By Tony Attwood
That heading may have taken you a bit by surprise but it is true in terms of the parallel trophy that is played alongside the Champions League – the under 19s competition, once upon a time called Next Gen, but now taken over by the all-encompassing Uefa.
The games are played in the afternoon prior to the Champs League games, and so on Tuesday, Alex Iwobi did his stuff an as Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0. The only difference from the main match was that this made it three in a row for Arsenal in Group F.
Even better news was that one of the goals was considered spectacular by those who saw it.
Here’s the table…
|2||GNK Dinamo Zagreb||3||1||1||1||4||5||-1||4|
|4||FC Bayern München||3||0||0||3||1||5||-4||0|
Which is interesting when one looks at the under 21 league table in England…
|3||Swansea City U21||7||4||1||2||14||7||+7||13|
|4||Derby County U21||7||4||1||2||13||6||+7||13|
|5||Aston Villa U21||6||3||1||2||5||8||-3||10|
|9||Stoke City U21||7||2||1||4||4||8||-4||7|
|11||West Ham United||7||1||1||5||12||17||-5||4|
|12||Brighton & Hove||6||1||0||5||2||11||-9||3|
Two points behind the leaders, two games in hand, and every single match won, with a squad from which has been removed so many of our top under 21s who are out on loan.
Now this is the second division table I must make clear, after the club slipped down the leagues 18 months ago following the complete overhaul of the youth system at the club.
But neither success has stopped people regularly taking pot shots against Arsenal’s youth system, although the Express did run a story in August this year in which the headline was
Bayern chief reveals why he’s envious of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Spurs
The reason for the envy was the youth systems.
Of course just having a youth system isn’t a guarantee of success – as Chelsea have found. Lots of good youngsters, but not too many getting through to regular first team places.
Arsenal however currently have a number of ex-youth players in their first team squad who emerged from the youth system: Gibbs, Coquelin, Bellerin, Wilshere, the Ox, Ramsey, Campbell, Walcott… With the loanees of promise including Hayden, Jenkinson, Akpom, Gnabry, Martinez.
And all that is before we get to the loanees who are not yet fully part of the first team. A certain Mr Zelalem at Rangers for example. And there is Dan Crowley waiting his time. And we were without some of the stars. Chris Willock and France’s Jeff Reine-Adelaide didn’t play against Bayern, being otherwise engaged at the Under-17 World Championship in Chile.
We play our Champs Under 21s games at Borehamwood; not the best pitch in the universe, but as I have reported before there are rumours of the club building their own stadium for the future.
We also have a rather good under 19 coach – Thierry Henry – and the words coming from everyone who knows about such things are that he is working far harder than he ever needs to with the youth teams, as part of getting his coaching certificates.
And all this is said without the mention of Krystian Bielik who I have seen play and who along with Ben Sheaf looks an absolute certainty for higher things.
The quality of the set up, the long history of Mr Wenger bringing players through, and the presence of Thierry Henry is clearly working in Arsenal’s favour. Parents and their children think Arsenal for youth development.
It is a great shame that so few people go to watch the Arsenal youth games when they can, and that present regulations mean that a lot of games get played behind closed doors.
In the future I suspect people will not only speak of the Emirates as being part of Arsene Wenger’s legacy to the club, but also the youth and recruitment systems he has also so successfully set up.