What has happened to Arsenal’s under 21s and under 18s?

By Tony Attwood

The under 21 league and under 18 league puzzle me and I’d like some help seeing where Arsenal are going with them.

I was going to write about this before the FA came along and adapted an old Untold idea of using Premier League reserve teams in the lower reaches of the football league – so I have held off, but although the Football League clubs have been holding their AGM in Portugal, and the original idea was that they were going to debate the notion of introducing an extra league into which the reserve teams of some premier league clubs could play no news is emerging.

So I thought maybe it is a moment to look at the whole issue of Arsenal’s under 21s and under 18s.

And for once I’m not doing too much trumpeting about the FA’s idea being one of ours, because first, our idea was different in a key aspect from that which the FA put forward to the League clubs, and second, the notion of having non-league clubs linked to league clubs is hardly new.   Arsenal, you might recall if you know your history, were linked to Margate for a while.

The idea that Untold put forward was that Arsenal could seek to link up with a lower league club and loan players to them en mass in return for some input into the running of the club.  All sorts of ideas were kicked around, including one variation which had Arsenal putting its reserve team into the Scottish Third Division or maybe into the third division in France, where many French first division teams play their reserves.

My thinking with the original plan was that there would be two benefits of having a club with a lot of Arsenal reserves in it. The first is that people who support Arsenal but who don’t live in the right part of the country to get to Arsenal games might also support whichever team worked with Arsenal, and so the crowds would go up.  The second was based on the premise that the players needed more games.

Now this second point has been knocked on the head by a statement Mr Wenger made a while back in which he said that that the younger players did not need more games – in fact they needed fewer games and more careful training.

Since he’s the boss and the expert, I bow to that, and have been quiet on the idea for quite a while.   Although I’d still love to see Arsenal reserves playing for a Conference or League Two side so I could nip along and watch them sometimes.

The 1930s version of this approach – the nursery clubs as they were called – was popular but floundered in the end over the issue of the FA Cup.  At first there were no regulations to stop nursery sides playing in the FA cup with the players from their parent team.  But then when one of the nursery clubs was drawn in the cup against its parent side howls of protest arose, and the regulations were tightened.  The nursery concept died within a few years.

Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, has taken the old idea and added bits and removed bits.  He wanted to create an extra league between the Conference and League Two which would include some Premier League clubs’ reserve teams.  The reason he wanted it was to give English players a chance to play more games instead of sitting in the reserves and not playing.

So he has a different vision from Mr Wenger who thinks players develop better without extra games.

Anyway, the lower league clubs were against the plan, and I was expected to hear by now that they had formally rejected it.  Maybe the chairman had a little too much port last night and the discussions became a bit rowdy.

So we are back to the loan system, with players going out to clubs that the parent club trusts to do the right thing.  Arsenal seem to have a close link with Lorient in France.  I imagine other PL clubs also have links.

But there has been an alternative plan knocking around – one in which a there could be some sort of special trophy which has a group stage as well as a final knock out stage (like the Champs League) and into which not only could League One and Two teams enter, but also the reserve teams from the Premier League clubs.

That is interesting because already we have the junior version of the Champions League, and before that the Next Gen series.  A domestic version could be interesting.  And certainly if Arsenal Juniors were playing Northampton Town, or some other team local to me, I’d go along as long as it didn’t clash with an Arsenal first team match.

But all this talk of the junior teams raises the issue of what actually happened to Arsenal’s second and third string this last season

Arsenal under 21s came 14th out of 22 in the Barclay’s Premier Reserve League, while the under 18s came 9th out of 11 in the Premier Academy League.

My thinking is that what happened in this final season under Liam Brady is that Arsenal removed some of the most promising players and accelerated their development by having them play fewer games and putting them in to train with the first team.   But that’s just my reading of the situation. If you know what happened – or indeed have an insight into how things will be played next season, let me know.

The Arsenal web site doesn’t list the number of appearances that players made in the junior leagues so it is hard to tell if my supposition is right.  But I do know the under 21 league in which Arsenal played last season allowed the teams to play 3 over age players – and again I wonder if Arsenal ignored this rule, and played the games in order to give players experience rather than going out to win the league.

Again certainly in the youth cup, like the Uefa competition we were playing quite a different line up than we played in the under 21 league.

Given that it looks like the old Untold plan and the reworking of it by the FA is not going to happen it would be good to know exactly how Arsenal is using the under 21 and under 18 leagues in the coming year.

I never mind being told I’ve got it all wrong if it helps us find out what’s really going on.


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10 Replies to “What has happened to Arsenal’s under 21s and under 18s?”

  1. Have been wondering about the youngsters a bit myself…seems like a bit of a dip has occurred. Not sure what has happened, but these things can be cyclical. I know critics who say the youth thing went downhill through neglect, but have not seen any evidence of this, and Brady has bought in some good players over the years. Have also heard we very nearly lost tier one academy status, which if true, is worrying. Think there are a few changes afoot behind the scenes, and looks like Jonker and the coaches he has bought over may be part of these changes. I wish him well, as Liam Brady said, he has a very important job on his hands.

  2. The kids HAVE to be technically sound before they get into the big matches. Since o train under 7s, the management is toying with the idea of putting them in a league, which me and another coach is resisting. So the practice will be on Saturday and match on Sunday. So where is the time to develop the technical side. All the will be doing is planning for the game. I am with AW on this. Get the boys using both their feet and make them technically sound. Rest will fall in place. Once they lose their learning yrs, that’s it!

  3. The dip has occurred because the likes of chelsea and man City have stepped up there focus on getting the best and because of regional rules, arsenal have list out. There is no real change we are still competing, we have made 3 semi finals this season at youth level, but in the league have chosen development of younger players over glory, I see nothing wrong with that.
    As for the youth champions league line up, of course it will be different to under 21 league as the youth champions league is under 19. We have u18 and u21 leagues, plus the 3 cups u21 league cup, youth champions league and fa youth cup. The three cups all have different age qualification and are also different to the leagues.

    This season we will have a good u18 team our u21s will be playing in the b league after getting relegated.

  4. gouresh–stick to your guns. U7s need lots of 2v1, 3v1 and 3v2 gridwork (incl.some 2 touch work). An end of session ‘game’ could be a three-a-side or four-a-side on an eighth sized pitch with no goalie and a cone to hit instead. But also- basic skills such as body control, running with a ball, wall passes, dribbling skills etc are vital at all ages. The occasional friendly 5-aside should do no harm but a league is a slippery slope to the mess that has gone before. Resist it if you can. Keep up the good work.

  5. I wonder what the cost would be to make an arrangement where the young boys are schooled together and live in dormitories so as to be able to play football together everyday?

  6. Arsene is dead right; younger players do not need league competition to improve, it can be, and often is, counter productive.

    A league table, at whatever age group is totally insignificant, the important stat is how many players does the development programme produce for the first team, or to sell on.

    Player development is about the individual’s progress within a team structure, for example you can have an outstanding prospect within a team which is bottom of the league.

    It appears that Liam Brady is past his sell by date, and the club have decided to re-structure the youth policy. As always, they have done this in a most diplomatic way, which will achieve the objectives without apparently causing massive upsets.

    Watch this space.

  7. Agreed Bob Mac. Brady will be kept on in a deserved role as a club ambassador.
    Think there may be a few things happening behind the scenes without causing massive upsets, perhaps the possible new fitness guru is but one of them. Ivan is a very smart and diplomatic guy and if there needs to be any transition anywhere in the club,he will do it with the minimum fuss….which is a good manner to have with a club of such a great tradition.
    As you say, watch this space

  8. Thanks everyone for your input. I’d go along with the general consensus – a transition period has been happening, and we’ll see the development next season.

  9. I am with most of the posts here. I dont give a shit how much titles our juniors have won. All the competitions, should only be looked at as a developmental thing and a thing for experience. We cannot term our youth system as a failure, there are many academy graduates playing for different clubs in the premier league and other leagues. And our youth policy is a success isnt it. Ramsey, Wilshere, Gibbs, Szczesny, Ox, Gnabry, Jenko, Theo …..Not a failure by any measure.

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