the way he chooses to bury these efforts. Gnabry is developing a helpful penchant for striking from beyond 18 yards. Four times he has found the back of the net from outside the box this season, a joint league high with RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita. Only Granit Xhaka occasionally pops up with such at the Emirates.
Next season, German record champions and five-time Champions League winners Bayern will gladly welcome a better and well-rounded Gnabry. Meanwhile, somewhere in North London, Monsieur Wenger may still think he isn't good enough.