Tag Archives: academy

Maitland-Niles: Cold-Blooded and Ready

Ice in your veins.

A classic sign that a player has the temperament needed to not only eke out their full potential on the pitch – but also ensure they do the same on the training pitch – with sheer, bloody-minded dedication.

It requires a thought process that is blinkered, focused on a single narrative.

To be the best you can be. All the best players have it and it is never clearer than in moments of pressure.

It is a necessary component on the way to reaching the top. Just watch when a player is plying his or her trade in a high-stakes match. A Cup Final, a derby, a knockout game. Where every second counts.

Firstly, the player with icicles in their bloodstream will desire the ball at every conceivable opportunity. They will be confident that they can sway the match and can’t sit by and wait for the game to come to them. They feel they must act NOW.

And when the opportunity arises? To change the game in an instant?

In the immortal words of a Mr B. Rabbit;

“Will you capture it? Or just let it slip?”

A penalty. A free-kick. A chance in the box. A moment that needs the coolest of heads.

Like a penalty in a penalty shootout perhaps?

Or a performance in a Cup Final against a derby opponent?

Just watch Ainsley Maitland-Niles in both the Community Shield shootout and his entire first half against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.

Maitland-Niles mentality

His penalty was as nonchalant as they come. A trot forward, a swish of his boot and he sidefoots it past a keeper who has been nigh-on unbeatable at times last season.

His display against Chelsea was a surprise. Not because we didn’t think he had it in him, but we didn’t foresee AMN starting. Especially in midfield. But it was his constant running that stretched the Blues, put them on the backfoot. They couldn’t contain him and so they became defensive. It was predominantly AMN that changed the game for Arsenal against Chelsea – and Aubameyang applied the finish.

He couldn’t bear to let it pass him by – so he took the game by the scruff of the neck and demanded it follow instruction.

And not once did he lose his cool. All of the above was done with the same quiet, focused aura that he always maintains.

His displays have been rewarded with his first ever England senior call-up and it is hard to disagree that he doesn’t deserve it. He has been much more than a standby full-back – but it has been vitally important to his growth that he has played in that position.

He has filled in on both the right and left of defence, all the while knowing that his most effective – and favoured – position is in the centre of the park. Yet he knuckled down, learned the skills for that role and it has improved him. His timing seems to be excellent, his runs never leaving the team short and always arriving when the attack needs him.

Maitland-Niles, if he continues to progress and put in displays of this ilk, can go on to cement a first-team place in his favoured role. It all depends on Arteta’s formation, but with three in the centre, he can be the glue that binds both Xhaka and Ceballos.

AMN is on the rise and is hot property – but the Hale End boy is ice-cold.

Mertesacker the Best Man to Lead Academy

Arsenal have been lucky enough to enjoy some of the finest exponents of the game wearing the cannon. Players who have illuminated the pitch with their talents and inspired millions of supporters.

These blessed men were given assets and they used them for the benefit of the club, and for this we must be thankful. Some of them though, never quite got on board with the ethos of The Arsenal – the fabled ‘Arsenal Way’ – and as such, the transition from playing titan to coach is one that is best done at another outfit.


Arsenal are not just a team, they are a way of life. It is the way you carry yourself, it is the manner in which you do everything, not just what you do on the pitch. Youngsters must first learn this before they wear the shirt for the first team.

Just like ‘Gentleman’ Bob Wilson said;


“It was this feeling you were wearing this big gun on your chest and everywhere you went, my word, you felt proud to be wearing it.”


So we can count ourselves lucky that we have a manager that looks to carry on these fine traditions. It is our identity and it means every new appointment behind the scenes – especially the coaching side – must be made with the sagest of decisions.














This is why Per Mertesacker’s posting as Head of the Arsenal Academy from next season is yet another brick in the foundation, and a continuation of the work that has taken place since 1886.


The lanky German has been front and centre of most media involvement from the moment the top of his head scraped the London Colney doorframe in 2011. So many Arsenal catalogue images of this gangly fellow on Arsenal emblazoned trikes, or ensconced in an Arsenal branded sleeping bag. On foreign tours he was first up to dress up and be the face of our own brand.


Per has not only been enthusiastic about representing Arsenal in any way, he has led the most professional of lives and reportedly trains diligently every week. In and out of the team in the last couple of years, Mertesacker has done nothing other than fight to force his way back into Wenger’s plans.


There are two key points though, that highlight just how effective the decision was to give Mertesacker the job of overseeing the next generation of Arsenal players.


Firstly, his performance in last season’s FA Cup Final was nothing short of miraculous. Not to diminish Big Per’s level of talent, but who expected the German to pull a performance like that out of the bag? No starts last season, up against title-winning Chelsea, and with a green defensive partner to keep an eye on, Mertesacker not only snuffed out the Blue threat for the majority, he did so without any nefarious methods. It was pure defending, and proof that pace may be useful, but just like Italian legend Paolo Maldini once said;


If I have to make a tackle, then I have already made a mistake.”


True dat Paolo.


We can also look to Mertesacker’s insistence on spreading his knowledge to the younger members of the squad, and his role as the senior member who all look to under moments of duress. Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Ozil and others have all mentioned how Per is the one to take players aside and set them back on track should their courses need correcting, or if anyone needs a stern talking to, then it is the big man himself who assumes the role.


Mertesacker, whenever he leads the line on the pitch, looks like he has the ear of everyone in the team. He has been a great leader for us, and now our Academy recruits can look forward to learning so much from this World Cup winner.


Mertesacker is au fait with The Arsenal Way, he adores the club, and we should all be delighted that his experience will be pumped back into the club rather than anywhere else. Our traditions will be carried on, and the kids will benefit from one of the wisest players available.

Jonker and Ljungberg Leave Arsenal

Posted on Goonersphere.

Arsenal Academy Coach Andries Jonker has left the club recently, to take up the reins at VFL Wolfsburg and rescue them from the ignominy of Bundesliga relegation.

Jonker took the Academy role in 2014, replacing club legend Liam Brady. The Academy itself was not in the rudest of health, with a severe lack of honours competing against their domestic counterparts and also a drought in regards to these starlets making the jump into the first team squad.

Both parameters are the only true gauge to discern whether the Academy Chief is performing to the level necessary or not. In these regards, Jonker did not fail, but neither did he succeed. He plateaued, carrying on where Brady left off, but despite the constant stream of promise, there has been precious little sign of a breakthrough.

There have been shoots of growth though, where before there was none. Alex Iwobi is one who could be claimed as a success for Jonker, although with Brady leaving in 2014, ‘Chippy’ could lay claim to this treasure just as much as Jonker has. There is also Chris Willock and Ainslie Maitland-Niles who have made their presence felt on first-team matters, so Jonker was at least getting the Academy stepping in the right direction.

Then there is the issue of a club legend leaving the club. Another one.

Freddie Ljungberg was tasked with overlooking the Under-15 team alongside his Ambassadorial role for the club. He only took the job this year, and yet he has also left for Wolfsburg to take the Assistant manager’s job alongside Jonker.

It must have been a very tough option to turn down. Freddie took the Arsenal coaching position to earn his coaching badges and some vital experience, so an Assistant Manager job at a top flight club is the perfect stepping stone for the Swede. For Jonker also, to return to a club he has ties to and to be offered the top job – it was a no-brainer for him.

It is sad to see one of our own depart the club though. One who is steeped in our ways. One who achieved so much for Arsenal, to ply their trade somewhere else does not sit quite right. With Thierry Henry opting to cultivate his TV career alongside his coaching duties, Patrick Vieira in the MLS and Tony Adams in China, there is a wealth of experience that we could tap into and instantly improve our Academy and coaching setup.

New ideas alongside an affinity with the club is a potent mixture that is hard to find, but there is still hope.

With these vacancies, we could well recruit other legends who are working elsewhere and who have already accrued the experience needed to hit the ground running in a new job – especially one at Arsenal.

Marc Overmars and the one and only Dennis Bergkamp are two names who spring to mind.

The flying winger has played a role at his boyhood club Go Ahead Eagles, and he is currently Technical Director at Ajax. This position should not be downplayed, as Ajax’s youth system is one of the best in the world and is responsible for a huge amount of stars from the past, the present and more than likely the future. The pressure, the expectancy would be huge on Overmars’s shoulders. 

Then there is The Iceman. The player who has taken on demi-god status ar Arsenal. With such a level of worship, there is always the risk of sullying a reputation when you return to the site of your glories, but Bergkamp knows football. 

His book, ‘Stillness and Speed’ tells you all you need to know about how seriously he takes the technical aspects of football. It is undeniable that Bergkamp would be a massive asset at Arsenal and if he carries on in his current coaching trajectory, then there is only one place he will end up. We could get him sooner rather than later though.

There are many other names that could be added to the list, but with Andries Jonker gone and Freddie impressing so much that he has gone with Jonker as his Number2 – it means we have an opportunity to pick the best options now.

Thank you to Andries Jonker and we will all miss Freddie at the club. Let us hope they are both a success and that Freddie has a chance to come back home.