Young Gunners to Young Goners

by Daniel Blazer

In football, the line between success and failure is littered with ‘ifs, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’. However, what is now crystal clear is that Arsenal’s youth set up has definitely failed.

We assume every season that Arsene Wenger will let loose another batch of the next best things onto the League Cup, and every season we throw the usual clichés around about the next Pélé. The fact is that every season it is another eleven players from all corners of the globe we are talking about and suddenly we forget about the previous season’s Carling Cup entertainers. The false pretence in the media among fans and the world of football that Arsenal are only second to Barcelona when it comes to the best youth set-ups is, quite frankly, laughable- especially when you compare it to arch rivals Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson, on a yearly basis, jettisons a boat full of young players that are deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford. These players then surface to do the job for other top football clubs. Phillip Bardsley, Fraizer Campbell, Kieran Richardson and John O’Shea all ply their trade with some distinction at Sunderland. Guiseppe Rossi is one of the most sought after strikers in this transfer window after years of consistently dominating the scoring charts for Villarreal; another former United youngster excelling in La Liga is Gerard Pique, three times winner of the Champions League at only 24 years of age. Consider this host of names, then think about the ones I have not yet mentioned, having barely scratched the surface of United academy graduates enjoying fruitful careers around the globe. The likes of Jonathan Greening, Robbie Savage, Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Ryan Shawcross, and that’s just counting the players who failed to make the grade at United. What about our beloved David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes; the list seems never ending.

With Arsenal, the standout names are David Bentley, Ashley Cole and Steve Sidwell; I suppose you can also consider Fabrice Muamba and Jermaine Pennant, who is finally starting to show his worth. Nonetheless, could not Spurs, West Ham, Chelsea and even Fulham boast half a dozen decent youth players? The lavish praise that the Gooner’s youth set-up receives is not warranted when one considers the number of players who have excelled in life after the Emirates. Yet outside that iconic picture of Butt, Scholes, Beckham, Giggs and Neville as trainees, the Old Trafford youth system doesn’t earn as much credit as it quite deserves.

United’s loan deals speak volumes, with Danny Welbeck a huge success at Sunderland and Federico Macheda deemed accomplished enough for a loan move to Serie A outfit Sampdoria. While in North London, Arsenal loaned out Henri Lansbury and Aaron Ramsey to Championship sides Norwich City and Nottingham Forest respectively, and Kyle Bartley to Rangers.

It would be foolish to continue without a mention of Jack Wilshere, one shining example of a player who has thrived under the Wenger way and come out the other side triumphant. Wilshere began his training as a nine year old and is now on the verge of something special, but one shining star doesn’t allow you to forget the Sanchez Watt’s, the Quincy Owusu-Abeyie’s and the Justin (or even Gavin) Hoyte’s of the footballing world; the success of players after their respective spells at Arsenal and Manchester United speaks for itself.

There is clearly something wrong with the Wenger method with regards to youth development. The Frenchman arrived at an Arsenal that had produced David Rocastle, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Paul Merson, Michael Thomas and Kevin Campbell. All the aforementioned players became established first team regulars for the Gunners, having come through Arsenal’s youth system. Yet if you compare this to the starting line up of the Gunners’ final Premier League fixture of the 2010/11 season against Fulham, only Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere can claim to have gone through the Arsenal youth system for a substantial period.

The praise Arsenal receive for such players as Cesc Fabregas is excessive. Wenger and his team do deserve credit for seeing something in the 16 year old Barcelona academy graduate, but Wenger merely polished a rough diamond. Fabregas was already a great prospect after the Spaniard’s training at La Masia. The crux of this debate is clearly very straightforward, unlike Man United, who produce players tirelessly and see them go on to find success; Arsenal merely take players, young players, who have had their footballing education and give them a platform to showcase their talents- Robin Van Persie comes to mind.

Football is a game graded on success, and since Arsene Wenger’s appointment in 1996, Arsenal’s Youth and Reserve teams have won a total of nine honours combined, whereas Manchester United have won 33 titles and various other accolades. These numbers tell the same story as at senior level. Arsenal play attractive football, but have a fairly empty trophy cabinet; perhaps the opposite could be said of the Red Devils, as they continue to defy the critics and win football’s major trophies. The bedrock of the teaching at Man United seems to instil a winning mentality, something Wenger just doesn’t understand how to do with his approach.

I may have been too harsh on Arsenal’s most successful manager, I mean, ultimately the players are in control of their own success on the pitch, whether they be up-and-coming stars or experienced footballers. At Manchester United, the influence of the experienced footballers upon the youngsters who have come through over the years has been huge, and why wouldn’t it be? Fraizer Campbell, Kieran Richardson et al would have grown up watching Ryan Giggs and co, true professionals playing at the highest level of football for their whole careers; who do Arsenal have? The Thierry Henrys, Patrick Vieiras and Tony Adams have come and gone, and since those Arsenal ‘legends’ have departed, the Gunners have lacked experience, they appear to be crying out for a talisman, someone who lives and breathes Arsenal in the same way John Terry does for Chelsea, Steven Gerrard does for Liverpool and Rio Ferdinand does for Man United. Ryo Miyaichi, Emmanuel Frimpong, Henri Lansbury and so many of the youngsters, who are coming through the ranks and hoping to break into Wenger’s first eleven won’t have that calm and assured head to ease the transition, instead they have fellow young professionals who are still finding their own way in the beautiful game.

Youth policy shapes an attitude, mentality and even a perception of a club, and the ultimate irony is that the football world’s ‘Young Guns’ perception of Arsenal is so clearly wide of the mark. What Arsenal actually need is some ‘Old Cannons’.

9 Responses

  1. Josh says:

    So, you deem it ok to mention Macheda as a product of the ManUre youth system who, I believe joined them at the age of 16, but Fabregas doesnt count? Seems a little unfair..

    1. Josh says:

      And it appears that both Beckham and Scholes moved to ManUre at age 16 and 17 respectively… does this really count as a “youth set up” ? Pinching players that have already had most of their youth training elsewhere?

  2. Joe Mama says:

    Put the crackpipe down bro and go back to watching your man u dvds

  3. Sean says:

    So you’re clearly a United fan, as you appear upset that we have the best youth setup inEngland something that United cannot boast and that’s a fact. You start by saying the Arsenal youth setup has ‘definitely failed’ which is obviously your attempt at being flammatory but I wouldn’t call it failed when we’ve produced more homegrown players than any other team in the league. Now that might not mean much but when you look at the players we’ve produced you’re talking about saving 100′s of millions in transfer fees.

    This barron spell has coincided with the emphasis being switched to youth development due to our move to the Emirates but since that there have been clear results from our youth policy- Szczesny, Clichy, Gibbs, Djourou, Song, Cesc, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Diaby, Vela, Bendtner have all been at the club since they were 16 and are all full internationals now. These are players that were nothing before, they may have had ability otherwise we wouldn’t have spotted them but from 16 no player is fully formed and thats where the development for those finishing years is most important and thats why we’re lauded as a team of producing exceptional talent. The players mentioned above are most certainly just the start, as Wenger has stated before to put the coaching in place to get the local players technically ready you have to start with the 5 year olds- Wenger has been at the club since 96 so it’s only now where we can look at top quality English players coming through ready for the Arsenal team.

    Now you’ve suggested because United have produced players such as Bardsley, Richardson, Campbell, Greening, Savage, Ebanks-Blake, Shawcross that the calibre of these players is obviously better than Arsenal’s- You also tried to suggest that Pique and Rossi were as good as they are because of their time at United, they were good but they had to leave to become great… But both were recruited from Barca and Parma and are now worth between 40-50m and they’re only worth that because they did leave. Just comparing the names you’ve mentioned with Arsenal players- Ash Cole, Fab Muamba, Jerome Thomas, Jay Bothroyd, Steve Sidwell, Jermaine Pennant, Anthony Stokes, Moritz Volz, Phillippe Senderos, David Bentley, Keith Fahey, Sebastien Larsson and the majority of those are stilling playing in the premiership and I would also argue to much better effect to the aforementioned United players.

    This part I take great offence to:
    ‘Arsenal merely take players, young players, who have had their footballing education and give them a platform to showcase their talents- Robin Van Persie comes to mind.’
    If it truly was that simple why were these players not recognised before they came to Arsenal, why wouldn’t every team in the world be doing the same thing as it’s a hell of a lot cheaper then huge transfer fees, do you know the amount of failure there is with youth players being developed the premier league is lucky as it’s catchment area is the whole world due to the popularity but that then means you need to have the people capable of finding quality which will be suited to you’re team but then also have the foresight to know that these players are capable of raising their game and you’re not just going to waste millions of pounds developing the player into a world class talent. But it goes a load deeper than that, our system is so finely tuned now that we will continue to produce youth talent at a faster rate than any other team- last season alone we had 17 players on loan, 17!!!

    Sadly, you’ve also neglected to look at the current and future players coming through, yes you’ve mentioned Gibbs and Wilshere… next up is Bartley, Frimpong, Miguel, Lansbury, Coquelin who will be next in line. Then for the future it’s going to be beautiful and I’m talking three of the best talents to come from England Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke and Alban Bunjaku and theres plenty more of these players coming through who will now be techincally better than most thanks to the coaching they’ve had from a young age and the facilities that they work within at Arsenal.

    It would be feasible that in the future we won’t need to spend huge amounts of money on transfers we’ll just pluck one of the youngsters from our youth setup to fill the gap… The point that you should have made is that our youth setup cannot afford to fail given how much effort and money is put in, similar to Barca it’s thought around £5m a year is spent to run either academy. We’ve easily recouped last years sum with Szczesny and Wilshere breaking through to the first team. Gibbs will cover this years with maybe Frimpong and Bartley on top. Next year Miguel should be getting close with also Aneke and Afobe.

  4. Michael Salmon says:

    The author of this article is an idiot.

  5. Rob says:

    Now thats a proper retort Sean. Nice work picking all the holes out of Dans argument whilst pointing out the obvious bias on show towards an inferior bunch of youngsters.?(The fact that Daniel has to mention either retired/finished players from the united set up shows how he is plucking at straws.)

    I have always been a strong supporter of the Wenger ethos which led to me giving up on big money ball a long time ago. I stopped following a team on the other side of the Irish sea and put all my hopes and dreams(foolishly?) into a club on my doorstep. As a fan of the Beautiful game though, of course its impossible to ignore the exploits of Messi et al in la Liga. The only other thing that gets me excited about TV football is watching Wengers academy proteges on a tuesday night in the early rounds of the Carling cup.

    I’m sure the day will come for Wenger when his morals are either finally corrupt or he walks away from what is obviously the wrong job( the premier league) for a man with his belief system. Alas it will be a sad day either way, but should be the benefit of the FFF.

  6. Armando Diaz says:

    Two words; Nicolas Anelka.
    Sure he came from PSG as a 17 year old but Wenger was able to spot his talents and turnover a huge profit just two years later by selling him to Real Madrid.

    While I may not agree with all of the author’s points, his point of view is his no matter how moronic it may seem. (I am not one who thinks its a worthless article)
    Even those who have posted comments to this article offer a different point of view.

    This type of debate is good for us and good for the site. It keeps us talking and expressing our points of view as opposed to simply deeming it as “crap”.

    Cheers,

  7. brad says:

    the author is crazy and sean destroyed him. i am far from being an arsenal fan but this is absolutely ludicrous

  8. Kieran Dunne says:

    This post is utter garbage. To say that Arsenal’s youth system has failed them is blatantly ignorant, uniformed and quite simply wrong.

    From its early days of Charlie George, Liam Brady and Tony Adams to the current format which has produced mega talents such as Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere; Arsenal’s youth academy is by far the best in England and only second in Europe to Barcalona.

    Not since the early nineties when Man Utd produced the likes of Scholes, Beckham and Neville has there been an academy as productive as Arsenal’s.

    Take the current side for example. Sczesny who now looks to be number one. A product of the youth set up. Left back was clichy, now gibbs. Wilshere, Ramsey, Theo (although bought in) are all examples.

    Compare that with United, who you clearly support, and you’s have who? Wellbeck, O’shea (now departed), Brown(now departed), and maybe Tom Cleverly!

    Your argument has no substance whatsoever. Not to mention that another wave of young talent is emerging from Arsenal’s ranks in Frimpong, Lansbury, Bartley, and a few others.

    Also, the United players you mention that now ply their trade at another club do so due to their lack of ability to cut it at the top, with the exception of O’Shea and Rossi. Surely that is a fault of the set-up, in that, they cannot produce the finished product?

    United have long broke from the trend of bringing players up through the ranks. They now favour spending colossal sums on foreign players unlike Arsenal who are unable to compete in that field.

    So to say that our system has failed is ignorant, ill informed and to be quite frank jealousy driven.

    If Arsenal could spend the money United do, they would be streets ahead of the rest and competing with Barcalona for European silverware every season.

    United should, and probably do, look at Arsenal’s club model with our profit operating system a healthy business, if not trophy acquiring, system.

    Having said all that, I feel this post is nothing more than an attempt to evoke some reader reaction, albeit in a biased pro-united drip of trivia.

    Yours in Arsenal,

    Kieran

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