Maybe I’m one of those miserable pessimists who fails to grasp the concept of the glass being half full. Or maybe sometimes there is genuine cause for concern.
It was today announced that Serge Gnabry has extended his contract at Arsenal. It will be seen as something positive to add to the feel-good factor at the club at present. The young German has already made five appearances for the first-team this season, scoring once and winning the penalty that brought Arsenal’s first in a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on the weekend. We’ll no doubt see more of him in the League Cup.
The problem, though, is that seems to be it. For a club who are known and want to be known for relying on players brought up through the academy, where are the rest of the talents for the future?
There’s something stinging about latching the word “future” onto an Arsenal-related sentence; up until this summer, the fans had had enough of being told to wait for future. But clubs like Arsenal need to and rightly want to find that balance of bringing in established players and developing their own, whether that be from an early age or rounding out the latter years, as they are doing with Carl Jenkinson.
The League Cup has often been a showcase for what the team has in reserve, offering a glimpse into the future and utilising a competitive match for the benefit of young players. Those who wished to criticise Arsenal for fielding “weakened” teams – and importantly it wasn’t just Arsenal – often failed to acknowledge the lack of competitive football young players had on a weekly basis. Unlike Spain, for example, reserve teams don’t play in the lower leagues.
One multiple occasions over the past few seasons, Arsene Wenger has attempted to end the trophy drought by fielding strong teams in the League Cup. This season, he will have to because of the worrying lack of options he has in the way of young players.
An important factor that some have already caught onto his the lack of a standout centre-back coming through the club. Ignasi Miquel is on the books, but despite being loaned out this season to Leicester City, the former Barcelona player really doesn’t look to be of sufficient quality to make it Arsenal.
And it’s not just the defence, but all over the pitch. Thomas Eisfeld, another German, has been talked up as one for the future, but at 20 years of age, he’s nowhere near to generating the excitement of Leon Goretzka or Max Meyer, for example, at Schalke.
Of course, fans will want to point to the promise shown by Gedion Zelalem, who did make an impression during pre-season. But provided he fulfils his potential, he will count towards an alarmingly low success rate that hasn’t changed much since the move to the Emirates.
Of the current group of players, Arsenal have brought through Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny. I’m excluding Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain due to their respective price tags, counting them towards those who were brought in via the market. But clubs like Arsenal need to have a thriving and even heaving reserve of quality youngsters. At the moment, it’s a struggle to pick out those who will become stars, as opposed to just squad players.
Arsenal’s squad will be stretched for the first time over the coming weeks. But any club who wishes to hold a strong emphasis on youth development needs to be able to dip into the academy from time to time. The real dearth of quality at Arsenal is a concern that the club’s hierarchy need to address over the coming seasons.
Should Arsenal be concerned by the lack of quality in the academy?
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