I think it’s safe to say that Jack Wilshere has now established himself not just as a player of the future, but as a player for opponent teams to be wary of right now. Quite a feat for a lad who won’t be 19 until the New Year. His meteoric rise into the public consciousness may remind Arsenal fans of Cesc Fabregas’ rise to prominence some years back. Who can forget this chant: “He’s only 17, he’s better than Roy Keane”. Wilshere has the chance to be just as important for Arsenal as Cesc and you have to say that as of now he’s on the right path. But not every Arsenal youngster has had it so good. Despite Arsène Wenger’s insistence on putting youth first and the club running a great youth programme, it’s fair to say that a number of players get waylaid. This can be for a number of reasons – perhaps they simply weren’t as good as they were originally thought to be, perhaps they moved away from Arsenal to get game time or perhaps their careers were blighted by injury.
10. Justin Hoyte
Hoyte was at Arsenal from age 9. He made his way up through the academy, the youth team and the reserve team. In 2003, Hoyte signed his first professional contract with Arsenal – he was just 18. He was primarily a right-back, but Wenger often used Hoyte to plug up any gaps in his defence. Despite working hard Hoyte never really established himself as a first-team player. Wenger only ever seemed to use him as a temporary measure. After having spent most of his life being groomed for success at Arsenal, Hoyte made only 34 appearances for his club over 6 years. He was moved onto Middlesbrough in 2008.
9. Jermaine Pennant
Arsenal snapped up Pennant when he was just 15 years old from Nottingham County for a cool £2 million. When Pennant played in the League Cup on 30 November 1999 he became Arsenal’s youngest ever youth team player (a record later broken by both Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere). In general however, his chances in the first team were limited and over a seven year period at Arsenal he only picked up a meagre five starts. His career was plagued by his being a player with a ‘reputation’. He was often late to training, liked to party and did not have an attitude worthy of a professional footballer. He was moved onto Birmingham City who later did a good piece of business to pass him onto Liverpool.
8. Arturo Lupoli
Before signing for Arsenal in 2004, Lupoli scored a record-breaking 45 goals in 22 Allievi games (The Italian Under-17 League). Lupoli’s prolificacy in front of goal continued at youth team and reserve level, but was never transferred into the first team. During the two years he spent at Arsenal he spent the majority of the time in the reserve team playing alongside Nicolas Bendtner (who has become an important part of Arsenal’s first team). Wenger loaned him out to Derby County where he failed to prove himself and soon enough he was shipped off to Fiorentina in February 2007.
7. Sebastian Larsson
Larsson was scouted by Arsenal in his native Sweden aged just 16. He showed some promise in the reserve side, but never really made the grade. He’s a box-to-box player with a great engine and nice vision, but something always seemed to lack from his game. Thus, despite his early promise, Larsson was loaned out to Birmingham City in summer 2006. The deal was soon made permanent.
6. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie
Quincy, who has by far the best name on this list, was a member of Ajax’s youth system for nine years before being dismissed for consistent bad behaviour. Liam Brady who heads Arsenal’s youth development scheme offered Quincy a year’s trial at Arsenal which first proved extremely successful. In 2002-3 he scored 17 goals in 20 games for the Under-17 side. Despite his success at this level, he was never able to break into the first team, as he found himself behind Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and later Emmanuel Adebayor in the squad listings. In January 2006 he agreed terms with Spartak Moscow and moved on.
5. Fabrice Muamba
Despite being associated with the Gunner’s youth system since age 14, Muamba is another talented youngster who never quite cut it at Arsenal. His style of play was often compared to that of his hero Patrick Viera – he was energetic, strong and not afraid to get stuck in. Unfortunately his chances in the Arsenal first team were few and far between. He was loaned out to Birmingham City (who treat Arsenal as a wonder-kid feeder club) in August 2006. The deal became permanent in May 2007.
4. Theo Walcott
Still only 21 years old, Walcott has some way to go before he can truly be labelled a Premiership flop. However since joining Arsenal from Southampton in January 2006 aged just 17, he can hardly be considered a great success. After 140 appearances for Arsenal, Theo Walcott has netted just 22 goals and 19 assists. These stats are neither great nor awful; they just weren’t what most people were expecting. Most Arsenal fans had originally hoped Theo would set the Premiership alight, but have been frustrated with his progress. Despite his incredible pace, he’s often de-railed by a bad decision making process. Here’s hoping that Theo’s development continues and he becomes the player that many hope he can be.
3. Francis Jeffers
He’s still the paradigm pundits utilise to demonstrate that Wenger’s transfer dealings aren’t always the great success that people make them out to be. He signed for Arsenal in 2001, when he was 20 (probably just pushing the limits of the wonder-kid label, but there you are) and was one of Wenger’s most expensive signings at the time. Unfortunately his time at Arsenal was blighted by injury and he never quite established himself as the ‘fox-in-the-box’ that he was proposed to be. He was soon pushed out of the team by Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord, before being loaned back to Everton, never to play for Arsenal again.
2. Phillipe Senderos
After coming up through the youth system at Swiss club Servette, Senderos signed for Arsenal in 2002 aged only 17. He was originally thought to be Arsenal’s great defensive hope, but never seemed mentally prepared to play at the top level. It wasn’t all doom and gloom however – Senderos performed well in a number of games and he was part of the defence that had such an excellent run of form in Arsenal’s run-up to the 2006 Champion’s League final. However, a series of high-profile defensive errors (and a complete inability to deal with Drogba) meant that the future of his career lay away from Arsenal.
1. Jérémie Aliadière
Aliadière signed for Arsenal in 1999 at the age of 16. His time as a youth player was probably the peak of his career and he still holds the record in the FA Youth Cup for the highest number of goals scored. However his time in Arsenal’s first team was not so successful. He made 52 appearances for Arsenal and netted just 8 goals, a dour return for a forward. His career has been marred injury and a lack of opportunity. Towards the end of his Arsenal career he was loaned to Celtic, West Ham and Wolves but never managed to make his mark.
If you’re interested and want to hear more feel free to follow me on Twitter.