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Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm Part 2

Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm Part 2
By Jonny Neale

Over the coming weeks I plan to focus on a few specific, lesser known, young players in detail. However, to kick things off, I’d like to offer an overview of what we presently have at our disposal, as a club. This is not intended to be exhaustive but I hope you’ll find that it paints a rather exciting and healthy picture.

FIRST TEAM
At present, if The Arsenal went for a 5 man midfield, one potential current first team would be –

GK Manuel Almunia
RB Bacary Sagna
CB Kolo Touré
CB William Gallas
LB Gaël Clichy
MF Cesc Fàbregas
MF Alexandre Song
MF Andrei Arshavin
MF Samir Nasri
MF Theo Walcott
FW Robin van Persie

I think most fans would agree that, when fully fit, and with the extra training & playing time they will have under their belt come the start of next season, this is a unit comfortably capable of challenging any team. Some might argue that we should play as a 4-4-2. Personally, I’d be happy to see Arshavin/Nasri dropping into the Bergkamp position but, assuming Adebayor stays, you could argue quite validly, for dropping Nasri and bringing in Ade or Bendtner for a more traditional 4-4-2.

As if to further cloud things, it has been suggested that Wenger plans to move Theo to centre forward!

In attack, we are anything but short of options. The greatest wealth of the club is an outrageous collection of midfielders. Especially when you think of the myriad combinations from the club as a whole. It is not difficult to imagine JET, Wilshere, Coquelin, Merida, Ramsey, Randall, Frimpong and Lansbury pushing for first team midfield berths in the near future. Let’s be prudent and assume only half of those stay that’s 4 players competing against a further 11 (at present) Fabregas, Song, Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott, Eboue, Diaby, Rosický, Vela, Ramsey and Denílson! Crazy stuff.

WARMING THE BENCH
Under new rules, brought in last year, clubs are now allowed 7 players on the bench at any given time. To give an indication of our depth, I have listed twice that number as potential bench warmers for next season.

The area where I think most would agree we have looked light, is central defence. Personally, I hope Silvestre will be offloaded in the summer – written off as a gamble which didn’t work. Inevitably, one wonders if Senderos will be recalled to bolster the squad (in addition to a new signing) – he has had a bit of frustrating season with AC Milan. Struggling with injuries, he only managed 12 starts and 19 appearances. The Fleet Street Mongrels have him rumoured as moving to Aston Villa as a replacement for the retired Laursen.

The argument for a combative midfielder should not be overlooked, but it is certainly worth noting Song’s vast improvement and his ability to cover central defence. His improvement partly coincided with our stingy defence in the 2nd half of the season. It would be foolish to think he will not be even better and more consistent throughout next season. It is also enticing to notice Coquelin’s continued improvement, perhaps he is one for the season after but he is more than worthy of a mention as a future understudy.

GK Łukasz Fabiański
LB Kieran Gibbs
CB Mikaël Silvestre
CB Johan Djourou
MF/RB Emmanuel Eboué
MF Abou Diaby
MF Tomáš Rosický
MF Carlos Vela
MF Aaron Ramsey
MF Denílson
MF Jack Wilshere
FW Eduardo
FW Nicklas Bendtner
FW Emmanuel Adebayor

Given that Arsene might make a few signings this summer it becomes clear, from looking at the potential bench, which holds twice as many players as can be selected, just how difficult the task of selecting his starting 11 + 7 subs is going to be.

…and so to the reserves. Clearly, unless there are sales of some of the players above, many of the current reserves will have to go on loan ad gain some valuable experience.

RESERVES
(N.B. Many players from the youth team are listed here as they have also played for the reserves this season).

GK Wojciech Szczęsny
GK Vito Mannone
GK James Shea
DF Craig Eastmond
DF Kyle Bartley
DF Paul Rodgers
DF Luke Ayling
DF Anton Blackwood
DF Thomas Cruise
DF Abu Agogo
MF Sanchez Watt
MF Mark Randall
MF Amaury Bischoff (N.B. out of contract at the end of this season)
MF Jay Emmanuel-Thomas
MF Fran Mérida
MF James Dunne
MF Conor Henderson
MF Sanchez Watt
MF Emmanuel Frimpong
MF Jonas Rasmussen
MF Oğuzhan Özyakup
MF Francis Coquelin
FW Rhys Murphy
FW Gilles Sunu

Then there is the tiny matter of The Arsenal’s existing loanees!! It looks as though the sale of some of the names below has already started – and I expect there will be quite a few more. I regularly find myself wondering at the immense difficulty of such choices.

LOANEES

Jay Simpson: WBA
Håvard Nordtveit: Tromso
Gavin Hoyte: Watford
Rui Fonte: Crystal Palace (N.B. – Latest news is that senor Fonte has been returned to parent club Sporting Lisbon after Arsenal decided against taking up a £1.7 million option to extend his contract)
Henri Lansbury, Scunthorpe Utd (N.B. – Has now returned to the Arsenal Youth fold)
Paul Rodgers: Northampton Town
Rene Steer: Gillingham
Armand Traore: Portsmouth
Nacer Bararazite: Derby County
James Dunne: Nottingham Forest
Kerrea Gilbert: Leicester
Abu Ogogo: Barnet
Philippe Senderos: AC Milan
Pedro Botelho: UD Salamanca (N.B. Rumours are Botelho is to be either sold to Xerez C.D. in Spain or on to another loan spell at Osasuna. Whilst I’d be very sad to see this adroit wing-back leave, I understand he has had several disciplinary issues and we know Wenger’s stance on this is pretty tough)
Vincent van den Berg: FC Zwolle

The clear belief (of Wenger and his staff) is that residing within this global collection of youngsters, lies the core of an Arsenal squad which will eventually be capable of taking on the world and it’s dog.

YOUTH TEAM
There is no point listing ALL the kids who are coming through the youth set-up. The fact that many of the youngsters named above, under the reserves, are in truth youth team players is indicative of their startling progress.

The fact that the youth team, deprived by the reserves of many of their best players for large parts of the season, have been simply devastating is perhaps even more remarkable. The kids rolled home at the top of the league by a whopping 25 points and scored 70 goals in the process (the middle column, below, shows the embarrassing goal difference!).

1 Arsenal 28 40 70
2 Norwich 28 4 45
3 Ipswich 28 2 44
4 Crystal Palace 28 4 40
5 West Ham 28 13 38
6 Southampton 28 -7 38
7 Portsmouth 28 -4 35
8 Chelsea 28 -8 34
9 Fulham 28 -1 33
10 Charlton 28 -33 22

Tony has already written of the dismal attempts by Chelsea to emulate Arsenal’s youth set-up. As a neat illustration of this, I love that they finished with less than half of our points tally! Oh, and to further rub salt – both their under 15s team and under 16s teams lost to ours earlier this week!

Here are Wenger’s thoughts on some of the more famous rising stars –
http://www.arsenal.com/news/reserves-news/wenger-youth-stars-can-step-up-quickly

One final word, The Observer had some interesting articles recently about plans to significantly cut future squad sizes.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/may/17/premier-league-limit-squad-size

It will be interesting to see what is decided but, overall, I would say this is a good thing for football – it should stop clubs like Chelsea from buying players like Wright-Philips simply to prevent other teams from purchasing him. Additionally it might create a marginally more even distribution of talent.

It’s most direct result would be that Arsene will have to put more players out on loan and become even more prudent in deciding whom to keep. As horrible as those decisions must be, I take some comfort from Wenger’s canny introduction of ‘sell-on fees’. The insertion of this clever little contractual clause has already netted the club at least £17 Million (through the sale of Pennant, Bentley and Diarra). We can argue over whether Diarra should have been allowed to go but, having made the decision, it still ranks as a remarkable piece of business – netting something in the order of £10Million profit in less than a year.

Should squad sizes be reduced the ‘sell-on fee’ is undoubtedly a tool Wenger will continue to take full advantage of. As the club offloads some potential future stars (those who are already under professional contracts) it makes sense to sell them at a slightly reduced asking price if, as a result, you can lock down a 25-40% sell on fee.

I tells ya, other clubs WISH they were run this well!

Jonny Neale

16 comments to Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm Part 2

  • Nhan Le

    This site’s ranking has now jumped to 31! Credit to people like Jonny Neale, as well as Tony. Yes I’m a smug but I feel i’m a part of something special.

    We’ve talked lots about the kids but I feel I need to be educated about their current boss, the excellent Steve Bould. I’ve made my thought known before about him possibly stay on in the club longer than most of his kids. As he said he hopes that greater plans are ahead for his boys, I hope that greater plans are ahead for Steve as well.

    The football that the youth team play is closely modeled after Arsenal first team, from team style to individual style. Now, Jack Wilshere mentioned how Steve taught them to play the “right” kind of football. “Right” football at Arsenal today, I assume, must be Wenger ball. This is what intrigues me.

    Steve started the Liverpool game for the legendary 89ers, of course, being one of the idols of the the Graham. Given that there is a perceived contrast between the Graham era and the Wenger years in football philosophy, I wonder how much of the football played by Steve’s team today is that of Graham and how much is of Wenger and how much is Steve’s himself. And the apparent transition that he made between the two era – how did it happen and how would it affect his football philosophy as a coach?

    Maybe the “contrast” and “transition” that I mentioned is only the product of superficial observation, given that the Graham back four made such a successful continuation to Wenger’s years. These guys all seem to have great football brains and techniques that last them into their late 30’s and a seemingly different coach. Maybe Graham didn’t receive enough credits for his legacy: what he left behind for the club are not just trophies but a talented, highly committed group of individuals who comprehensively understand football and who are now the bedrock of the club.

    From as little as I saw, Steve highly impresses as a professional coach and as a person. His calmness is simply spot on. I would love to know more about him as a player and your opinion as of what kind of coach he would make.

  • Marc

    Does anyone know where the spud’s finished in the youth league?

  • The Tiny Totts won group B of the Academy league with 64 points.

    The Under 18 Academy League is divided into 3 or 4 (sorry can’t remember which). They are considered of equal merit and the winners of each play off for the final league winners. Hence the Totts v Arsenal play off to find the eventual Academy League winners.

    Tony

  • Jonny Neale

    Kind words Nhan, though this is very much Tony’s baby it’s nice to feel part of it.

    Stevie Beee is certainly an interesting character – interesting in so far as he has kept his head down and just got on with things. Like his defending – little fuss to great effect.

    He certainly hasn’t courted the media like his cohorts from the greatest defence ever. A pity as he comes across as likable and erudite.

    Like you I can’t offer much detail but he certainly seems to have the kids playing in the correct stylish, dynamic manner.

    Where do you get the ranking 31 from?

    Congrats to Tony – you should be very proud of your work.

    J

  • Nhan Le

    Jonny,
    There’s a ranking link on the right column of this site, right below Blogroll.

  • Flint McCullough

    Interesting again, Jonny.

    It is probable that AW & his staff will have to be making some decisions, during the summer. It is good to have large squads at all levels but they can be too big to be practical.

    The PL squad of 25 I think is unworkable per se. I can remember times when we have had a dozen or more injured or unavailable. We also played a virtual Mboro reserve side, when they were decimated with illness, a few years back. Perhaps an unrestricted 25 with the addition of 12 or so under 23s as a back up.

    Nhan
    Steve Bould was the best Arsenal CB in the air in my time. He was not very pacy but read the game extremely well,I must have spent 10 years saying “played Stevie Bould” when he was always in the right place. A simple passer of the ball. A bit of a secret, like ‘Stan’ Simpson, he was very under-rated, in my opinion, & simply as a player (rather than leader) better than Tony Adams. He would have to modify his game a bit, for today, because he did like a tackle from behind.

  • pig

    yesterday was great. saw the youngsters do their thing followed by a trip down memory lane and a look at the ’89 match on arsenal tv.

    i think you may have something Nhan. watching the ’89 match and seeing how different the two teams were in their approach. ‘pool were playing the long ball a lot, and our lads seemed to be passing a lot. maybe wenger did inherit a bit of his ‘style’ from G.G. when he took over.

    As for the squad numbers, more is definately better. the next few years should be interesting.

  • Jonny Neale

    Ah yes observation – I seem to stagger between being one of the most observant people I know to being one of the least. With almost nothing in between!

    So where did we jump from?

    I’ll be watching that like a hawk now!

  • If I may reiterate a theme of mine from the past season – it was not that we got a lot of injuries, but they came in batches. At one time taking out the midfield. At another taking out the back five.

    In George Graham’s league winning seasons I have memories of the team hardly ever changing (I have not checked details to see) so maybe this is a bad run – or maybe it is due to the incredible speed of the game today, compared with 20 years ago.

    But we have to be careful about having first team type players who don’t get many games – they will not sit on the bench forever. Again back in the very old days we had a reserve league that really was made up of those who were the replacements to the first team in the event of injury. Now the reserves is the province of 17 and 18 year olds.

    The only solutions are

    a) Change the first team around a bit both to give players a rest (remembering also that we often play 2 games a week, which we tended not to do so much before), and to respond tactically to the opposition

    b) Populate the back-up squad with youngsters who are still waiting their turn.

    c) Set up our own team in the Championship (not allowed under current rules here but allowable in Spain) or set up a team in Spain.

    the current situation means you must have a nucleus of solid players in the team, amongst whom the young reserves can fit. Which is what Wenger was trying to do this year – until the entire midfield was taken out.

    Thus: if we buy another central defender will Kolo hang around for the occasional game? And will Djourou willingly slip back in the pecking order? Possibly not in both cases – and that then raises the issue – what happens if Gallas and Newman get injured together. Back where we started.

    In the forward department, imagine Ade, Van P, Eduardo, Vela, Bendtner, Arshavin all fit at once and with Eduardo having retained his old ability and Bendtner continuing is rate of progress. Even using some out of position you still have a problem fitting them all in.

    Tough ain’t it.

    Tony
    PS Thanks for kind messages about the site. It would, of course, all be pointless if you were not there.

  • Jonny Neale

    Valid points all of them Couldn’t agree more, Tony.

    It IS tough but these are delicious problems to have and the fact that we are really only discussing a bit of finessing, balancing and tweaking and NOT major changes should tell us what a good position we find ourselves.

    Good CL final at the moment. I LOVE watching Ronaldo throw a wobbly!

  • Nhan Le

    It made me nostalgic seeing Sylvinho still playing for Barca in the UCL final (more so than Titi. He missed a would-be winning goal again).

    Way back in the day Sylvinho was the best left back in the PL, one of our most exciting players. Yet Arsene let him go to accommodate the then budding Ashley Cole – to keep faith in a home-grown player who had what it takes and who were expected to be the club’s future leader, who would be with us through rain or shine.

    Silvinho went on playing 3 years in little Celta Vigo before arriving at Barcelona and winning what he richly deserves today (I don’t think he started against Arsenal in the Paris Final), even more so given that he barely got into the Brazilian team back when Roberto Carlos was the automatic first choice.

    Do I need to mention what turned out between Arsenal and Cole? What a twist of faith.

  • Marc

    Nhan Le – Silvinho was promptly shipped out because it was discovered that he was playing under a false passport. If we had not done this we ran the risk of having the points from any game he played for us removed from our league total, plus a large fine.

  • Nhan Le

    As far as I am concerned the investigation took place and any guilt was only at the level of rumor. I took Arsene’s word for my version of the story. It’s a shame whatever reason he left. He was good for us a likable chap.

  • Gf60

    Just an observation on AW and the defence he inherited.
    Lee Dixon made three major comments about AW’s approach to football.
    1.”He taught us how/what/when to eat.”
    2.”He taught us how to train properly.” Lee thought that they were totally under prepared for the season’s start but was assured that they were in great shape. They were and did the double.
    3.”He extended our careers by at least 3 years.”

    He also got them pay rises!

    PS This site deserves a better ranking than 31.

  • Josh

    Thank you, finally someone has accredited Song with some praise. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in the future because honestly, when he came back from Charlton, I was quite disappointed he wasn’t sold. But I’m glad I’m wrong. Same goes for Denilson too.

    Anyway, Wenger is a businessman at heart. You can tell; sell-on clauses, etc.