Starring role in Bundesliga for EPL reject Gnabry

After being shunned by Arsenal, Serge Gnabry has scored 10 goals for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, but says the "tough time" in England helped him to become a much more resilient player.
After being shunned by Arsenal, Serge Gnabry has scored 10 goals for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, but says the "tough time" in England helped him to become a much more resilient player.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • For flatlining forwards in need of a career boost, it turns out that there are few more restorative cures than being deemed not good enough for the Premier League.

That, at least, is the impression you might get from a glance around the leading-scorer charts of Europe's best leagues, which are thickly populated with rejects from England's top flight.

The unwanted Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko (Roma, Serie A), the one-time Blackburn Rovers misfit Anthony Modeste (Cologne, Bundesliga) and the erstwhile Liverpool waste-of-space Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, La Liga) have all reinvented themselves as apex predators in the continent's top leagues.

No less impressive has been the renaissance of Arsenal alumnus Serge Gnabry, whose 10 goals for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga this season have mostly come from the left wing.

You might recall Gnabry for a season of flickering promise in 2013-14, in which the German made nine league appearances and hinted at breaking into Arsene Wenger's first-team plans.

But he faded to the periphery after an injury and you are perhaps more likely to remember him for a rather public humiliation suffered while on loan at West Bromwich Albion last season, when he was savaged by Tony Pulis.

  • EPL MISFITS TOP SCORERS' CHART
     

    EDIN DZEKO (MANCHESTER CITY TO ROMA)

    T1


    ANTHONY MODESTE (BLACKBURN TO COLOGNE)

    3rd


    IAGO ASPAS (LIVERPOOL TO CELTA VIGO)

    4th


    SERGE GNABRY (ARSENAL TO WERDER BREMEN)

    T12


    ITALIAN SERIE A GOALS

    25


    GERMAN BUNDESLIGA GOALS

    23


    SPANISH LALIGA GOALS

    17


    GERMAN BUNDESLIGA GOALS

    10

"Serge has come here to play games but he just hasn't been, for me, at that level to play games," Pulis said in October 2015.

Gnabry made a single league appearance, off the bench, at The Hawthorns.

"It was a tough time last year," Gnabry, still only 21, admits. "But it helped me mentally to get through, and now I'm stronger, more prepared for things to come."

The upward curve began last summer, when he was named in Horst Hrubesch's Olympic squad. A ticket to Rio 2016 helped him to feel like an elite sportsman again.

"The Olympic (football tournament) is taken quite seriously in Germany," Gnabry explains. "It was a big deal. It was a great experience to be in Brazil for the Olympics, seeing different sports, how much they have sacrificed."

It helped Gnabry, who finished as joint top-scorer in Brazil with six goals and won a silver medal, to come to a simple epiphany - sportspeople exist to play sport.

Barely a few days after returning from the Games, Gnabry joined Werder Bremen, a move smoothed by assurances that his days of sitting on the bench were over.

"It's the most important thing for any footballer, any sportsperson, to be able to play and to (gain) experience," he says.

Werder, who finished 13th last season, have reaped 29 points from the past 33 available, a run that has helped them to vault up the table to sixth - precisely the same position that Arsenal, a club of far greater expectations, occupy in the Premier League.

"I've moved on, but it's not like I don't watch Arsenal games any more," he says. "They're still in my heart. I love the club, I love the people there... I'm hoping they'll recover and get into the top four. "

Surely, though, he must feel a pang of vindication, having been deemed surplus to requirements at Arsenal, to have rebounded so emphatically in the Bundesliga?

"I don't think it's about proving a point to somebody, (if) in the past it didn't work for whatever reason," he says. "For me it's all about playing, enjoying my football, doing what I love."

Some might be tempted to view Gnabry's exit and subsequent resurgence as proof of the theory that Arsenal struggle to develop young players.

Of their most feted hopes in recent years, Gnabry is flourishing elsewhere, Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny are out on loan and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs are yet to nail down a regular place in the starting XI.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'Starring role in Bundesliga for EPL reject Gnabry'. Print Edition | Subscribe