What’s happened this year to our junior teams?

What’s happened this year to our junior teams?

Part 2 – U18 team

By Andrew Crawshaw

In Part 1 I looked at the fortunes of our U21 team, (What has happened this year to our Junior Teams?) in this part I will first try and place the U18 setup into the context of the Youth Academy and secondly take a closer look at how their season has progressed so far.

The Arsenal Hale End Academy is separate to the senior Colney Training facility and is home to children and youths from the age of 8 to 18.  The format of the training sessions depends on the age of the participents, with the youngest in much smaller groups and concentrating on basic skills.  As they get older the drills increase in complexity with the aim of producing smart players rather than necessarily the biggest/strongest.

The whole purpose of the Hale End Academy is to act as a feeder for the club first teams, both Men’s and Ladies’.  The Academy works with youngsters from age 8 to 18 so the U18s are the pinnacle of this development level.  We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Jack Wilshere was there from Age 8 as was Leah Williamson who has just signed for the Ladies team and who I saw score a very good goal against Millwall on Sunday (her first since signing).

It is the stated aim of the club to find and nurture sufficient junior players to satisfy the bulk of the requirements of the first team, leaving transfer funds as far as possible to purchase the special players already at (or emerging as) World Class.

The Academy have their own staff Frans de Kat is the U18 head coach assisted by Kwame Ampadu, Jan van Loon is in charge of the U16s, Luke Hobbs the U14s, Ryan Garry the U13s and Steve Leonard the U12s.  Andries Jonker is the Academy Manager having been appointed last year.

The U18s play in the Barclays U18 Premier League South Group and are currently in 11th place.  The table was published before the latest game against Tottenham which we lost four one  The full table is :-

1 Chelsea U18 21 14 3 4 67 34 33 45
2 Aston Villa U18 20 10 5 5 44 44 0 35
3 Spurs U18 19 9 5 5 42 35 7 32
4 West Brom U18 21 9 4 8 35 39 -4 31
5 Reading U18 20 9 3 8 37 33 4 30
6 Leicester U18 19 9 2 8 30 21 9 29
7 West Ham U18 21 8 5 8 41 35 6 29
8 Brighton U18 20 8 3 9 36 35 1 27
9 Fulham U18 22 8 3 11 34 45 -11 27
10 Southampton U18 22 6 5 11 28 34 -6 23
11 Arsenal U18 19 5 5 9 26 32 -6 20
12 Norwich U18 20 4 3 13 16 49 -33 15


TheU18 League games are played behind closed doors at London Colney, so I have no first hand experience of them.  Brief highlights of the games are posted on the arsenal.com website, Under-18s v West Brom (a) .  I have, however seen the home games in the FA Youth Cup which have been played at Borehamwood with the last game at Barnet.  The U18 squad also formed the basis of the U19 Champions League Squad which again I saw the home games.

In many ways the U18 squad is an in-between group of players as it comprises a mix of three separate components.

  • Older schoolboys who are at a higher standard than normal for U16 competition,
  • First and second year scholars at the Academy (16 and 17 year olds) and
  • The younger group of younger professionals (those 17 and older who have signed professional contacts at the club).

One thing they all share is the desire to progress to the U21 level and first team football as quickly as possible.

A scary statistic I saw today is that only 2% of players in the game at U16 level are still involved at U21 level.  That applies across the board for all clubs and we would expect those at Arsenal to have a far greater success rate than that, which is indeed the case, although that subsequent success is not necessarily with Arsenal.

Indeed it is interesting to note that Brooklyn Beckham has failed to progress at Arsenal from the Schoolboy level to the Academy students so having a famous footballing father is no guarantee of progress.

In terms of the league position one glance at the above table tells the story.  We are next to bottom and have now lost half of all games played.  This is clearly not acceptable for the club and points to either this being a poor group of players or the coaching etc not being up to scratch.  Either way I fully expect Mr Jonker to be reviewing the situation before next year – expect to see some new arrivals being brought in from other clubs during summer.

The main problems I have noticed this year have been in defence, too often we have been caught out by the kind of through ball that Crewe used for their first goal Youth Cup v Crewe (h).  This has been exacerbated by the absence of a true defending midfielder (maybe the position is not ‘sexy’ enough to appeal to young players).  In the cup games Zelalem has been utilised in this role more often than not and it is fair to say that he isn’t naturally suited to it.  The fullbacks from the start of the year have both made big strides and have progressed to the U21s.

One potential issue with young players arises when they are asked to play at a different level to which they are training (particularly when more senior players are asked to drop back a level).  It must be very difficult to be with one group of players all week and then be asked to turn out and play with  team-mates who you thought you had left behind.  This is a task that not all have seemed to manage successfully.

Indeed this transitional stage of development is probably one of the most difficult for young men to achieve successfully.  I don’t envy Frans De Kat, their Coach, the task of coping with all of the hormones and potential distractions that the lads face.

In conclusion, a season that cannot yet be regarded as a success.  A good run in the U19 Champions League, a disappointing exit from the FA Youth Cup against a team from a much lower league and poor results in the League meaning that we are in a real battle to avoid coming bottom.

There have been some highlights, the continued emergence of Dan Crowley as a real talent, a number of players achieving the goal of early transition to the U21s.

One final thought, out of the 30 players shown on the .com as first team, twelve have spent time in the Arsenal Academy.  Probably more than many would have thought.

  • Goalkeepers – Wojciech Szczesny
  • Defenders – Kieran Gibbs, Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden
  • Midfield – Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Gedion Zelalem
  • Attack – Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom


The books

13 Replies to “What’s happened this year to our junior teams?”

  1. Thanks Andrew.
    From my own experience sometimes the teams that don’t do well at all bring forth the best talents. I think it has something to do with building character and never giving up. That is for those who have the character and don’t give up.

  2. This has been exacerbated by the absence of a true defending midfielder (maybe the position is not ‘sexy’ enough to appeal to young players)

    More likely that Wenger doesn’t want one in his vision of how we are to play. Often it is reported that he likes the players at all levels to use the same system so that they are not out of place if they get moved into another squad . We have not had a real defensive midfielder since Gilberto and even he was more of a deep lying playmaker . To many supporters this is the glaring gap that has haunted the club for many years and despite Flamini’s bluster and Coquelin’s enthusiasm , is still not filled now. The comparison to Kondogbia’s display last night is manifold.

  3. Looks like Arsenal will be buying more players than usual in the next times if the follow on players are not up to scratch, both to refill the academy and for the 1st team.

    Still i cant help feeling that Arsenal are just before a massive change. We’re tread-milling at the moment and it’s time to start moving again.

    Our players need to now take another step up in team spirit and work, and let it show on the field and off. This is the next stage of being a team, a TEAM. We show it when pushed, but it needs to become a natural state of Arsenal.

  4. The point that is always lost in analyzing the youth teams is that the league position of these teams and their performance in the FA Youth Cup, etc really doesn’t matter at all. Especially given that Arsenal youth teams tend to feature a lot of players that are younger than the age group and likely a bit behind the others in their physical development. As you say, 98% of the players in these teams will disappear. The point is to be forward looking and maximize the development of the 2%. Zelalem, for example, might struggle physically in central midfield now, but in 3 years he will have caught up and will be better for the experience he is getting now. Meanwhile, the more physical players he is facing now will have fallen by the wayside as they lose that advantage and their technical abilities are found out. I could care less if Arsenal finish in the bottom half of the U18 league every year, if they are able to find one player per year with the quality to make it in the first team they will be doing well. This focus on immediate results and physicality is one of the reasons that players developed through the English system are generally just not up to it.

  5. To develop young talents it is very important not to make them go and compete and to put pressure on them to win trophies in the youths categories competitions. Because what’s immportant in the end to develop two or three senior players or to win some u18 or u19 championship? In my opinion it’s more important do educate the players to prepare them for senior teams end win the championships that maters.

  6. @Groves

    I agree. The goal of the youth set up is not to win per se but to develop the skills and attitude of a winner.

  7. 20 year old Jon Toral on loan at Brentford scored a fine hattrick last night, and looks like a cracking player

  8. Ramsey Walcott and the Ox have been as near the Academy as I have.Stop trying to big up Arsenals pathetic youth development neglected for years by Wenger and co.Arsenal paid 15 mill for the Ox and he went straight into the first team squad.Same as Ramsey.And Walcott .Still you won’t correct this propaganda and you won’t publish this comment .

  9. ljb,
    as I have pointed out with facts your assessment on Özil was crap.
    But I still allowed this comment. Nice of me isn’t it?

    Anyway I don’t disagree with your points. Apart from the fact that you say that Wenger neglected the youth development for years.

    And that is said about a manager that has been castigated by people like you for sticking to his “project youth”??? You say he wasted money on Özil (the popular media propaganda that you obviously believe in) but Özil was the first time in more than 10 years (since building the Emirates) that we bought a top class player. All the years in between people like you will have been crying out loud to buy such players and to stop that project youth nonsense.

    The bottom line reading your comments is: Wenger can do no good. Never.

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