Luke Ayling's rise from Arsenal rejection to Premier League starter
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt via Getty Images

Luke Ayling was once rejected from Arsenal in 2010, when his contract expired and no offer was made to try and keep him at the club.

At age 10, Ayling joined Arsenal academy sides and progressed through the youth teams where he played alongside the likes of Jack Wilshere and Kyle Bartley.

His youth team won the Premier Academy League and the FA Youth Cup in the 2008-09 season which later encouraged the Gunners to sign a professional contract with the defender, his first-ever.

However, just 12 months later, the then 19-year-old found himself neglected.

His contract expired in the summer of 2010, but thankfully an opportunity arose after a short loan spell to Yeovil Town in March 2010.

A fresh start after being released

Yeovil Town agreed a permanent contract with Ayling after being released by Arsenal and went on to be a key squad member in his opening season featuring in forty matches.

Three years down the line, Ayling played in the 2013 League One Play-Off Final against Brentford and clinched promotion to the Championship after a 2-1 victory.

Although the highs didn't last long as the Glovers found themselves finishing 24th in the Championship and were imminently relegated straight back down to the third tier of English football.

Ayling's contract expired at the end of the season after rejecting the offer of a new contract at the club.

A second promotion

However, just a month later, Bristol City acquired the Lambeth-born defender for an undisclosed fee.

In their opening season, he featured in all 58 matches that The Robins played and helped them to win the Football League Trophy and secure promotion to the second tier of English football as Champions.

This gave Ayling a second chance to prove his worth in the Championship, featuring 33 times in the 2015-16 season and helping Bristol City survive relegation finished 18th in the league.

Moving to Yorkshire

After just two seasons at Bristol City, Leeds United made contact and signed him on a three-year deal for an undisclosed fee under ex-manager Garry Monk.

Despite being somewhat pigeonholed as a centre half who could fill in at right-back his whole career. It was the move to West Yorkshire that unlocked his potential as a marauding out and out wing back.

Initially slotting in for injured Gaetano Beradi, Ayling started the season as the club's first-choice right-back and due to impressive form, he kept the Swiss defender on the bench after his return from injury.

Leeds were pressing for promotion and narrowly missed out on the play-offs after a poor run of form in the final eight games of the season, only gaining six points out of a possible 24.

He very quickly became a staple part of the team, and just a year after signing captained the side for the first time in the League Cup against Port Vale.

The start of the 2017-18 season saw lots of promise for Ayling and the Whites who sat in fifth place on Boxing Day with new manager Thomas Christiansen at the helm after Monk's surprise departure.

Ayling was then injured at the start of the new year in a fixture against Nottingham Forest on the 1st January 2018 and later ruled out for the season as a result.

This then possibly prompted a disappointing start to the new year seeing Christiansen sacked at the start of February 2018 and Paul Heckingbottom appointed two days later.

By the time Ayling had recovered, just in time for the final game of the season, Leeds had already dropped down to 13th.

A new era at Elland Road

The summer of 2018 famously brought upon Leeds United the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa. Unknown to many in the league, including the players, Bielsa highlighted Ayling as one of the many he would transform into the best in the league.

The Argentinian wasn't far wrong. Ayling had featured 42 times in his Bielsa's debut season, but not in a way he had featured ever before.

The 28-year-olds ability to drive forward and pick a pass, combined with the stamina that had been drilled through the entire squad, the once young centre half, was now a box to box attacking full back.

He was in demand during the transfer window at the start of the 2019-20 season, but the club rejected offers for him as they were keen to keep him in their backline.

A new four-year deal was later signed and Ayling went on to have a remarkable season, scoring crucial goals against Birmingham City in a 4-5 victory and a goal-of-the-season award-winning strike against Huddersfield Town.

The defender was named EFL Championship PFA Player of the Year for the season and included in the team of the season by the majority of sports outlets.

Fulfilling his Premier League dream

Fast forward to the 2020-21 season and Luke Ayling arrived at Anfield to make his debut in the Premier League against reigning champions Liverpool in a 4-3 defeat.

Just as many aspiring footballers share the same dream, Ayling's has always been to play in the top division. To come so close to achieving it at a young age, his journey has now come full circle as he prepares for Sunday afternoon's fixture.

He has played every single minute of the new Premier League campaign so far, but this will be the one he has been waiting for. A sense of relief and pride for Luke as he welcomes some of the old faces of Arsenal ten years on.