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August 2021

What’s the point of going on loan – is this the end of youth policy?

There is something a little strange going on at Arsenal in terms of the youth and reserves.  I’m writing this, not because I fully understand what is happening, but because I am hoping that you will be able to fill in the gaps in my knowledge (not for the first time).

In the Uefa Youth League (that is the one for under 19s which is played alongside the Champions League) we’ve won two and drawn two – not at all bad.  We are top of the group, two points clear of the second team (Napoli) with two games to go.

In the under 21 Premier League (also known as the Premier Reserve League) we are sixth out of 22, six points behind the leaders – but with two or three games in hand over all the five clubs above us.  Promising.

But in the Premier Academy League we are… well, where are we?   Arsenal have stopped updating the league table on their site.  But I make it 1 win, four draws and seven defeats this season.  How very un-Arsenal.

Of course this is not to say we don’t have any promising youngsters coming through – it is just a shock to see the academy side being knocked about by every other team.

The under 21s however already have a few names that are getting known…  Just look at these players, all of whom played in the last under 21 match – the 0-1 win at Norwich…

  • Hayden
  • Yennaris
  • Miyaichi
  • Frimpong
  • Afobe
  • Zelalem
And what of the on loan players?   Frankly, I begin to wonder what the point of on-loan is these days – as so few players make it back to the club.   How many of these players will we ever see (or in some cases, see again).

Joel Campbell – doing well playing for Olympiacos, and Costa Rica, although he received a lot of abuse for an alleged dive recently. 

Chuks Aneke is playing for Crewe, while Damian Martinez (who I would still expect to see back with us next season, and challenging for being second choice keeper) is with Sheffield Wednesday – but seems to be sitting on the bench thus far.

I was surprised we let Francis Coquelin go on loan, as he seemed a player who could play in a variety of positions, and he has worked his way up through the club since the age of about16.  He’s with Freiburg who are what the press call “strugglers”.Johan Djourou is with Hamburg but is not always playing, while Wellington Silva, who a few years ago I thought was going to be a wonderkid bursting on the scene very quickly with with Real Murcia where he is being used as an unused sub – if you see what I mean.
Ignasi Miquel – yet another player I tipped to come through the ranks (which shows what I know) is another unused sub – he’s at Leicester.  Ausin Lipman is at Boreham Wood and actually getting games, while Josh Vickers is with Canvey Island, and playing.
So what are we to make of all this – if anything?   Is it not so much a youth policy any more, but rather a policy of acceleration into the under 21s and then into the first team squad?You can add to the list of players in the under 21 squad Gnabry who is 18, and let us not forget that Zelalem is 16 (or is it 17?  One or the other).  He is certain to be playing in the first team shortly.  Only an injury has held him back.So are we in an era now of moving players forwards faster than ever?  If so, what does that tell us about Ryo – still getting games in the under 21s reserves.  Is he deemed not good enough now, or just waiting a chance?As you’ll gather from the above, I can’t read this at all except to argue that players who might have been playing for the under 18s have been accelerated into the under 21s, leaving the under 18s bereft of talent – or perhaps playing very much under age players (maybe you can fill in my lack of knowledge).For what it’s worth I’d suggest that any of the players from outside the regularity of the first team who were listed on the bullet points above, plus Gnabry could well make it as first team regulars in years to come.But I suspect that the on-loan system will continue to mean, not quite good enough.  Which is a shame.

Gnabry (obviously) is there, and I think Bellerin could join the elite group along with Zelalem.  Plus any from Hayden, Yennaris, Miyaichi, Frimpong, Afobe.

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14 comments to What’s the point of going on loan – is this the end of youth policy?

  • Pete

    Miyaichi has lost almost 2 seasons through injury. But suspect he may not survive past next summer. Frimpong ditto. Very unlucky – but so hard to overcome this kind of handicap in such a competitive profession.

    Otherwise, to have any chance of making it at Arsenal you have to be so good to really be knocking on the door by age 18. I don’t think Aneke, Yennaris, Afobe, Wellington, Miquel and probably Martinez and Lipman will make it. Also Coquelin, sadly.

    Gnabry, Zelalem, Akpom, Sanogo, Bellerin have a chance – but far from a done deal although Gnabry probably best bet.

    Remember we can now afford to spend £50mm every season so competition will become even more intense!

  • nicky

    Surely the main purpose is to ensure our youth are playing plenty of football commensurate with their (hopefully) improving ability.
    Should those on loan become unused subs, they should be withdrawn and loaned out elsewhere (perhaps at a lower level) before their confidence evaporates and any chance of an eventual career with Arsenal FC disappears.

  • Gerry Lennon

    Pete – You could put Hayden in that short list too? Sadly I think the loan system for younger players is doomed to failure because the receiving club has little to gain at promoting loanees ahead of players they already have on their books, unless they are desperate?

    If they had an option to buy, with the players agreement things might change?

    I think Afobe may have a chance of improving his position over the next 6 weeks, as his comeback from a long lay off has been very good? I am hoping that Yennaris, who like Coquelin, can play at RB as well as in midfield, will get to be the longer term replacement for Arteta? Hayden I think is destined for Flamini’s spot, long term. Whilst another name not mentioned is Jon Toral, who I would say is a shoe-in for the medium term replacement for Rosicky?

    Much has been made of our spending power, but AW is clever enough to make more purchases at the young end of the scale, but only of high quality, than mutliple top end of the market purchases. But yes, many of our good youngsters will get displaced, knocked back, in the pecking order.

    But much can happen with our current line-up that might also create vacancies, so timing will be everything. I would be really pleased if in 3-5 years the list of 8 or 9 names were in our s squad of 23, but over the next two transfer windows I would not expect more than 3 or 4 ‘first team ready’ players to be bought in. That would mean we would lose 4 or 5 going from our existing squad … which is not bad considering the majority of the youngsters get in on the B-list?

  • WalterBroeckx

    The U21 are 6 points behind but with 3 games in hand so could be 3 points clear if they would win all those games.

    The U18 I think are full of very young players. I think the more talented ones of the U18 are put in the U21 already. Maybe that is the reason the U18 is short in points.

    And also a few of the promising youth players have been hit by bad luck with some long term injuries. Like Afobe who just came back had two excellent games and then done his hamstring in the last game at Norwich.

    Sometimes you need more than just skill to make it, luck plays a big part. The luck of getting no injuries when it matters most.

  • Gord

    It seems like many of the youngsters coming through the Arsenal academy, have been there “almost forever”. They are really only familiar with one training philosophy, and a narrow number of styles of play.

    Going out on loan, allows a young player to experience different training philosophies and styles of play.

  • Pete

    Sorry – missed Toral and Hayden. Can’t really comment on Toral, but he is young enough to have a chance. Hayden too. Olsson has a chance. Eisfeld’s has probably gone now.

    But of those 10 or so who have a chance probably only 2 – at most 3 – will make it. This may sound harsh, but look at the current first team squad:

    Szsz – made it AND after a serious injury before he broke through. The exception…

    Wilshere – made it early. Had injuries subsequently but already established.

    Walcott/Ox/Ramsey – made it but went straight into 1st team squad on arrival so don’t really count for this analysis.

    Jenkinson – another straight into the squad – but not sure if he will remain long term?

    Gibbs – a great success (and overcame injuries).

    So, at best, we are looking at one breaking through a season. And, as noted, we have much more money available to buy now.

    I would be delighted if all these kids make it but, realistically, very few will.

    As Walter notes, injuries are critical and have probably done for Afobe, sad as that may seem.

    I think the U18s are weak because most of the best ones are in the U21s (or even 1st team squad), many are injured (as per usual) – and we had a huge clear out last summer. Not just fringe 1st teamers but many 18/19/20/21 year olds.

    To conclude, to have a chance you must be already in and around the 1st team (e.g. Carling Cup squads) by 17 – or 18 latest – to have a chance. Often injuries are decisive.

    I was at school with a guy who played for England schoolboys, was on Sp*rs books (ahem – although he did support Arsenal!) but only played 4 times (and out of position) before being released to the lower leagues. The reason? A succession of injuries from 16 – 18. He did have a professional career but not at a high level. He could have had a career playing at the top level but was just unlucky. In contrast Brian and Mark Stein were also at my school, weren’t at quite the same level as my friend, but had better professional careers because avoided injuries at the key time.

    I am involved in coaching/management at a youth football club. We have 80-100 kids/year and only 3 have played professionally in 20 years. All at a low level. The odds are so stacked against it is just not true.

    The kids get coaching once or twice a week (dependent on age) plus a match. Most of the coaches are qualified and work very hard. But we have to be realistic and just think of it as a way for kids to enjoy a team sport, play with their mates and hopefully be developed to have a decent time in the amateur game when they grow up. Most of my best friends have come from my various football team mates – I had a great time playing (although knees, back and an ankle are now all very dodgy) – but no one ever paid me. Got to 1 level below, but not close enough…. Sigh.

  • Gord

    Players not only learn from coaches, they also learn from other players. Having players in the England national team (U-18 or whatever) is one way to have players become familiar with other players in an environment which fosters learning. (It is kind of hard to ask the referee to hold play for a few minutes while a player on the other team explains how he did something during a game.)

    Some of the things you can learn from other players are not very desirable. Wilshere pointed some out after playing Chile. From what I remember of people talking about South American players, there were 2 things that seem to stand out:
    1. they will attempt to step on a player’s instep (not on the foot, on the inside edge of the foot).
    2. They will reach around a player, and squeeze their Adam’s apple.

    Being Canadian, I heard about other countries. England was said to have a lot of defenders that punched forwards in the kidneys.

    Having a knowledge of anatomy, or being skilled in a martial art, often makes one familiar with pressure points or parts of the body easier to damage than others.

  • Gord


    While young players need to have a good attitude towards learning in order to be coached, coaches also need to have a good attitude towards learning. I don’t know what the coaching situation is like in England (you probably do), but there are too many coaches in Canada who know very little and don’t want to learn any more.

    Every once in a while, special players come along. A good coach will recognize that person being special, and attempt to learn things to promote that specialness.

    Walcott is exceptionally fast is one example. Another, the player’s name escapes me. He used to be goaltender for Mexico, and was only about 5 foot 7. He had exceptional vertical leaping ability.

  • Insideright

    The poor record of results amongst the Academy this season may because there already has been a behind the scenes change at he Club or it may be leading up to one.
    One thing we know is that Liam Brady handed in his notice some months ago – giving the Club a year to find a replacement. That person may have already been lined up and is just waitig to take over next summer. Or maybe they are still looking. In the meantime things can’t be quite the same and there may be a sense of ‘dead man walking’ at that level of the Club.
    We also know that Stan Kroenke will have looked at the costs associated with keeping so many ‘unproductive’ players on the books and his Moneyball based spread sheet may well have said that a lot of players should be cleared out (it happened) and, as pointed out above, very young players got promoted up the age groups and are now performing in very successful teams. Zelalem coming in from nowhere to the first team squad at the age of 16 is perhaps the most dramatic example.
    Latest evidence of the most successful youth players in the first team (and England) shows that they actualy start at other clubs (Wilshere at Luton; Gibbs at Wimbledon. Jenkinson of course came from Charlton; Walcott and Chamberlain from Southampton.
    Maybe the revolution will see the use of the Club’s greatly enhanced financial situation to pick off the most attractive products from other peoples Academies (Crowley from Villa, Ajayi from Charlton; Macey from Bristol) paying them more and promoting them faster. Others hae come from Barcelona and yet more from Germany.
    As an old school Gooner I can’t say I feel entirely comfortable with that but if I was an American owner who gets players for his US teams from colleges I think that’s a route that would seem natural.

  • Two reasons I suspect. Number 1 toget them used to playing regular football against players bigger, stronger with mor experience. Obviously this becomes pointless if they don’t play regularly, but it can be useful, Wilshere & The Pole i The Goal are both players who have benefitted from loans.
    Second I think is the chance to move them on to another club, loaning players is a good way for small clubs to see if a player will fit without the initial outlay.
    I think the days are long gone where we had the likes of Adams, Rocastle,Davis Keown etc all coming through the youth system.
    Also due toall top clubs having extensive scouting networks they are all trying t spot talent earlier and then once signed they need to play them somewhere.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Sometimes things just don’t work out as we planned !

  • rantetta

    Interesting article and fascinating comments, particularly from those who’ve coached.

    Brickfields, hardly providing succour….

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ rantetta – Wicked !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Here’s a titillating tale from the Medical Division of UA..

    Baby’s First Doctor Visit

    A woman and a baby were in the doctor’s examining room, waiting for the doctor to come in for the baby’s first exam.

    The doctor arrived, and examined the baby, checked his weight, and being a little concerned, asked if the baby was breast-fed or bottle-fed.

    ‘Breast-fed’, she replied..

    ‘Well, strip down to your waist’, the doctor ordered.

    She did. He pinched her nipples, pressed, kneaded, and rubbed both breasts for a while in a very professional and detailed examination.

    Motioning to her to get dressed, the doctor said, ‘No wonder this baby is underweight. You don’t have any milk.’

    I know,’ she said, ‘I’ m his Grandma, but I’m glad I came.