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October 2016
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By this August at least half the Arsenal first XI will have joined in the past year.

by Tony Attwood

Lines for Arsenal

Two things started me on this piece.  One was a correspondent trying to suggest Arsenal don’t sign enough players (I’ll come back to that) and a piece in the Telegraph under the heading “10 young players Arsenal fans can get excited about this season”.

I was fascinated by this, and wondered if it were part of a series of articles highlighting the ten top youth players from all the clubs in the Premier League.

So I went onto Google and typed in

young players fans can get excited about this season

the range of articles found, even with varying the headline, was very limited.  Four Four Two has a headline from last season “5 Chelsea youngsters fans can get excited about”,  but nothing else in a major outlet for this coming season.

There is an article on 5 August 2013 headed “WHY TOTTENHAM FANS SHOULD GET EXCITED ABOUT THIS £30M PRODIGY” which is all about “21-year-old forward Eric Lamela” who they bought from Roma.  But that’s mostly it – single player stories.

In January this year the Mail did a piece on the hottest 10 prospects in world football.  Mostly these were youngsters with non-English clubs but there were two with English teams at the time 

TIMOTHY FOSU-MENSAH of Manchester United a 17 year old central defender

DONYELL MALEN of Arsenal a 16 year old centre forward of whom the Mail said,

“Arsenal saw off competition from a host of other leading European clubs to sign Malen from the prestigious academy at Ajax last summer.   The 16-year-old hasn’t yet decided on his best position – he’s equally adept at leading the line or utilising his pace in a wide position.

“Malen has already played for Arsenal’s Under 19 team in the UEFA Youth League and the club’s Under 21 side – both ahead of schedule. He was the guy who scored a great goal on his under 21 debut.”

So mostly what we get are articles in which the journalist phones up the head of the youth section in various clubs and ask who their big prospects are and makes a list of the “10 most” out of that.  To do a “10 most” out of one club is very unusual.  I won’t say unique because I am sure with enough searching I must be able to find one or two others, but it is unusual.

The ten that the Telegraph pick are

  • Eddie Nketiah
  • Donyell Malen
  • Stephy Mavididi
  • Gedion Zelalem
  • Krystian Bielik
  • Ainsley Maitland-Niles
  • Daniel Crowley
  • Jeff-Reine Adelaide
  • Chuba Akpom
  • Alex Iwobi

Of course even without the sort of knowledge that Andrew provides on this site relating to the youngsters there are names on the list that we will also recognise, and quite probably names that we might not have picked up on thus far.

But the extent of the list, is, I think, something to behold.  I’ve heard Mr Wenger talk a number of times about the way in which youngsters can show amazing talent and then two years later you wonder what on earth happened.  And this is what makes such a list all the more extraordinary; these guys are still there fighting their way through.

We’ve heard that Gedion Zelalem had an up and down season at Rangers – a tough training ground in the second tier of Scottish football if ever there was one – and some have wondered if such an amazing early talent will ultimately bloom.   I can’t say, but I can say that when you have ten extraordinary talents there is every chance one of them will come through.

Indeed one of them has of course – Alex Iwobi.   And before him Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin.  But these players are never considered in terms of “new arrivals” because of the slavish way in which people like to follow the lead of the press.  If you pay less than £20m it’s irrelevant, and £20m is just middle-of-the-range these days.

As for my second reason for this piece, mentioned at the start, this morning, before writing this article, I published a comment by one of the regular naysayers in which he listed a range of clubs and asked rhetorically what all these clubs have in common.   Three of them were PL teams that ended up below Arsenal, last season, and also on the list was Barcelona.

The answer to the question that the writer required was that they all spend big in the transfer market and Arsenal doesn’t do it so often.   I would agree, but the club does buy big (Granit, Alexis and Ozil have all been big signings of course) but maybe we don’t buy big as often as everyone else.

However that question could also be answered by the fact that they all have more money than Arsenal, and by the fact that I suspect all of them would like a youth development and nurturing system like Arsenal’s.   Indeed Barcelona are “reportedly” trying to bid £42m to get Bellerin back in a re-run of their DNA Escapades with Fabregas.  If they were that good at arranging things, surely they wouldn’t have to resort to this.

Having a player transfer for £30m+ is great for the papers; easy money for the journalists who toddle over to the training ground, listen to the speeches and write it up, after three months of suggesting that the club in question is going to buy any number of other players.  (The Arsenal Transfer Index that we run each week is now at over 80 players that Arsenal have been “linked to” or are “set to”, and I suspect other major clubs are at a similar level, but simply lack the equivalent of an Untold to do the hard work of listing them all).

And there is a lot of noise because we have only bought one big name new player thus far.  You might put Iwobi down as a “signing” from last season (although he only played 13 league games in 2015/16).  Or you might put him as doing a trial last season, and a new man for this.  But really one way or another he has to be counted as do Bellerin (now for us the equivalent of a £40m signing) and Coquelin.

In fact if we don’t allow the media to define what a “new player arrival” means, and instead use the much more logical approach of including transfers and promotions from within, we now have

  • Cech
  • Coquelin
  • Iwobi
  • Bellerin
  • Xhaka
  • Elneny

joining the club last season and this summer.  That is more than half a team transformed in the past year.  And half the list are youngsters.  Even if you want to be really pedantic and put Coquelin back to the year before as he made his break through in early 2015, we still have five such players.  Changing the team much more is going to upset all stability.

What this suggests, and what the Telegraph article suggests (loathe though I am to find myself agreeing with them) is that Arsenal does bring through players of exquisite quality each year, and deliberately excluding them from any analysis of new talent is quite illogical.

Plus it suggests that there ought to be at least one more this season.  Donyell Malen will probably have to wait another year or two (he is still only 17), Gedion Zelalem might have faded at Rangers in the second half of the season, and Chuba Akpom was not a goal scoring force for Hull.  But that should not mean those last two players are now spent forces.  Many have had a poor season and come back.  But just look at some of the other names on the Telegraph list.  If you have watched any of them you will know there is a chance of that sudden, amazing breakthrough that we have seen with Bellerin, Iwobi and Coquelin.

Krystian Bielik (aged 18), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (18 but with a problematic mum) – I don’t see them week by week but they are possible names.  Daniel Crowley has gone to Oxford – so maybe not this coming season, but Jeff-Reine Adelaide, who wowed us all in the Ems Cup last summer… He could be the one.

I can’t guarantee it, but I suspect somewhere there is a “signing” for the season as big as Iwobi, Coquelin and Bellerin.  And I still haven’t given up all hope on Serge Gnabry.

But let me end with a laugh.  While searching around to see if anyone else had made lists of young players who could breakthrough this year, I found this, dated 22 May 2016.

“Arsenal may not be producing a massive amount of young talent…”

It’s good to have a little chuckle.

The Untold Preview of the Under 18, Under 19, and Under 21 squads.

Recent Posts

22 comments to By this August at least half the Arsenal first XI will have joined in the past year.

  • tunnygriffboy

    Still need a proper quality striker to help our Olivier out. Asap. Could do with another CB as well

    As much as I am interested in the Holding lad and and intrigued by the lad from Japan I still think we quality signings with experience to play in those positions.

  • Mick

    I am most surprised to not see Chris Willock on that list.

  • anton

    I agree with you that promoting from within is often overlooked and that Arsenal are prolific in producing quality talent. But the fact that Coquelin and Bellerin both played at least 20 PL games in 14/15 makes it quite a stretch claiming they joined in the last year, by any standard. Furthermore I doubt Elneny, Xhaka and Coquelin will feature in the same starting lineup.

  • Young talent is integral to any team – that’s a given. However, if we are to withstand the Maureen re-birth and the effervescence of Pep, Klopp and Conte, surely we need to be taking some risks and getting in two more experienced and proven players? Time to take a leap Arsene…

  • a

    what is the deal with gnabry? he is an excellent prospect and has shown he can play but since the injury and that horrid loan spell – what is his future? will a good olympics tournament allow him back into the first team?
    had he not got injured I am firm believer he would be in the first 11 now.

  • Yemmy Akinleye

    As much as I agree with the write-up, I also wholeheartedly go along with the comment of “Iceman” here. Football nation has moved on. We need d experience ‘foots’ to win the premiership. Enough of been an also ran.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    The first three on the Telegraph list are all strikers. Eddie Nkeitak was the leading scorer in the country at U18 level last year and progressed to the U21 team. Still technically an U18 player this year probably too soon for a first team call up unless we get a favourable draw in the Capital One Cup (or whatever it is called this year).

    Donyell and Stephy shared the striker roles for the U21s for most of last season, will have a big fight on their hands this year to hang on to their starting status. With the extra internal competition and playing in the higher league this year could well become regular members of the first team squad or go out on loan at some point.

    Gedion made real strides at Rangers last year. He still has a tremendous eye for a pass but can sometimes get bullied out of games. He will never be the strongest player on the field and is working hard to move the ball on quickly to minimise the risks of physical challenges. Will probably find himself on loan again once the pre season tour of USA is over.

    Krystian has been re-positioned as a centre back having arrived as a DM. Will probably stay in the U21s this year, particularly if Holding joins and comes into the first team squad.

    Ainsley will be going on loan again. A good midfielder who has outgrown U21 football but isn’t going to get into our first team squad yet.

    Dan is off to Oxford for the year, his progress has somewhat stalled in the last year or so and he needs to get his head down and really work hard to get things back on track.

    Jeff is likely to be a member of the first team squad. He has all of the attributes of a first team player but needs to be more demanding of himself in games, at times he coasts (always looking very elegant as a player) but rarely grabbing a game and really influencing things. Once he gets the confidence to do that he will become scarily good.

    Chuba came through the ranks with Alex Iwobi and they forged a formidable partnership in attack. It will be good to see if they can re-kindle that relationship. If they can then goals will follow.

    I would also add Chris Willock to that list but as another U18 player he is probably too young to think of as a first teamed for another year or two.

    At right back we have two excellent prospects, Tafari Moore who will be away on loan in Holland for the year and Chiori Johnson who was injured for most of last season but was back to his best at season end. We may well see a lot more of him this year if Debuchy does leave. Chiori is not as good as Hector going forward, but probably not that far behind in the defensive part of the job. Should be a mainstay of the U21 team this year.

  • Although it is true that the three payers mentioned won’t necessarily play together, we clearly do need two squads to cope with injuries and fixture congestion.

  • tunnygriffboy


    I can see two of the three starting matches

    We want a more physical defensive formation in certain games both Coquelin and Xhaka could start. Coquelin prove the real energy and don’t forget Xhaka has that play making ability. Both like a tackle and to put their foot in. I’m sure our CB’s would love that shield in front of them

    Elneny would be a good option to play alongside Xhaka. Not as destructive as Coquelin but has huge energy and is better on the ball. Still a good defence option together.

    The likes of Santi, Ramsey and Jack will play alongside when we play more open and attack sides

    We have great options in midfield to suit any situation.

    Please get the striker situation sorted 🙂 🙂

  • Pete

    Agree with Mick – where is Willock?

  • Pushing it a touch, to claim Coquelin as a player who joined last season.
    I still remember him making his debut in Aug 2011.

  • nicky

    On the basis that Arsenal’s foreign newbies need one full season at the Ems and in the EPL, in order to flourish, I hope all supporters will have patience next season with those concerned. 😉

  • Goonermikey

    As an aside, I’d love to draw people’s attention to this quote from (and yes, I know I should read it!).

    “SkySports states that Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were all absent from the Gunners latest friendly clash with Ligue 2 side Lens”

    Somebody needs to remind them when that match is actually being played!!

    And apparently as a result, Arsenal are “in crisis”. This must be some kind of record even for a site like Caughtoffisde. Usually Arsenal aren’t classified as being in crisis until we drop our first point of the season………..

  • Goonermikey

    Shouldn’t read it!!

  • Mick

    I very much doubt that any patience at all will be shown by a large section of the clubs supporters. In fact the exact opposite, if any player doesn’t cut the mustard from day one they will be on the players and Arsenes case immediately, they are probably already sharpening their knives. To these supporters winning now is all that matters.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    I’ve begun to imagine a thought that has informed me that since the rumour has had it that the 21 year old 6ft striker Chuba Akpom will be retained by the Boss this summer, and he would have redeemed his pledge to bring in only 3 new bodies this current window after he might have signed Rod Holding as being tailored in the media, I believe at the concluding of these 3 signings by the Boss, he may not sign a new striker after all but instead use Akpom for a striker option and cover to co-lead the line with Olivier Giroud.

    And should this my thought cone to pass, let no Arsenal supporter cry any foul! Because the Arsenal fans should remember that football has that unprictability edge to it. Nothing can be assured, even if Man Utd does signed a Paual Pogba, Arsenal can still be Champions with Giroud and Akpom leading the line.

    I can’t see the possibilities now for any of the Under 18 & 21 Arsenal academy players breaking into the Arsenal 1st team squad this summer. Because most of them if not all have not yet attained the at least mandatory 19-20 years old in age to be stronger and thus be ready to cope with the hard rigours of being a 1st team squad player. But I think 1or2 of our academy players could break into the senior team next season.

  • nicky

    You are quite right of course.
    A vociferous minority of our so-called supporters have little patience OR faith future. 😉

  • nicky

    last line above should read “in our future”. Sorry.

  • Goonermikey

    @ Mick

    The irony is that half of them probably wouldn’t have become Arsenal fans had it not been for the trophies (and stadium) AW brought us. Frustrated glory hunters really are the sort of fan no club needs.

  • insideright

    Do not Gabriel and Campbell deserve a mention when talking about recent additions or introductions to the squad?

  • JohnW

    Who says Maureen has been re-born? I think he will fall the hardest at ManUre, you wait and see.For me its not about buying any more players, I think Arsene should do more tinkering in every match. That way many players will get the desired rest needed for the title push. I don’t see why Theo can’t deputise for Giroud at CF, while at the same time grooming Akpom. If we want to tighten up things, play Coquelin, Xhaka Ramsey and Elneny in the same team.

  • nicky

    Too many alleged supporters need reminding of the points you raise. They have little understanding of what has actually achieved under Arsene Wenger’s tenure.
    Luckily for us, they are in a minority.