Has Arsene Wenger finally proved to his doubters that playing youth players actually pays off?
Time and time again, Arsenal fans have been left frustrated due to the Frenchman’s faith in bringing young talent into the team. Although this can be a very good trait for a manger to have, Wenger almost takes it to the next level, opting not to sign new players in order to blood younger players in the Premier League.
One of those young players is Francis Coquelin. Just over a month ago, he was playing Championship football for Charlton Athletic before being recalled from his loan spell with the Addicks as Arsenal struggled for numbers in defence. Now, he looks like a certain starter in midfield after a number of impressive displays in the heart of the Gunners’ team.
Since his positive performance in Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Upton Park in December, the 23-year-old has now cemented his place in Arsenal’s starting eleven. Coquelin was a key component in an excellently mature Arsenal display at the Etihad, where he helped his side defeat the champions 2-0.
At 23 years of age, many managers may have opted to let Coquelin depart the club due to the fact that he had yet to stake a serious claim to be included into Arsenal’s starting eleven. However, a number of good performances have resulted in the Frenchman proving his worth. Coquelin displays an excellent sense of maturity in a position that has been a bit of a problem for Arsenal in recents seasons. If he continues his encouraging form, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Wenger opted against spending big on a defensive midfielder in the summer.
As well as the Frenchman, it is another defensive-minded player that has really impressed for Arsenal in recent weeks. Hector Bellerin has been given the chance to prove himself in Arsenal’s first team due to the injury crisis Arsenal have experienced this season across their entire back four. With Debuchy dislocating his shoulder and Calum Chambers playing more minutes than Arsene Wenger would have initially planned, the 19-year-old Spaniard has produced some eye-catching displays for the Gunners when he has been given the chance.
A player who had initially spent eight years at Barcelona’s academy before joining Arsenal, Bellerin has only appeared seven times at senior level for Arsenal. His performances have been assured thus far and his electric speed means that he has the potential to be an excellent attacking full-back. He broke Theo Walcott’s 40m sprint record at Arsenal and every football fan in England knows that Walcott is no slouch. The teenager clearly has a bright future ahead of him and this perhaps explains why Wenger allowed Carl Jenkinson to leave the club on loan in the summer.
Clearly, the Arsenal manager can spot talent in his younger players and puts a lot of faith in their ability to perform at the highest level – Bellerin was handed his first full debut away to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Although some may see this as an incredibly bold move from Wenger, the Spaniard’s ability is there for everyone to see now.
His excellent goal against Aston Villa at the weekend is something that undoubtedly delights Arsenal fans as there is nothing better than a youth player fulfilling their potential at a club. They have Wenger to thank for this, and although the squad may look bare at times, Wenger has a lot of faith in the players available to him.
It is this commitment from the manager that is excellent for his players’ morale and is one of the reasons as to why Arsenal consistently qualify for the Champions League. There is a standard of quality that Wenger wants his team to adhere to and players like Bellerin and Coquelin have really produced that quality when they have been given the chance.
Wenger may receive a lot of criticism for his faith in youth, but there will likely be more success stories like Coquelin and Bellerin in the future. Not only is it good for the Arsenal fans to watch, it also creates a positive atmosphere at the club, with Wenger proving once again that only he knows how to handle his squad best.