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How Gnabry went from Premier League flop with Arsenal to matching Gerd Muller's goalscoring record

05:00 GMT 22/11/2019
Serge Gnabry Germany 2019
The Germany forward scored nine international goals in eight games in 2019 but just four years ago could not get a game for the Gunners or West Brom

Germany's striker problem is over. The current world champions had struggled to find someone to play through the middle and score goals, but Joachim Low has stumbled on an unexpected solution.

Not good enough for West Brom in 2015, Serge Gnabry is now one of the most exciting attackers in the world, playing out wide for Bayern Munich and as a roving striker for Germany.

Gnabry took his international tally to 13 goals in 13 games with a hat-trick against Northern Ireland on Tuesday, ensuring Germany head to Euro 2020 among the top seeds.

For Bayern Munich, he plays out wide in support of Robert Lewandowski, who himself is in the best form of his career with 23 goals in 18 games this season. The Polish forward is irreplaceable at Bayern, but for Germany, Gnabry gets a chance to play in the No. 9 role. 

"Here with Germany, I play up front, which I enjoy a lot," he humbly told reporters this week when asked what the secret to his goalscoring success was.

However, even out wide, he has been in lethal form in 2019-20, scoring four times against Tottenham in a 7-2 victory that helped accelerate Mauricio Pochettino's exit from last year's Champions League finalists.

Gnabry has come a long way since being a West Brom flop who only played 12 minutes of Premier League football under Tony Pulis and was even hauled off while playing for their under-21 side.

Four years later, Pulis admitted his shock at Gnabry's impact in the Champions League, telling Sky Sports: “You could knock me over with a feather. I’m amazed. We had him at West Brom, we took him on loan and we could never get him fit."

Similarly, Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was puzzled as to how he was deemed not good enough for the Baggies and wasn't given enough chances to break through at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger.

"Gnabry's goalscoring record is phenomenal," O'Neill said after watching the 24-year-old net a treble. "It's a mystery to me how English clubs didn't get more out of him. I'd be surprised if this Germany team doesn't make a big impact."

He was highly regarded at Arsenal, but the club could not agree a new contract in 2016 after playing him in just 18 games during his five years in London. Instead, he moved back to Germany to join Werder Bremen and was an immediate success.

While Wenger only used him sparingly at the Emirates, often playing him for a couple of games in a row before dropping him for the next month, Low saw the talent Gnabry possessed and considered him as an option for the international team even back in 2014 when he could barely get in the Arsenal matchday squad.

"I've always had the highest possible opinion of Gnabry," Low told reporters on Tuesday. "Right from the start it was obvious to me he would be a fantastically important player.

"He was always one to pass the ball to, he doesn't play up front all the time, he lets himself fall back a bit and you can find him anywhere on the pitch and he's able to play in many different positions.

"These are prime qualities in any players and also his finishing is technically fantastic.

"When he was at Arsenal he was plagued by injury and all these injuries set him back. But even at the time, around the 2014 World Cup he had always been in my thoughts.

"He had some very good games with Arsenal and [Per] Mertesacker and [Mesut] Ozil would say to me, 'Look at Gnabry, he's a fantastic player, he keeps defences very busy', so we had him in our sights for a long time."

A knee injury ruined his chances of challenging for the 2014 World Cup squad and the following season was a complete write-off, with Gnabry playing no minutes for the senior Arsenal squad and featuring in a handful of reserve games.

Another lost season resulted from the West Brom loan in 2015-16, but as soon as he was given a chance to play regular games at Werder Bremen, Gnabry found himself in the Germany squad. He scored a hat-trick on his international debut against San Marino in November 2016 and has only improved from that point on.

Eleven Bundesliga goals in his first campaign in Germany's top flight meant his stay in Bremen was a short one and Bayern Munich came calling. They initially loaned him to Hoffenheim for a year, which was the direct opposite to the West Brom stint, with Gnabry averaging a goal every 2.2 games under Julian Nagelsmann.

He outshone club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery when he got his chance at Bayern last season, proving his elite qualities for club and country in 2019. He has just been named Bundesliga Player of the Month for October 2019 and his 13 goals in 13 international appearances equals Gerd Muller's record for the best goalscoring start for Germany.

Muller reached that figure in 1969. The following year, he helped Germany to the World Cup semi-final and won the Ballon d'Or. Such has been Gnabry's impact this year, it is no longer an outlandish thought to start putting him at that level.

After he matched the Muller record, Bild asked Low if Gnabry could be as good as Ronaldo or Messi and Germany coach replied: "At the European Championships he can become world class. Tournaments show who is a great player."