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February 2021

Top of the league and bottom of the league. Is Arsenal’s youth system working properly?


The Arsenal Youth System – Part 1 Introduction

by Andrew Crawshaw

As you may know I get to see as many of the Youth games as possible.  Our U18 team play the vast majority of their home games at the Colney training ground but these are effectively behind closed doors. We have an U19 team who play in the Champions League and their home games are at Borehamwood, U18 FA Cup games are usually at Borehamwood (or the Emirates in the latter stages) and the PL2 team (now U23 but formerly U21) also play home games at Borehamwood with a requirement to have a minimum of 3 games at the Emirates.  So over the course of a season I manage quite a few games.

So far this season our junior teams are having mixed fortunes – at least the U18s and U23s are.  The former are unbeaten and top their league, the latter have lost all three games and are bottom.  This raises the question is the Youth System a success?

In order to look at this question, which is actually not simple to answer I think it may be helpful to split our Youth system into three phases.

1 – Initial development

The Club start the formal development of players at our Hale End Academy.  The youngest age group is 8/9, and this year’s intake were introduced to the crowd at a first team home game towards the end of last season.  The boys (and girls) stay at Hale End up to the age of 16.

2 – First and second Year Scholars

Every year a number of Scholars aged 16 are chosen to undertake a more formal mix of football and academic lessons.  This entails a move from Hale End to London Colney.  These players are offered a two year programme which, hopefully, will lead to a professional contract.  First professional contracts are generally signed once the players reach the age of 17.  This group of youngsters usually comprises a mix of players who have come through the ranks from Hale End along with other young prospects from clubs across Europe.

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The Scholars come under the care of the U18 coach Kwame Apadu and his staff.

This year we have 11 first year scholars (10 of whom have come from Hale End) and it will be worth noting how they progress over the next few years.

76 Reiss Nelson – the most promising of our U16 players from last year.  Reiss is a winger who can also play as attacking midfielder.  Reiss is an England U16 international and made the breakthrough into both our U18 and U21 squads last season.

79 Josh Benson – central midfield, impressive in the Arsenal U15s.  English, again appeared for the U18 team last season.

80 Emile Smith-Rowe – Left Winger/striker.  English U15 international.

82 Joao Virginia – goalkeeper.  Joined us from Benfica’s academy last summer and was the youngest member of Portugal’s Olympic squad this summer (although didn’t play any games).  He helped Arsenal to victory in the U17 ABN AMRO Future Cup last season making three penalty saves in the shoot-out victory against Anderlecht in the final.

Also we have…

  • Daniel Ballard – Defender
  • Dominic Thompson – Full Back
  • Jay Beckford – Winger transferred into our Hale End academy from Leyton Orient 2014
  • Joseph Olowu – Defender
  • Nathan Tormey – Winger who made his breakthrough into the U18 squad last season
  • Robbie Burton – Central Midfielder and Welsh youth international
  • Toby Omole – Centre Back/Defensive Midfielder of Nigerian Descent

3 – Young Professionals and Academy Graduates

These are the group of players age 17 plus who have signed professional contracts and will form the bulk of the U18, U19 and U23 squads as they look to force themselves into first team squads either with Arsenal or elsewhere.

Notable in this group are two players who transitioned to our first team squad last season – Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide.

Coming back to the initial question, one measure of success is how many players the system puts into our first team squad.  Currently the list of first team squad has 32 players, including those on loan.  Of these we have 10 players who have come through at least one of the three phases of our Youth System (NB: I am only counting players who signed at the age of 17 or younger) :-

  • Emiliano Martinez – GK (joined as a 17 year old in 2010),
  • Kieran Gibbs – LB (joined as a 15 year old in 2004)
  • Hector Bellerin – RB (joined as a scholar in 2011)
  • Jack Wilshere – Mid (joined the Hale End Academy aged 8)
  • Jeff Reine-Adelaide –  Mid (joined as a 17 year old in summer 2015 from Lens)
  • Francis Coquelin – Mid (joined as a 17 year old from Laval)
  • Theo Walcott – Attack – (joined as a 16 year old from Southampton)
  • Alex Iwobi – Attack (joined Hale End academy age 7)
  • Chuba Akpom – Attack (joined Hale End Academy aged 6)
  • Wojciech Szczesny – GK (joined age 16 from Legia Warsaw)

Plus one we sold – Serge Gnabry – Attack (joined as a 16 year old from VfB Stuttgart in 2011)

That’s quite a number, probably larger than many of you would think and would indicate that on one level at least the Youth System is working.

Perhaps a more pertinent question would be, is it working as well as it should do?

I’ll try to answer this in the next article.   Meanwhile we have the  The Untold Preview of the Under 18, Under 19, and Under 21 squads. in these articles…


The first ever and last pre-war Arsenal League match

2 September 1893: Woolwich Arsenal 2 Newcastle Utd 2.  This was the first ever league match of the club with the goals coming from Shaw and Elliott.  Also see this report   And the original reports in the press.

2 September 1939: Arsenal 5 Sunderland 2 (Dark 4, Drury).  This was the final match before World War II, the season then being abandoned after 3 games.  The crowd was 17,141.  A barrage balloon rose from behind the ground at the final whistle.

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11 comments to Top of the league and bottom of the league. Is Arsenal’s youth system working properly?

  • HenryB

    A very interesting and informative Post, and I will have to read it again just toilet some of the info settle into my limited cranium. 🙂

    Would Matt Macey fit into the youth team players who have made it into the first team squad?
    That would make a nice 11 man ‘team’,

  • HenryB

    Bugger auto-correct has done it again (well I don’t want appear to be a rubbish typists – which I am). 😀

    ‘toilet’ = to let.

  • HenryB

    Have the U21s squad transmogrified into the U23s?

    On the face of it the U23s are not doing too well, as you say, Andrew, but there seems to be two messages (source lost in memory) First: that it isn’t the winning that is important, but gaining experience against talents peer groups.

    And Second: Winning is an important part of the experience and finishing bottom of any League is not a good experience to become used to.

    I have a suspicion, and it is only that, which tells me that we may need to expand our scouting system to change the scope of the youngsters we recruit.

    I would be interested to learn of other opinions on the subject.

  • Gord

    Hale End is a district (some other word might be better) of London, apparently not far from Tottenham. In any event, in the NE of Greater London, not too far from what is considered the outer boundary of Greater London, but not on the edge.

    DuckDuckGo was not of much use in finding out much more. There is a Hale End Athletic Football Club, but it isn’t part of Arsenal. Google produced a map.

    The map shows a North Circular Road, which isn’t circular, in Hale End. On the north side of the road is Hale End Academy and the sports grounds (associated with Hale End Academy?) and on the south is this HEAFC. I will guess that Hale End Academy is 150m north of North Circular Road, and HEAFC is 300m south. Both are about 300m east of A112.

    99 Wadham Road, Longdon E17 4LU

    There is some kind of creek or river meandering E-W just north of Hale End Academy, that becomes discontinuous right at the border of Hale End Academy. Some development, at some time in the past, resulted in this waterway being covered over? Whatever it is, it flows into the River Lee (I can’t see a name). There appears to be a fairly large reservoir due west, and one much larger than that (William Girling) to the NNW.

    Backing out until the Thames is just starting to become visible, the distance bar is 1km wide. 10km north of Thames? In backing out, at no point did Google Maps show WHL or Wenger Stadium.

    Zooming in instead, maybe this waterway isn’t discontinuous, maybe it forms the north border of the Hale End Sportsground? The waterway disappears in the west at Chingford Hall Community Primary … (School?). A north spur from this waterway seems to have existed at one time (spur just north of HAE), but it is covered over quickly. Ahh, a lot of scrolling to the east, I see this waterway is called “The Ching”.

    Doing some aimless scrolling, I still have no idea how far away Wenger Stadium is, or in what direction. London Colney? WHL? There is a hunting lodge to the north quite a ways, which seems unusual to me.

    And so ends my self-directed tour of Hale End.

  • Gord

    An Arsenal staff member wrote up a 3 part article for TurfNet (which is about golf course management I gather). Part 1 is Wenger Stadium, part 3 is Hale End. Talks about Desso, irrigation, and so on.

    Part 2, is about the spud statium for NFL (gridiron) “football”.

  • omgarsenal

    From my limited experiences with youth teams, admittedly not of professional calibre, it seems to me that the difference in results is often attributable to:

    1)Physical and mental development between 15 and 21 years of age.

    2)Emotional maturity, with the women usually being superior in that respect.

    3)Personal motivation and adaptability, where certain kids brought up in an overly protective environment have more trouble performing to elevated expectations.

    4)The challenge of learning a system of football like Arsenal’s. Not every candidate can master the demanding one-touch, short passing game we tend to emphasize.

    5)Failure of previous coaching and training support to develop a proper professional attitude and a propensity to be flexible, adaptable and skills oriented.

    I am sure there are other issues that impact a youth player’s development and i look forward to Andrew’s next review.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Thanks for this. I have seen a few …on the surface, slightly worrying issues with the youth set up over the last two or three years, but good to read something that looks further in depth than the superficial.
    Look forward to the next instalment

  • Gord

    Hidden-London has a short story about Hale End, which mentions the Arsenal academy in passing. Has a nice picture and briefly comments on demographics.

    Now if someone could make a map with Hale End, Colney and Emirates on it. And any other important locations associated with Arsenal.

  • Gord

    A blurb about development at Hale End and at Colney. One picture, one technical drawing.

  • eGoon

    To start with I want thank you for many great articles and research, and how I have for long time seen your writing as a great ray of light where most are only seeing darkness. However, I am missing something from most places I read…

    Something got me thinking about the involvement of agents lately, and how much they are pushing the crazy transfers to go through with an increase in transfer fees, agent fees etc. For example, it’s been obvious for a few years now that Mourinho and Mino Raiola are quite good friends (Zlatan, Mkhitaryian and Pogba the latest examples, where Raiola apparently got £25-30M from transfers to ManU this summer according to some, and you can see those two getting along with transfers over the past 10 years or so).

    While we all know that many agents aren’t moral or ethical divinities, I do wonder how often they think of their clients and the clubs before they think of themselves. There are actually good examples of agents who try to help their clients (i.e. the football players) instead of putting money as number one – and even most of those agents get more money than they can spend (compared to some they definitely deserve the fees, especially when they advice the client to stay at the current club and become a better player, which not many do)

  • eGoon

    As a sidenote to my previous comment, according to a Swedish newspaper Raiola recently said that Ibrahimovic wanted to go to AC Milan this summer, but it seems like they couldn’t afford signing him, despite the “free transfer” (because “Italy can’t afford him”).

    Of course, this is 2nd or 3rd hand information, coming from a “newspaper” which very often simply translates gossip from English, Italian and Spanish sources, so please don’t take this as direct translations since it might have all been distorted quite a few times..

    (The newspaper is actually one of the oldest and one of the most popular in Sweden, but nowadays it seems like they’re trying to perfect the art of clickbaiting [with quite a bit of influence from the lower scale of UK tabloids])