Tag Archives: youth

Our New British Core

The British core remains only as a memory of the image of the group sat at a desk, resplendent in club gear, simultaneously signing their contracts. Overshadowed by Arsene Wenger who had masterminded their presence in the first team, it was meant to represent a new, homegrown dawn for Arsenal.

One by one they fell by the wayside, leaving probably the least likely to remain as the sole representative of this golden generation. Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson could have potentially formed the spine of Arsenal for years to come, but thanks to varying reasons – some unlucky and some simply because they lacked the minerals to fight at the very top – they were sold from Arsenal.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the first to go, expressing an interest to shake off the comfort zone that saw him make 25-30 appearances but never quite hold down a regular spot. His flexibility was one of the reasons that ‘The Ox’ never quite put his stamp on our eleven, and another was his maddening inconsistency. With one game he would slalom past a handful of challenges and succeed with a netbuster. The next game he would lose the ball like it was a personal hobby. He moved to Liverpool to progress but thanks to injury – another frequent blight on his time here – he currently stands in the same spot he had as a Gunner – bit-part utility man.

Jack Wilshere carried perhaps the most expectation as a player. His virtuoso display as a teenager against the best midfield in the world, Barcelona, exhibited the ceiling his talents had, but the diminutive baller never scaled those heights again. Injuries curtailed his ambitions and his time as an Arsenal man, and he is now a Hammer.

The rest, aside from Aaron Ramsey, were ousted from the squad as we found superior replacements. Time had seen us move on but these players didn’t match the step count, and they lagged behind.

Fast forward to the present day and we now have another batch of homegrown players. The majority of these kids have been schooled by the Academy and are steeped in ‘The Arsenal Way.’ There is a big difference between the two groups of players though.

The original gaggle of players had already had a number of seasons under their belt before their talent had shone through to lead people to declare them our core.

The current group? They are just starting on their journey – and they are making waves in the first team ahead of some truly established international stars.

Wilshere, Gibbs etc of course had some truly special players in their midst, but they had their first team spot more or less made theirs whenever they were fit for the most part.

Whereas Jo Willock, Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers, Emile Smith-Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah have had some imposing figures in front of them, and have still established themselves as contenders for their respective spots.

British Core

Well, to varying degrees anyway. Jo Willock and Rob Holding are probably the closest to having their spots tied down, and both have serious competition in their way – which makes their progress even more spectacular.

What is evident is that these kids really DO have the chance to become the rigid spine that Arsenal have needed for some time. Time though, is the only true yardstick for this group. It is only as matches and a few seasons go by that we will see if these special talents really are as good as they appear to be – and if they can go on to forge themselves as homegrown Arsenal legends – something that we haven’t had for quite some time.

Over to you boys.

Spotlight on Youth Progress

Freddie Ljungberg’s move to Assistant Manager from his previous role as Under-23’s boss heralds a shift in focus for our club.

The statement that accompanied the Swede’s move to Unai Emery’s bench chose to underline this, mentioning that Ljungberg’s intimate knowledge of our youth system and the products that have rolled off the conveyor belt recently was the reason that Freddie has taken Steve Bould’s role – with Bould going in the opposite direction.

It is this hands-on, daily intel that Ljjungberg possesses, that gives him the best position to determine who can move up from the Academy and bolster our squad.

With our self-sustainability model in full effect, the dream situation for our club hierarchy and our bank balance, would be finding the answers to bolstering our squad within our current ranks – unearthing the latest rough diamond and polishing it in front of our very eyes in the stands.

Freddie is meant to be the conduit between the kids trying to make that step up, to the ear of Unai Emery, who knows that his budget will leave him hindered in his attempt to reclaw our Champions League prospects back, after last season saw us confirm we will miss out for a third consecutive season.

With Champions League omission comes a shrunken budget, so Ljungberg moving up to provide Emery with another eye, perhaps the most important eye amongst our coaching personnel, means that Emery can have a true gauge on whether our prospects can supply the fillip that our first team and squad we so desperately require.

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Jo Willock and Eddie Nketiah spring immediately to mind in regards to who will make the step up, but there are others who will be in with a shout.

Bukayo Saka and Tyreece John-Jules are others who are in with a shot, and Emile Smith-Rowe, along with Reiss Nelson, are champing at the bit to get the nod.

Much like last season, Emery’s first, we can tell a lot from Emery’s team selection for the supposed ‘friendly games.’ He rotated heavily, and with a hectic warm-up schedule, thanks in part to sponsorship deals, games were thick and fast. That meant plenty of chances for the kids to impress, but what will also help these kids show that Freddie’s testimonials were all true – is squad strength.

There has been talk of Arsenal going in for Keiran Tierney in a bid to boost our defensive strength, and it is obvious that our backline is in dire need of reinforcements.

So, with Freddie swooping in and having Emery’s ear in regards to what kid can help out in our hour of need, or who has what it takes, our kids could well be the salve that eases the burn on our backline.

Freddie is meant to help the transition between the youth and first team sides, and with our defence on its knees last season, Ljungberg will be instrumental in ensuring the likes of Calum Chambers, Zach Medley and Jordi Osei-Tutu, currently on loan, make the big leap from boy to man in terms of football.

Whether the Swede truly has enough sway to ensure Emery listens to him regarding our players is another matter intirely, but it is irrefuteable that our club would enjoy a ‘signing’ that came straight from our youth team.

We can only wait and see if Ljungberg is starting to have an effect on proceedings. With the precociousness’ of youth also means we should remember that they will have to be given a little flex in order to weed out the mistakes their game demands they make in order to learn vital lessons.

Without patience, then those opportunities that Ljungberg will fight so hard for might as well not happen. We need to keep that in mind when these kids light up the pitch.

Welcome to Arsenal, Gabriel Martinelli!

The wait is over – we have finally signed a player this summer!

Brazilian teenager Gabriele Martinelli has signed from Sao Paolo-based Ituano, for a fee thought to be in the region of £5m -£6m.

Most people who claim to have knowledge of the kid will be lying through their teeth. TV coverage is hard to come by for Ituano fixtures, so what can we find out about this promising youngster that was courted so vigorously by Francis Cagigao and Edu Gaspar?

Well, Martinelli has a decent record for someone so young, which has led to him training with Barcelona in the past. The kid has been watched intensely via video, with Cagigao’s strong Brazilian links playing a pivotal part.

 

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Image credit – Arseblog

It has been Martinelli’s displays in the Sao Paolo Championship though, that have alerted clubs to Martinelli’s ability to sniff out a goal. He was awarded Best Newcomer and the region’s team of the year.

Not only that, but he is Ituano’s youngest ever debutant. Not bad for a country famed for its continuous production line of talent.

Martinelli joins an illustrious list of Brazilians to have played for Arsenal. Gilberto Silva, Julio Baptista, Silvinho, Gabriel Paulista, Denilson and even Edu himself have all represented the Gunners.

Martinelli isn’t expected to be first-team ready this season, and will most likely be plying his trade for the Under-23 side, but he could feature in some pre-season friendlies, which could give him the opportunity to make his mark – and for us fans to see what he is capable of.

This signing is aligned with the club’s new strategy of youth first. Whether that be through foreign recruitment or progression through the Academy, Arsenal are focusing themselves on finding the right player and ensuring they blossom at the club.

Martinelli recently trained with the Brazilian national side. With a move to a top European club giving him the platform to make a bigger impact, Martinelli could well be featuring for the Selecao sooner rather than later – the ball is in his court.

When interviewed by the club, Martinelli sounded very ambitious, saying “It’s a dream since I was a child and also my family’s dream for me to be playing in Europe and playing for a big team like Arsenal. I am going to take this opportunity.”

He also revealed that he models his game on Cristiano Ronaldo. If he manages to obtain that level, we can say this was an astute purchase!

We have now broken our duck for this transfer window, and it could prove to be a very exciting purchase.

Welcome to Arsenal Gabriel Martinelli!

 

Iwobi Needs To Push On Next Season

Alex Iwobi divides opinion like he divides opponents legs.

Our very own ‘Nutmeg Prince’ has been a first team fixture since 2015, but speak to some and his name will be one of the first names on the departure list this summer.

Our very own Academy product has failed to grow his contributions since Arsene Wenger stated in his last season that the Nigerian’s final product was the one thing that needed to improve. Wenger mentioned that the attacker had everything else in his locker, but the most decisive part was still the one weapon Iwobi really needed to hone.

And the stats don’t lie.

Of course, numbers don’t always give true perspective on a player. They offer a certain viewpoint and shine light on certain facets of a player, but like holding a gemstone to the light, you won’t see every part until you look at it from all angles.

The same applies to Alex Iwobi.

Iwobi Pic

 

The Nigerian scored three times and claimed six assists in 35 appearances in the Premier League this season. The season before saw the same amount of goals and one assist less.

Now this plateauing of numbers could be attributed to a new coach, new system, new tactics, training etc. It will at least have a contributing effect, but another variable is that Iwobi still hasn’t drastically improved his final ball – or final decision.

It is abundantly clear that Iwobi has the touch and the tell-tale attributes that comprise the makeup of a great attacker. At times we have seen him produce slide rule passes and touches that bewitch his opposing number.

We have also seen him make the wrong decision time and time again.

The good thing is, this can be taught. Remember that Iwobi is still nowhere near his peak and so is still developing.

The saving grace for Iwobi too, is that we have no one in the squad that adds what he does.

His particular skillset is based on confrontation with opposing fullbacks and producing opportunities either through a pass or creating them for himself. He goes past players like they are mere apparitions at times, and he does it better than anyone in the team, like it or not.

So he has a place as he can change games. He seems ideally suited to an impact sub role at the moment, but he isn’t far away from unlocking his true potential. The problem is patience.

It seems like Iwobi has been on the scene for some time, but this was only his third full season in the first team. Yes, he should have a better final ball right now, but there aren’t many his age – Hudson-Odoi is an exception – that bring to the table what he does.

Iwobi is on the precipice right now. His natural ambition will be to want more than to be a squad player at Arsenal – but that is where he is right now. He has the key to unlocking so much more in his locker, but he must listen to those that know better. The extensive array of backroom staff, his teammates who have gleaned worldwide experience. If he can learn from others then there is hope of seeing Iwobi push on.

Next season sees a fresh challenge for Iwobi. With Reiss Nelson, Jo Willock and Emile Smith-Rowe coming back into the fold, he has more competition for his spot. It is clear that he will have to not only do more than what he has done this season, but also he has to act as a big brother to those younger than him. That is the essence of a team, and Iwobi has a role to play.

The Nigerian has the world at his feet, but the next step is the most precarious. Fingers crossed we see the new and improved Iwobi next season.

Guendouzi Appreciation Society

Let us take a moment to appreciate Matteo Guendouzi.

The young Frenchman has taken to the Premier League like Tottenham to a semi-final exit and defied his years to put in performances that have filled us all with optimism for his near future.

Joining as a 19 year old, we had been linked with some promising players prior to Guendouzi putting pen to paper, but all had fallen by the wayside. Guendouzi was the kid chosen, and from his displays so far, it appears we have made the right choice.

What makes him so special though? At the time of writing, the kid with the untamed hair has made 28 appearances so far in the campaign, a huge number for a player touted to make his mark first in the Under-23’s.

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Guendouzi – The Lion-Haired Talent

Why has Unai Emery invested so much trust in the precocious youth? From what we have seen, one of the main reasons is his fearlessness.

In tight situations, both on the ball and in scoreline, Guendouzi has shown an incredible hunger for possession. He always shows for the ball, and even better than his desire to be on the ball is his instant decision to always be on the front foot.

What makes him different to the midfielders we have is that the sideways pass is his safety net, but his first choice is always to progress up the pitch. He can make that happen with or without the ball – Guendouzi is a decent dribbler and can carry when the need arises, and his eye for a pass highlights a decent eye for someone so young.

His transitional play gives us something we don’t have in our ranks and he has stamina to burn. We must remember his age and lack of experience, however.

At times his decision-making – the last skill normally developed by kids as they grow – has been found wanting, and the negative to go with the positives of youth is that they will make errors on the pitch. That is how anybody learns, and footballers are no different.

We as fans are an impatient bunch, and mistakes on the turf are always met with groans, but when he inevitably makes a boo-boo and puts the team in danger, we must give him the time to learn.

The problem with Guendouzi is that he has made remarkably few since joining the team. He has made a rod for his own back as we expect so much now from him.

Emery obviously realises that Guendouzi is a real talent, and his box-to-box mentality and style is an arrow in our quiver that gives us the ability to adapt tactically. Guendouzi’s midfield versatility is perhaps his biggest strength and it will make him a lynchpin in the side in a year or so.

We have an opponent with a high press? Play Torreira alongside Guendouzi and have the Uruguayan and the Frenchman sitting deeper and tracking. What if we have a team that are sitting deep themselves and willing to hit on the break? A midfield 3 perhaps or Xhaka with Guendouzi, to push forward but have Guendouzi’s pace as a contingency.

Either way, whoever partners Matteo will know they have a player who puts it all in, and leaves nothing behind. They will have a partner willing to muck in when the going gets tough, and the ability to make thing happen or at the very least, get the ball quickly to the dangermen who can create.

Guendouzi is a real find, and his progress rate is quite astonishing. Let us hope he is given the room to grow into the player we all know he can be.

Loan Deals – Future Is Out Of Their Hands…

Youth players have a plethora of pitfalls to navigate around in order to remain on the path to success.

Established clubs do all they can to prepare them for the obstacles they will face, but it is a necessary rite of passage in order to see who has the minerals to really prove their top-flight credentials.

There are some things that these starlets cannot compensate or prepare for though. Some circumstances are completely out of their hands and their future, or at least a large portion of it, is in the hands of someone else.

They are on the verge of a breakthrough, but with established players ahead of them making it difficult to earn the gametime they need to progress, these kids will be faced with the prospect of joining another club, often one of lower stature, for a season.

This opportunity is the last hurdle before they become fully fledged, ensconced within the club they were schooled in. It is also the highest of hurdles, and it all hinges on the manager at the time.

They choose the club that the youth prospect will be farmed out to. They are responsible for setting the parameters of immediate success or failure. You see, if the club is the wrong fit, then their progress can be set back, or even worse, they could be sold.

Opinion will be based on how they fare. We have had countless players who have been given their big opportunity to show everyone, and the people at Arsenal, what they’re made of. Instead, through a mixture of injuries, an untenable situation with the regime at their loan club, or plain bad luck, have seen them sent back early with their fragile confidence broken, or they stay for the duration of their loan and warm the bench, making sporadic performances they could make at Arsenal.

A prime example of a potential career breaker was the loan move of Serge Gnabry to West Brom. The manager at the time was Tony Pulis, not exactly renowned for being the finest exponent of swift, technical football, we all scratched our heads at the destination for our promising German winger.

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Gnabry had made his debut and seemed to be ready to make the final leap from prodigy to first eleven candidate. Wenger opted instead to send him to the Hawthorns, Perhaps Wenger thought he would test the mettle of Gnabry, to see if he could mix it as well as bewitch opponents? Whatever the musings were behind the decision, it backfired spectacularly, with Gnabry learning pretty much nothing from his move – other than Tony Pulis doesn’t get a rough deal – he really DOES only know one style of play.

You see, managers really do have the future of these kids in the balance. Does the destination club play the right way? Does the kid have something specific he needs to learn? Is the managerial situation stable? Does the manager have a forward thinking style? What is the positional competition like for the youngster?

Also, will our appointment of a Loan Overseer of sorts, help with future loanees?

Emi Martinez last season earned practically no experience in his loan move in La Liga, and it wasted an entire year of the keeper’s career.

The recent loan move for Reiss Nelson in particular, there is a focus here that isn’t usually on a loan deal – with  the huge promise that Nelson possesses. A lot hinges on this season, and Nelson is so far delivering on it – but the season is long.

The destination club – Hoffenheim – is a progressive club, playing a blend of football that adapts to the given opponent. It means Nelson will be schooled as well as get the game time he needs, and our club needs in order to goague his progress and capacity. Julian Nagelsmann is a revered coach and will use him wisely, but there could be tougher times ahead, times that mean the bench or worse, the physio’s table, beckons.

We have the likes of Calum Chambers and Krystian Bielik on loan too, with both players Arsenal future’s very much in the balance, off-set by the potential success or failure of their respective moves to Fulham and Charlton respectively.

These fledgling players can fight tooth and nail, bleed for every minute on the pitch, but if the loan club isn’t the right match, then it won’t matter a jot. Their future is not just in their hands.

Just imagine that. Having the fate of a kid in your hands. Rather them than me.

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Youth

We seem to have a pretty settled and well stocked squad this season.

Depth in every position, competition to drive our players forward and avoid resting on any laurels, our team appears to have the necessary resources to last through a rigorous season, even if injury bites.

What about the near future though?

It would appear we have that covered too, thanks to our promising youth starlets pushing through the Academy.

In Eddie Nketiah, Ainslie Maitland-Niles, Emile Smith-Rowe and Alex Iwobi, we have players ready to be the next spine of our side. It doesn’t stop there either.

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We have Gedion Zelalem now back from serious injury, and with previous loan spells giving him the experience he needs to push on further, it could be that Zelalem pushes out from the shadows and thrusts himself back in the limelight once again.

We have Ben Sheaf and Josh DaSilva, players who our backroom staff and those who have seen them have been raving about.

We also have Chris Willock, the midfielder who has impressed Emery enough to remain part of first team plans. Willock may not have many minutes under his belt, but the fact he has remained in the squad and hasn’t been sold or loaned points to a talented player who has kept himself in full view of the manager.

Let’s not forget about Reiss Nelson as well.

Compare this to our rivals for honours.

tottenham have the likes of Kyle Walker-Peters who seems promising enough, and Harry Winks is earning international recognition, but the best of the rest of their youth system is nowhere to be found.

At City, Phil Foden aside, there are no kids pushing through whatsoever.

United, before Mourinho anyway, were a conveyor belt for talent, and they also had a slim chance of making it into the team. Now, aside from McTominay, they have the likes of Tuanzebe who are being sent on loan as they have no hope of making an impression on the first team.

Chelsea have no representatives from their youth pool, and their recruitment policy may have calmed down, but their large amount of kids sent out on loan to the purgatory that is Vitesse Arnhem speaks volumes about what is required to be a first teamer at the Bridge.

We have not only increased the amount of our youth products coming through, but we have increased the quality.

Just look at Maitland-Niles last year. In amongst international class but a poor team, Maitland-Niles adapted in his full-back role, used his defensive nous to forge himself a slot in the squad, and impressed both Wenger and Emery enough to consider him in his preferred capacity and a s a certified first team player.

Emile Smith-Rowe made his splash in pre-season, and swayed Emery so much that he never left the first team fold. The teenager is making sporadic appearances, and is well on course to achieve great things with Arsenal. He has now got off the mark in terms of goals too.

Nketiah made a big splash last season by rescuing us with a superb brace in our league cup win over Norwich, and despite struggling to get into the team, has impressed when on the pitch, and is constantly in the squad and on the bench to be called upon.

When injuries bite and inevitable departures occur, these players will form the backbone of Arsenal – if all goes well, injury and mentality permitting.

Alex Iwobi is the target the kids have to aim for, and the Nigeria player is coming on leaps and bounds this season. He hauled himself up through the youth system, and now stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ozil’s and the Aubameyang’s in the team.

When players depart, we have the ideal fillers, and they will be one of our own.