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Smith-Rowe and Kid Gloves

You know those nights out that you have been planning for weeks? For once, the whole gang have been corralled into being free for this one night. Everyone will be there, we all know the score, and we’re heading to a very exclusive venue.

It’s going to be one of those events we will all remember, it will live long in the memory.

The trouble is, the weight of expectation crushes it – as well as your pal Terry who was well and truly trolleyed at least three hours before you even reached the club

You’ve built this up sky-high, and it means that your expectations will never match up to the actual night – leaving you with an overwhelming sense of disappointment.

Well, the same goes – mostly – for young footballers.

These bright young things burst into our field of vision with a searing white heat, emblazoning their name upon your retina and your memory. Your first glimpses of these starlets set the bar high, and you know that they have the potential to be even better.

These teenagers are nowhere near their peak years, and yet they’re already mindblowingly good. They take the ball and they confront defenders, impudently asking them questions that season upon season of cynical fouling and defensive coaching hasn’t quite destroyed yet.

It is a breath of fresh air, and thanks to the wonders of social media, their name and their display soon spreads, like a Russian plot behind a Trump campaign. Soon, they appropriate a phrase, one that is often the nadir of any hopes they – and you  – once had of seeing these prospects fully realising their talents.

They become ‘The Next Big Thing.’

At Arsenal, we’ve had this many times over the years in the Wenger era. The Frenchman had a penchant for finding a diamond in the rough in the hope that a bit of spit and elbow grease can coax out every bit of promise.

Sometimes it worked. Cesc Fabregas was a surefire hit. Nicolas Anelka was a real find. Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi were tracked all the way through the youth systems. Aaron Ramsey was a first-teamer early on, but he has come on leaps and bounds from the fresh-faced teenager that turned down Manchester United to come to London Colney.

There are others too though, that fell by the wayside. Quite a few actually.

For every Anelka, we had a Daniel Crowley. For every Cesc, we had a Jeremie Aliadiere or a Yaya Sanogo.

It shows that talent isn’t everything that comprises a top-flight success. The amount of careers that started at a major club and the majority of their professional lives were spent in lower leagues is evidence enough to show how tough it is to make that next step from starlet to bona fide first teamer.

It is why expectations should be scaled back a little.

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It is why Emile Smith-Rowe should be cherished, but avoid the heavy burden of our heavy breathing as we salivate over what could be.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide was in the exact same position only a couple of seasons ago. The Emirates Cup was buzzing as fans were able to catch a glimpse of the player given the moniker, ‘The Jeff.’

Big things were expected, and the rare sightings we had of him and the comments from coaches and teammates were indicating that he was the real deal.

Yet, on the day Emile Smith-Rowe made his first big splash upon our senses, the very same day Jeff Reine-Adelaide had signed a permanent deal for Ligue Un minnows Angers.

Apparently, it was a mix of money demands and first team requests that drove Jeff to move from the club, but either way, it is another player who has failed to reach the heights we know they can reach, at our club.

Emile Smith-Rowe has been making waves for the youth teams since last season, big enough for the discerning Gooner to be aware of his presence. But it was his inclusion in the Singapore squad and his subsequent fantastic solo effort against Atletico Madrid that showed we may have a real gem in our ranks.

It seems that he has the world at his feet, but we’ve been burned before. We should hold back on placing so much emphasis on the development of Smith-Rowe, as Crowley, Reine-Adelaide and others have shown that talent isn’t everything.

If Smith-Rowe shows the same level of intensity and dedication that recent youth converts Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah have shown – then Smith-Rowe could well be too dazzling for words.

The thing is though, is it is very uncertain right now. We have no idea what will happen.

All we can do is trust the framework at the club to treat the kid with kid gloves, and his rare forays in cup games are enough to avoid stunting his growth but also enough to let him shine.

We could place far too much weight on the kid, and most likely we will do.

But Smith-Rowe is that good.

Slow and steady everyone.

Daniel Crowley – Nothing Worse Than Wasted Talent

The comparisons between current prodigy Daniel Crowley and previous Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere have been plentiful. Both players have pulled up trees at youth level for Arsenal, and both play in a similar style; looking to pierce defences with passing and carrying the ball through midfield.

Crowley was pinched from Aston Villa, much to the Midland club’s dismay. So much so that they appealed about Arsenal’s payment of compensation for the youngster. They had trained him up through the Under-16’s all the way through to the Under-18’s team, despite Crowley being 12 and 15 years old respectively. They had unearthed a gem, and Arsenal had seen gold and snatched him.

Precious is exactly what Crowley’s level of talent is. A year after joining Arsenal, Crowley signed professional terms with the club at 17 years old, and was soon exhibiting his unbelievable prowess for first the Under-18’s and then the Under-21’s. So much so that he was included in Arsenal’s pre-season squad for Singapore at the start of 2015.

It was clear that Crowley had progressed as much as he could with the youth sides. He was ready for a stiffer test, one that would see if he could implement that burgeoning talent in the hustle and bustle of the professional ranks. Crowley was sent on loan for an initial six months to Barnsley in League One.

In his first month for the side, he scored his first goal for the club against Premier League outfit Everton, and the young lad was taking to his challenge like a duck to water. So it was somewhat surprising to see Crowley despatched back to London Colney two months earlier than planned. The then Oakwell manager Lee Johnson even went as far as to say ‘he’s the best 18yr old kid I’ve ever seen.’ 

So what happened at Oakwell? Why was this kid that was seemingly destined for greatness, sent packing from his loan club earlier than planned? The answer comes from the coaches at Barnsley themselves, who felt that even though Crowley had made 13 appearances in all for the Yorkshire side, he had struggled to break through and was wasting his time at the club.

A slight contradiction coming from the then League One club. They declare that Crowley is the best of his age that they had ever seen, and yet they decline to enjoy his services for the time that was agreed? Arsenal to a degree also stepped in as Daniel had not made as big of an impact as previously hoped, but something seemed amiss. Why, if Crowley was so highly rated by Barnsley, did they use him so sparingly and allow him to be recalled?

Daniel saw out the season playing a prominent part for the Gunners youth side as he had done prior to his loan spell, and just before this season started, Oxford United were declared as Crowley’s next destination. This time, the loan would cover the whole season and again, he would be cutting his teeth in League One.

This would really be the acid test. Crowley’s talent really should shine through at this level if he was given sufficient playing time. At 19, the time for him to step up was upon him. No more would youth be able to shoulder the blame, especially with players the same age making waves in the tope European leagues. 

Again, Crowley started his loan spell well, scoring his first goal for the club in his first month. However, his loan spell was again cut short – this time six months early – as Oxford United terminated his loan deal and sent him back to London Colney. He had made just eleven appearances for the club, with only five starts, and had scored three goals. 

What was at the root of yet another failure to spread his wings at professional level? Well, this time the blame lay firmly at the feet of Crowley himself, as opposed to a shroud of mystery. 

Crowley had returned to his parent club for talks before the loan deal had been terminated, and at the source of these crisis talks was a game against League One bottom side Shrewsbury Town –  a game that Crowley had featured in. 

Oxford United lost the game, and United coach Michael Appleton had dropped a number of his team for the following game. The manager felt that some of his team hadn’t performed and as is the way of professional football, they must train hard and prove themselves worthy of another game.

Crowley from that moment never made another matchday squad. 

Appleton had previously commented on the progress and use of Daniel Crowley, stating “I’m certainly not going to lose sleep if Arsenal have got an issue with Oxford United going forward. What we are, and always will be, is very professional. Nothing and nobody will ever get in the way of what we’re trying to do from a team culture and ethos point of view.”

You don’t have to be a genius to read what Appleton is trying to say in a diplomatic manner. Crowley had seemingly rocked the boat a little regarding being dropped, and Appleton was having none of it.

So, the state of play right now is we have a talented kid who cannot make the leap from a big fish in a little pond into the big lake. Crowley may yet get another opportunity to impress on loan in the second half of the season – but who would take the risk?

This is where the comparison between he and Wilshire ends. Jack went on loan and came back a man, and straight into the Arsenal matchday squad. His desire to succeed was what fired him, and even though his injury woes has seen him flit in and out of the side, Jack’s professionalism ( to a degree, if he cuts out the cigarettes ) has seen him valued by Arsene Wenger and now Eddie Howe at Bournemouth.

Crowley could also take a leaf out of Alex Iwobi’s book. The young Nigerian has risen through the ranks, and he now sits where Crowley should be, if it weren’t for the lack of perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle – attitude.

Without this, Crowley will eventually slide down the ladder from what is still a priveliged position – and a golden opportunity. 

You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the grit and mental strength to ally with it, then you are destined for failure. Cristiano Ronaldo is blessed with skill, but he is where he is because he is merciless on the training pitch, practising for hours after official training hours have finished.

To climb to the top, you must have both skill and tenacity. It seems Daniel Crowley should be searching for the latter, otherwise his dreams could dissipate as quickly as his loan spells. 

The Return of the Loanees – Part One.

Whilst not matching Chelsea’s exodus of players farmed out on loan, Arsenal can look forward to a healthy amount of additions to bolster our ranks.

With the addition of Granit Xhaka, and the promise of our club continuing to plunder the transfer market this summer, our squad appears to be in rude health.

The question for the players returning to Colney is whether they can establish themselves upon Arsene Wenger’s plans this coming season, when the competition for places has become ever more heated.

Continue reading The Return of the Loanees – Part One.

Gunners Loanees – Who Will Prosper?

Originally posted on Goonersphere

Part and parcel of a footballer’s development is to take the acid test of first team football. Training ground scenarios and gleaning from fellow professionals is mandatory but these alone are not enough to complete a footballing education.

Experience of the frenetic nature and pressure of ninety minutes under the gaze of thousands of scrutinising eyes cannot be replicated. This means that the higher echelon of clubs who have a burgeoning scouting and youth system must choose the best option from a plethora, to guide and nurture.

The pitfalls can be career ending, but the rewards can be unbelievable. So the time that a Manager takes to decide where one of his young charges goes to further his tutelage can be considered some of the most important they will take. The player can become a club icon, a headline-grabber. Every step of their early years must be painstakingly planned out though. One wrong step and confidence can be dented, a dry spell on the pitch can see minutes on the pitch limited, which then could start a steep decline.

We’ve all seen it and lamented the death of talent. So with some of our highly rated young players out on loan – who has the best chance to shine?

Continue reading Gunners Loanees – Who Will Prosper?