Arsenal’s Youth system is one of the most coveted and interesting in world football, but the way the club develop their players has changed considerably in recent years. For the new breed of Arsenal fan, Arsène Wenger’s ways of doing things are the norm.
Many followers have noted the changes over the years, but few have followed Arsenal quite as intensely as Arseblogger from Arseblog. His daily rants, raves and informative pieces are all delivered in a entertaining and compelling way, but looking back through the archives, the articles act as a timeline of the changes the club has gone through in recent years. So what does he make of the current standard of youth development?
“I think the standard is clearly quite good among some of the youngsters. We’re loaning players, like Jack Wilshere, to Premier League teams who are battling relegation. In those circumstances managers usually look for experience, that they’ll take Arsenal youngsters is a good indication the quality of the players is high.”
Wenger is seen as the man who really changed how Arsenal do things. Aside from his success with winning trophies, the overhaul of the Academy is one of his greatest triumphs. But what kind of changes have we seen compared to the George Graham era, for example?
“The youth set up has changed quite gradually under Arsene Wenger. It’s certainly unrecognisable from the one he inherited from George Graham, which was in a total mess. Yet not a huge number of players have really come through. Successes like Cesc, Clichy etc have been bought, but there’s been another leap forward with young English players like Wilshere and Gibbs ready to make their mark. We’re certainly producing technically excellent players, I do worry though that they get too much too young and that the motivation to achieve is diluted by the money they’re on at an early age.”
How about the differences since Arseblogger began following the club?
“I don’t think you can really compare to when I first started supporting the club because it was such a long time ago, but you look at talents that did come through – Brady, Rocastle, Thomas, Merson, Adams, Keown etc. Maybe they got more chances, the competition with foreign youngsters didn’t exist, but that not taking anything away from their talent.”
The policy on young players is increasingly becoming a strained one, with results in terms of numbers making the first-team and the determination to win trophies increasing year on year, but what part do the youngsters play in the future of the club?
“I think it’s crucial for any club to produce young players who can make the step up to the first team. However, I think we lost too much experience too quickly and it’s cost us trophies over the last couple of years. Maybe Arsene’s hands were tied financially but I can’t help thinking that with just a little more expenditure we might well have achieved more.”
So would he advocate a cut on the Carling Cup and play more of a first-team lineup in a bid to break the duck of seasons without success?
“I think they’ll get the usual chances in the Carling Cup, which I fully support. We’ve had some great nights and it’s a brilliant way for the young players to learn. However, I’m hoping that the investment we make in the first team squad this summer makes it more difficult for them in general. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just think the first team needs some serious surgery and I think we need to be looking at experience and quality rather than hoping to fill the gaps with youth.”
So finally, what does the future hold for Arsenal’s youth development program?
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that only a tiny percentage of them will make Arsenal’s first team. That is the way it always has been. Many of them will go and have decent careers, not many at all will do it at Arsenal. And while we know so much more about young players these days it does raise expectation levels to an unhealthy degree at times. Fans expect to see the finished article when in reality we’re looking at players just starting their careers and learning on the job. I believe we need to have a more realistic outlook on their prospects of success at Arsenal. How many youngsters come through the ranks each year? How many become regular Arsenal players?”
“As I said though, the higher the standard of our youth set-up, the better it is for us in the long run, both in terms of players we produce for our first team and financially when we sell on the ones who don’t quite make it. It is a business at the end of the day.”