Why everyone criticises Arsenal’s youth policy – and why they are all wrong

By Tony Attwood

The headline in the Guardian says Arsenal look to finalise £42m signing of Italy defender Riccardo Calafiori from Bologna.  The headlines in most papers and blogs most of the time is that Arsenal need new forwards – particularly a big bustling new centre forward, and should be giving more chance to the younger players.

Indeed a recent story in the New York Times (and hence in the Athletic) is that Arsenal’s academy graduates are stagnating because they are not getting enough chances of playing.

Indeed although it is admitted that Arsenal have the “fourth-youngest team on average in the Premier League last season … opportunities have not been easy to come by for those stepping up from the youth ranks.”

In short Arsenal are getting it all wrong – and as we heard last season that Arteta was a failure because he was not rotating players and he should be replaced.

There is evidence to back up these claims in the sense that Arsenal used only “two players aged 21 or younger in the league last season,”   Manchester City used six such players knocking up a total of almost 4000 minutes between then compared to 372 by Saka before his 21st birthday, and around 28 by Nwaneri.

Indeed only one club used under 21s for less time than Arsenal last season in the Premier League – the mighty Fulham.  It all sounds pretty shocking.

Except for one thing.   If we look at the clubs that used their youngest players the most last season and compare that figure with the league table we don’t find any correlation…


Pos Team Pts Players aged 21 and under under 21s position
1 Manchester City 91 6 15
2 Arsenal 89 2 19
3 Liverpool 82 11 4
4 Aston Villa 68 7 11
5 Tottenham Hotspur 66 7 10
6 Chelsea 63 16 1
7 Newcastle United 60 9 6
8 Manchester United 60 10 5
9 West Ham United 52 3 18
10 Crystal Palace 49 6 14
11 Brighton and Hove Albion 48 13 2
12 AFC Bournemouth 48 6 13
13 Fulham 47 1 20
14 Wolverhampton Wanderers 46 7 9
15 Everton 40 6 12
16 Brentford 39 5 16
17 Nottingham Forest 32 7 8
18 Luton Town 26 3 17
19 Burnley 24 7 7
20 Sheffield United 16 11 3


The simple fact is there is no relationship between the number of under 21 players used and the success of the club.

In response to this it might be argued that there is a relationship but it is longer term – you don’t see it at once, but it comes later.  OK maybe, but nobody has put forward any figures to show that, and generally where there are figures that prove something (especially if it is to Arsenal’s detriment) then those figures are all over the media.

For some reason the use of academy graduates became something of a topic in the Athletic last season, with talk of knock-on effects (although there is no evidence there are any.) 

But there is a simple question not being asked.   What is better for the club?  To come second two seasons running and with goal-scoring and defending records, or to have lots of youngsters coming through?

Or it could be argued that the key issue is not the number of young players but the average starting age of the players across a season that is the issue?  The Analyst did this and gave us the fact that the teams with the youngest average starting age last season were Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal,  Manchester City were 11th.  Age it seems doesn’t relate to performance.

Now of course it could be argued that Arsenal are in a particularly strong position having a young team who now have experience of playing together and we can hope for even better things next season.   But there is nothing to show that Arsenal have suffered in any way by not using the young players.

Of course, it could be argued that the problem will arise in the future, as these young players will leave for the clubs – but that is pure speculation.   And you would have thought that if there was even the slightest hint of that being the case they would be onto it.

Selling young players on is often not just a case of an immediate modest transfer fee, but rather that mostly it involves a percentage of the next fee if the player makes good.  So it is also a case that there is a good financial reason for adopting Arsenal’s approach, rather than knocking it.

The media might be full of tales of Arsenal losing out on player X who they “let go” aged 18 and is now playing for Manchester United or whoever, but what is generally missing is just how much Arsenal made out of the add-ons when he went on to Manchester United – and who came in to take his place in the Arsenal team.

And all this is before we consider how many young players plateau and having had a fortune spent on their development while taking up a place that another player might have used, become just average players.  Or more sadly, have a career destroyed by injury.

In reality, football is about winning, becoming financially viable and attracting young players to the club.  And in the latter regard I suspect most young players realise that even if they don’t make it at Arsenal, the training and development they get with the club, will help them secure a position elsewhere.

Arsenal have come second to the biggest money factory football has ever seen for the last two years.  Are we really to accept that this has happened with an entire process of youth development has been utter rubbish?


11 Replies to “Why everyone criticises Arsenal’s youth policy – and why they are all wrong”

  1. Arteta has NEVER started a teenager in the Prem.
    When 4-0 up he elected to bring in Cedric when thee were 3 teens on the bench
    Saka is the only teen to have made the first team and he was blooded by UE.
    We make peanuts in academy sales
    Those of us who complain about the academy are not wrong !

  2. Same old same old.

    If we use youth we haven’t got enough experience. If we don’t use youth we don’t give the kids a chance. It doesn’t matter what we do the opposite of it is what we SHOULD be doing.

    You mention a case in point: “The headlines in most papers and blogs most of the time is that Arsenal need new forwards”

    Despite being second top scorers the inference is we need a 30 plus goal scorer. We obviously don’t score enough.

    This from the Sun this year:

    Five strikers Arsenal should sign to solve goalscoring woes including Ivan Toney as Ian Wright calls for Serie A star Arsenal could join the race for one of the most red-hot forwards in Europe, who is available for just £15m

    Alex Smith Published: 12:11, 8 Jan 2024Updated: 14:05, 8 Jan 2024

    –So the second top scorers have goal scoring woes!

    This from the Sun last year:

    OVER RELIANT Arsenal’s Invincibles are the biggest ‘one-man team’ in Premier League history according to goal scoring stats

    Ciaran Wiseman Published: 9:25, 25 Dec 2023Updated: 9:25, 25 Dec 2023

    So, the ‘invincibles’ were over reliant on Henry!

    We were constantly being accused of over reliance on Van Persie, to the point that even Wenger agreed.

    So when the goals are spread around we MUST buy a 30 goal a season player. When we have a 30 goal a season player we are over reliant on one player.

    Whatever we do is always the opposite of what we should do.

    You couldn’t make this shit up, but they do!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Getting players in from the youth is difficult. And if you look at the players that have been with Arsenal since 16-17 or just 18 you see we have a lot of players who now are +21 so don’t count for the stats. The fact our level has gone up also has an implication on those young and upcoming players. When you are 8th in the league a young player probably doesn’t need to be a top top class player to get a chance in the team. But when you go for the title the young players have to reach a higher standard and perform at higher levels. So it is more difficult to find that exceptional talent.

  4. Walter Broeckx

    “But when you go for the title the young players have to reach a higher standard and perform at higher levels. So it is more difficult to find that exceptional talent”


    If we were in austerity as per the the 10 years of zero spend under Wenger, I have no doubt Nelson and Nketiah would be first team starters. We would possibly have kept ANM and Willock as well as a couple of guys we have recently let go. But we are not, and as good as those guys are, if we want to win the Pl some need to be replaced.

    And if we had done so and not bought the players we have we would of been accused of ‘lacking ambition’, including by our own fans.

    You can already read it on blogs. “If we don’t buy player x, y or z it proves Arsenal have no ambition”, and so it goes on.

    And one last point. Somebody once said “you can’t win anything with kids”. And he said it for a reason.

    Now we all know what happened, but that was an exception, which is why it is still talked about to this day. But by and large what he said is true.

    I go back to my original point. It doesn’t matter what we do, the media will find a way to criticize it. Don’t forget the invisibles weren’t actually that good because they drew too many matches, oh, and of course, over relied on Henry!!!!

  5. In fact Pep Guardiola did face similar accusations back in 2019, and this was his response:

    Watch Man City boss Pep Guardiola go full Alan Hansen – ‘You can’t win with young players’


    “We have to compete every single day to fight with the best teams in England and Europe, so and for that we need David Silva’s, and Kevin De Bruyne’s, and Sergio Aguero’s, and Fernandinho’s, and… all this type of players,” Guardiola said at Friday’s press conference.

    “With the young, young, young players you cannot win (titles). The young players can be helpful for the other ones, but the basis is that with the young it is not possible (to win titles).”

    So it appears Guardiola and Arteta know a little more than the guys at The Athletic. Who’d of thought?

  6. A1 m

    Pep Guardiola

    ““With the young, young, young players you cannot win (titles). The young players can be helpful for the other ones, but the basis is that with the young it is not possible (to win titles).”

    As usual it appears you haven’t got a clue.

  7. All this talk about ‘youth’ is all very well, but as Tony asks, would more teenagers have won us the league? It’s impossible to say for certain, but I fail to see how, and in any case history suggests not. Especially recent history.

    The following is the average age of the last 10 Premier League winners.

    22/23- Man City, 27.9
    21/22- Man City, 27.0
    20/21- Man City, 26.1
    19/20- Liverpool, 26.6
    18/19- Man City, 26.4
    17/18- Man City, 26.0
    16/17- Chelsea, 27.0
    15/16- Leicester City, 27.3
    14/15- Chelsea, 27.0
    13/14- Man City, 27.5

    That’s an average of 26.88

    The average age of Arsenals team last season was 25 Years 62 days or approximately 25.2. For a team to get so close with that average age is remarkable.

    Yes, teams have won the PL in the past with slightly younger teams than Arsenal, but over the entirety of the PL’s 32 year history just 5 teams have managed it. But here’s the thing, the last time it happened was nearly 20 years ago.

    As I showed above, over the last 10 years the average age has been closer to 27 meaning experience is more crucial than it’s ever been.

    The bottom line is, all the manager has to do is assemble a team good enough to win the PL. Nobody who supports Arsenal, or any other team for that matter, will give a jot if all the players are from the academy or brought in. Nobody will give a jot if all the players are over 30 or under 20.

    But then again this is Arsenal we are talking about, so criticism from the press and some of our own fans is to be expected, whatever we do, and however we do it.

    Alas, some Arsenal fans are not happy unless they are moaning about the players, the team, the manager or the club.


    I found it difficult to find a definitive list covering the entire duration of the PL. I found a list for last season. A list for seasons 12/13 to 22/33 and a list from the inaugural season to season 15/16, for which I supplied a link bellow. To be clear, there were slight discrepancies between sources (which I suspect could be because some may refer to entire squads, some may refer to players played? Honestly I don’t know), but in any case not enough to discredit the overall figures and trends.


  8. I believe one issue is being overlooked here. If you are a young player and you see talented players getting little chances, once your second professionl contracts comes to an end, usually by age 20 or 21, what do you want to do ? Stay and maybe not evole and take your chance after having gotten good training ? Look at Saliba : he went on loan ad accepted doing it. He grew into his position, got better far away from the PL stress and when he got back, he was not far from the finished article.

    Many young players don’t have that patience, stamina. Maybe they are upset at not being chosen. So Arsenal let them go,At least they have a chance to shine elsewhere.

    That being said, name me one ex Arsenal academy player who has really shone once he left Arsenal before making it into the team. Shone like Saka has done ? I can’t really. Which means the process Arsenal is using is not that fraught. Willock ? Well… he is not no 1 choice at Newcastle. Balogun ? 22 goals for Reims on loan from Arsenal…8 for AS Monaco last season after his transfer. Arsenal were right. He paid half of Havertz…. who scored more goals in the end. Why complain ? And should he complain ? Why in the world ? He was in a good academy, was given a chance to shine on loan instead of being on the bench at the Emirates and now has a career in France. Same goes for Willock. WTF ?

    The top of the pyramid is not a place for many. Saka was so good, it was evident to play him. He was way better then many we’ve seen over the years. And Arsenal kept him. Yet there is no top of the pyramid with a base….the base being all the players wanting to be at the top and not making it.

    The Athletic is just using the same anti-Arsenal tropes. And whatever Arsenal do there will always be that sort of BS pretending to be reporting.

  9. But the point A1 m made was in a game where we were 4 nil up and with 3 teenagers on the bench Arteta elected to send on Cedric rather than one of the boys. Now I’m sure Arteta weighed up his options before sending Cedric on but it must have been pretty soul destroying for the kids to see a peripheral squad player sent on when the game was already home and hosed. Surely that kind of decision must make the academy players wonder if actually there is a future for them at the club.

  10. Sorry to change subject but i noticed a lack of news by the UK media that the ref for England’s game is German, Felix Zwayer and he has been involved in match fixing. He was called out by Bellingham when he was at Dortmund and he got fined for it.

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