Developing future stars is central to the aims of most premier league clubs. Since the league’s beginning in 1992 the youth programme has expanded to huge levels. There are over 40 youth academies across the country and Arsenal’s youth academy features predominantly. As Premier league clubs now are under more pressure than ever to produce youth talent have Arsenal kept up the tradition or have they fallen behind?
In the Premier league British clubs are now under more pressure to produce young English talents so that they are able to go along with Greg Dyke’s bullish prediction that England could win the world cup in 2022. Arsenal at the moment are doing this. Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere have come up through the youth system to play a prominent part in Arsenal’s success and you cannot accuse Wenger of shying away from British talent. Ramsey, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Wilshere, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain are all on long term contracts with the club and provide the Arsenal side with a British core that is youthful and exciting.
However excluding Wilshere and Gibbs from the equation all of these young British prospects have begun their careers elsewhere. Jenksinson at Charlton, Ramsey came through the youth ranks at Cardiff and Oxlade Chamberlain and Walcott were products of the Southampton academy. This in itself suggests that the players they have are not products of the youth system at all and that the youth academy were failing, only producing two players who have made it currently at the highest level of English football.
But the fact of the matter is Wenger was smart enough to realise that these talented young players were available and he snapped them all up for relatively small fees. They all now play a big part in Arsenal’s success currently and the purchases are looked upon as brilliant bits of business by Wenger.WojcechSzczesny is also an academy player who is now an established member of Wenger’s first team. Having these three academy players is majorly impressive for a Champions league club and there are few if any of the major teams in England who can match that statistic.
But where is the current crop of youth talent to come through the ranks? The current bunch of players that Arsenal have at their disposal include: Damian Martinez, Hector Bellerin, Isaac Hayden and Chuba Akpom. All of these players have been given chances to impress in capital one cup matches and the occasional premier league cameo but none of them at this moment in time can claim to have a legitimate chance of breaking into the first team and playing regular first team football. So why has the academy become less productive? Where has all the youth talent gone?
Part of the reasoning behind this lies in the move that Arsenal made in 2006 to the Emirates stadium. It was the start of a new era for the gunners, the beginning of a new chapter. But most importantly it was another change in the club’s development. In the aftermath of the move Arsenal were forced to focus all their efforts on bringing in talent from the academy into the first team. This was down to the huge financial investment that the club had put into making the stadium.
There was little established talent bought in that season and players like Gibbs and Wilshere were given chances to show what they could do at the highest level. The strategy in the end has bore little fruit though with Arsenal not winning a trophy for 9 years since the stadium switch. But despite this, these youth players were important for Wenger at the time and it was a philosophy he stuck by for a very long time, not buying proven world class players but instead adopting an approach where he was able to bring in young players who were going to be important in the years to come.
These youth prospects like Szczesny, Gibbs and Wilshere have made it now and are key members of the senior squad, and now it seems as if Wenger has had a change of heart, he has begun thinking that it’s time to change the philosophy put in place and focus on bringing in experienced players who know what it’s like to win at the highest level.
This began in January of 2011 where Wenger bought in Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun. These transfers brought a change in focus to the Wenger philosophy and it’s clear that at this point he saw too many flaws with the youthful experiment and he wanted a change of plan. The signings of MesutOzil last season and Alexis Sanchez this season have only enhanced the view that experience is just as key as youth. With these signings it is clear that Arsenal are now able to sign world class players instead of having to make their own.
This could be bad for potential Arsenal youth products though. Instead of taking the time to develop a player who will become the next big thing in the future, they can go out and buy a fully ready-made version. Players are still given opportunities to show that they are stars for the future but these chances are becoming more limited and these could be the only chances that they get again. This though isn’t necessarily down to Arsenal’s youth system being a failure; it is more down to the fact that Arsenal’s youth system now faces a tougher challenge than ever before; being able to bring in top experienced talent as well as bringing in exceptional youth talent that can benefit the senior squad as well.
Overall though I would say that Arsenal’s youth academy is not a failure at all, despite calls for change from the likes of Andries Jonker Arsenal are still capable of producing top talent all the time. An example of this is Gedion Zelalem; he is only 17 years of age but already has been hailed as the next big thing. He’s been compared to Fabregas, Ozil and many others along the way and is a key part of Wenger’s future plans. This shows that Wenger may well have changed his philosophy, but he hasn’t lost the eye for a top player.
Only the most gifted like potentially Zelalem will make it through the youth ranks with the increased competition from others. But it’s clear that talent like this will always be given a look by Wenger. If he can help Arsenal produce more talents like he has done with Wilshere and Gibbs then Arsenal could potentially save themselves millions and fully justify their need for the academy investment.
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