by Andrew Crawshaw
This is the third part of our series on the Arsenal youth system. Earlier articles in the series were…
- Top of the league and bottom of the league. Is Arsenal’s youth system working properly?
- The Arsenal Youth System – Part 2 Comparisons with other clubs
At the U23 game against Liverpool I was talking to gentlemen in front and behind me and we were pondering a number of questions.
- Why as a club we have no players in our U18 and U23 teams who are natural Centre Backs. Our Centre backs on the day were Kris Da Graca and Krystian Bielik. Bielik came to the club as a Defensive Midfielder but spent much of last year playing at CB. His initial instincts remain those of a midfielder and all too frequently he was again bombing forward into the opposition half where he would lose the ball and be unable to get back to reoccupy his CB position. Kris Da Graca is still only 18 and learning how to defend against the much better players he is meeting at this level.
- Why we had a specialist right back in Chiori Johnson sitting on the bench whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a midfielder, was playing in his position and badly. Ainsley is a good player but is a winger / striker and not a Right Back. What must Chiori think when left on the bench whilst someone less competent than him makes a right mess of things. I understand the need to develop player skills but surely it would be better to do this through substitutions rather than from the start of a game.
- We seem to specialise in relatively small technical players who frequently take control of the middle third of the pitch but fail to keep our opponents out of our defensive third or make effective inroads into the opposition final third. We fail to shoot from outside the box and frequently don’t follow opportunities into the opposition box.
- Our midfielders only seem to wave goodby to opposition players as they run past with the ball. None of them seem in the slightest interested in making a tackle, indeed most of them have absolutely no idea how to do so.
The lack of defenders has been a recurring feature of our junior teams over the past few years. Either we are not recruiting players with the right sort of attributes and attitudes who are naturally suited to becoming good defenders or our training processes are inadequate for their development.
Both Da Graca and Bielik have the height to become competent CBs but currently neither have the confidence and discipline necessary. A short term fix might be for Per to spend some time with them on the pitch to provide some extra positional coaching which is one of his great strengths.
When our first team need for all available CBs is not as great it would also be extremely useful for Kris and Krystian to spend some playing time with their more experienced first team colleagues. As he recovers from his injury Gabriel could well spend a few games in this role as one of the three over age players allowed in the U23 competition.
Liverpool had the vastly experienced Brazilian Lucas Levia providing them some stability at the back and it enabled his CB partner Jordan Williams much needed leadership and direction. In comparison Kris and Krystian were like headless chickens.
In the medium term we really need to look at bringing in some of the much bigger youth players from some of the sides we play against. They may not be as technically competent as our players but all too frequently they manage to stop us dead in our tracks. If we do this and can manage to instil into them some of our technical ability then we should be able to produce some quality defenders. Until then moaning about their lack is likely to continue.
I know that a shot from distance has usually only got a maximum 5% chance of going in but occasionally it is still worth trying and I wonder if our players are being actively coached out of shooting. Against Liverpool there were a couple of occasions when Reine-Adelaide had the ball about 25 yards from goal and was dribbling laterally across the pitch parallel with the 18 yard line. It looked to me as though he had shooting chances but failed to take them. Mind you there was no-one inside the 18 yard box to benefit from a ricochet or poor block had he made the shot so in all probability nothing was actually lost.
You will by now be recognising a number of these themes from watching the first team, they certainly seen to be present in the junior levels as well.
I haven’t a clue as to how to teach our midfielders in particular how to tackle cleanly and safely both for themselves and their opponents. Unfortunately it seems that our coaching staff haven’t either. If this statement is correct (and it is pretty damning) then we need to bring in someone who does have this knowledge to pass it on to our youngsters.
At the moment we seem to specialise in producing players who are content to get the ball and pass it between themselves in the centre of the park looking good. Very rarely does anyone seem to want to take the game by the scruff of the neck and take the responsibility for orchestrating the Arsenal game.
I would love to see Jeff Reine-Adelaide step up and do this as I am sure that he has the capability but at present very rarely shows it. We are generally too nice and not prepared to ‘mix it up’. I think this point has been recognised and addressed through bringing in players in the transfer process who haven’t been cosseted through our system.
I have no idea how the players are coached, if they are given a right bollocking by coaches or other players when they make mistakes or if it is all terribly nice and polite. They must know themselves when they make errors, my concern is that at times the errors seem to become entrenched.
Maybe it might be possible for some of the coaching staff to do a short-term exchange with those at another academy either here in the UK or overseas (which might be more acceptable from a political point of view). I wonder if everyone is becoming too entrenched in their views and something like this might freshen things up a bit.
I have heard Ivan Gazidis the Arsenal Managing Director speak about the role of the Youth System when he said that it is the intention for the bulk of the players in the first team squad to be promoted from within. Inward transfers being restricted to those positions where there aren’t suitable candidates or for players of genuine quality who are clearly able to improve the overall level of the current squad.
We aren’t quite at that level yet but with 30% of our first team squad we have a good percentage who have progressed through at least one of the three stages of our Youth System.
Winning youth games is not necessarily an integral part of the process of developing players but it is certainly helpful to instil confidence which hopefully will reinforce positive performances. To regularly lose games is certainly not conducive to player development.
The Untold Preview of the Under 18, Under 19, and Under 21 squads.
- Part one – Overview and summary
- Part two – Goalkeepers and defenders
- Part three – Midfield
- Part four – Attackers