Year in, year out we hear how the current crop of Arsenal youngsters are going to take apart established first teams in the cup competitions and Arsene Wenger’s youth policy is hailed. But hang on…youth policy? That’s not necessarily use of academy is it? Well no, because Wenger’s policy is to sign young players who’ve developed in someone else’s academy a couple of years before he’s ready to blood them into the first team and this crop of talents isn’t really Arsenal’s own. And then there’s the question, how many of them will really make it?
Wenger doesn’t hesitate to promote his young signings to the first team, just look at the likes of who’ve moved up to the first team after being signed as a youngster: Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Song, Philippe Senderos, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy, Denilson, Abou Diaby, Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela. How many of those are actually stars at the top level? Fabregas, Flamini, Clichy and Song are the only ones who actually stand out – the others look like average top flight players at best. It seems that beating the likes of Wigan in the cup before you’ve reached the first team won’t necessarily make you world-beaters.
As for the Arsenal academy itself, the youth products who didn’t have to be plucked from elsewhere to the fury of the other team involved, how many players have recently come through from there? Good question isn’t it? Well David Bentley’s an Arsenal academy graduate. So’s Sebastian Larsson of Birmingham and Moritz Volz whilst you’d have to go all the way back to Ashley Cole to find a graduate of the academy who’s actually got to the very top. This academy helped produce the likes of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour and Charlie George, where’s all the homegrown talent gone?
You can blame it on Wenger, whilst he’s said to have a focus on youth Wenger is focused only on bringing in youth which he will do whenever possible, mostly when these players are old enough that they don’t qualify as academy members. Compare Arsenal’s youth team with that of Barcelona’s or Manchester United’s… Barca boast the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Carles Puyol – to name just a few – whilst United can still look back at the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gary Neville coming through with the likes of Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans breaking through recently.
For a team that are praised for the strength of their youngsters, Arsenal don’t do much growing from within – their praise should go to their scouting network who find these players rather than to their youth set-up. Yes they help them develop, Fabregas after all was nowhere near a finished product when he arrived, but praise has been levelled at the club more than it should. Wenger’s policy is hit and miss, his squad is lacking English players due to the lack of use of his actual academy and the question is why? Are the academy graduates not good enough or are they being overlooked? Given the success of most recent graduates I’d say it’s the former. But there’s always hope as Kieran Gibbs is showing. Will he be the first of many or a one off?