Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm Part 2
By Jonny Neale
Over the coming weeks I plan to focus on a few specific, lesser known, young players in detail. However, to kick things off, I’d like to offer an overview of what we presently have at our disposal, as a club. This is not intended to be exhaustive but I hope you’ll find that it paints a rather exciting and healthy picture.
At present, if The Arsenal went for a 5 man midfield, one potential current first team would be –
GK Manuel Almunia
RB Bacary Sagna
CB Kolo Touré
CB William Gallas
LB Gaël Clichy
MF Cesc Fàbregas
MF Alexandre Song
MF Andrei Arshavin
MF Samir Nasri
MF Theo Walcott
FW Robin van Persie
I think most fans would agree that, when fully fit, and with the extra training & playing time they will have under their belt come the start of next season, this is a unit comfortably capable of challenging any team. Some might argue that we should play as a 4-4-2. Personally, I’d be happy to see Arshavin/Nasri dropping into the Bergkamp position but, assuming Adebayor stays, you could argue quite validly, for dropping Nasri and bringing in Ade or Bendtner for a more traditional 4-4-2.
As if to further cloud things, it has been suggested that Wenger plans to move Theo to centre forward!
In attack, we are anything but short of options. The greatest wealth of the club is an outrageous collection of midfielders. Especially when you think of the myriad combinations from the club as a whole. It is not difficult to imagine JET, Wilshere, Coquelin, Merida, Ramsey, Randall, Frimpong and Lansbury pushing for first team midfield berths in the near future. Let’s be prudent and assume only half of those stay that’s 4 players competing against a further 11 (at present) Fabregas, Song, Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott, Eboue, Diaby, Rosický, Vela, Ramsey and Denílson! Crazy stuff.
WARMING THE BENCH
Under new rules, brought in last year, clubs are now allowed 7 players on the bench at any given time. To give an indication of our depth, I have listed twice that number as potential bench warmers for next season.
The area where I think most would agree we have looked light, is central defence. Personally, I hope Silvestre will be offloaded in the summer – written off as a gamble which didn’t work. Inevitably, one wonders if Senderos will be recalled to bolster the squad (in addition to a new signing) – he has had a bit of frustrating season with AC Milan. Struggling with injuries, he only managed 12 starts and 19 appearances. The Fleet Street Mongrels have him rumoured as moving to Aston Villa as a replacement for the retired Laursen.
The argument for a combative midfielder should not be overlooked, but it is certainly worth noting Song’s vast improvement and his ability to cover central defence. His improvement partly coincided with our stingy defence in the 2nd half of the season. It would be foolish to think he will not be even better and more consistent throughout next season. It is also enticing to notice Coquelin’s continued improvement, perhaps he is one for the season after but he is more than worthy of a mention as a future understudy.
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GK Łukasz Fabiański
LB Kieran Gibbs
CB Mikaël Silvestre
CB Johan Djourou
MF/RB Emmanuel Eboué
MF Abou Diaby
MF Tomáš Rosický
MF Carlos Vela
MF Aaron Ramsey
MF Jack Wilshere
FW Nicklas Bendtner
FW Emmanuel Adebayor
Given that Arsene might make a few signings this summer it becomes clear, from looking at the potential bench, which holds twice as many players as can be selected, just how difficult the task of selecting his starting 11 + 7 subs is going to be.
…and so to the reserves. Clearly, unless there are sales of some of the players above, many of the current reserves will have to go on loan ad gain some valuable experience.
(N.B. Many players from the youth team are listed here as they have also played for the reserves this season).
GK Wojciech Szczęsny
GK Vito Mannone
GK James Shea
DF Craig Eastmond
DF Kyle Bartley
DF Paul Rodgers
DF Luke Ayling
DF Anton Blackwood
DF Thomas Cruise
DF Abu Agogo
MF Sanchez Watt
MF Mark Randall
MF Amaury Bischoff (N.B. out of contract at the end of this season)
MF Jay Emmanuel-Thomas
MF Fran Mérida
MF James Dunne
MF Conor Henderson
MF Sanchez Watt
MF Emmanuel Frimpong
MF Jonas Rasmussen
MF Oğuzhan Özyakup
MF Francis Coquelin
FW Rhys Murphy
FW Gilles Sunu
Then there is the tiny matter of The Arsenal’s existing loanees!! It looks as though the sale of some of the names below has already started – and I expect there will be quite a few more. I regularly find myself wondering at the immense difficulty of such choices.
Jay Simpson: WBA
Håvard Nordtveit: Tromso
Gavin Hoyte: Watford
Rui Fonte: Crystal Palace (N.B. – Latest news is that senor Fonte has been returned to parent club Sporting Lisbon after Arsenal decided against taking up a £1.7 million option to extend his contract)
Henri Lansbury, Scunthorpe Utd (N.B. – Has now returned to the Arsenal Youth fold)
Paul Rodgers: Northampton Town
Rene Steer: Gillingham
Armand Traore: Portsmouth
Nacer Bararazite: Derby County
James Dunne: Nottingham Forest
Kerrea Gilbert: Leicester
Abu Ogogo: Barnet
Philippe Senderos: AC Milan
Pedro Botelho: UD Salamanca (N.B. Rumours are Botelho is to be either sold to Xerez C.D. in Spain or on to another loan spell at Osasuna. Whilst I’d be very sad to see this adroit wing-back leave, I understand he has had several disciplinary issues and we know Wenger’s stance on this is pretty tough)
Vincent van den Berg: FC Zwolle
The clear belief (of Wenger and his staff) is that residing within this global collection of youngsters, lies the core of an Arsenal squad which will eventually be capable of taking on the world and it’s dog.
There is no point listing ALL the kids who are coming through the youth set-up. The fact that many of the youngsters named above, under the reserves, are in truth youth team players is indicative of their startling progress.
The fact that the youth team, deprived by the reserves of many of their best players for large parts of the season, have been simply devastating is perhaps even more remarkable. The kids rolled home at the top of the league by a whopping 25 points and scored 70 goals in the process (the middle column, below, shows the embarrassing goal difference!).
1 Arsenal 28 40 70
2 Norwich 28 4 45
3 Ipswich 28 2 44
4 Crystal Palace 28 4 40
5 West Ham 28 13 38
6 Southampton 28 -7 38
7 Portsmouth 28 -4 35
8 Chelsea 28 -8 34
9 Fulham 28 -1 33
10 Charlton 28 -33 22
Tony has already written of the dismal attempts by Chelsea to emulate Arsenal’s youth set-up. As a neat illustration of this, I love that they finished with less than half of our points tally! Oh, and to further rub salt – both their under 15s team and under 16s teams lost to ours earlier this week!
Here are Wenger’s thoughts on some of the more famous rising stars –
One final word, The Observer had some interesting articles recently about plans to significantly cut future squad sizes.
It will be interesting to see what is decided but, overall, I would say this is a good thing for football – it should stop clubs like Chelsea from buying players like Wright-Philips simply to prevent other teams from purchasing him. Additionally it might create a marginally more even distribution of talent.
It’s most direct result would be that Arsene will have to put more players out on loan and become even more prudent in deciding whom to keep. As horrible as those decisions must be, I take some comfort from Wenger’s canny introduction of ‘sell-on fees’. The insertion of this clever little contractual clause has already netted the club at least £17 Million (through the sale of Pennant, Bentley and Diarra). We can argue over whether Diarra should have been allowed to go but, having made the decision, it still ranks as a remarkable piece of business – netting something in the order of £10Million profit in less than a year.
Should squad sizes be reduced the ‘sell-on fee’ is undoubtedly a tool Wenger will continue to take full advantage of. As the club offloads some potential future stars (those who are already under professional contracts) it makes sense to sell them at a slightly reduced asking price if, as a result, you can lock down a 25-40% sell on fee.
I tells ya, other clubs WISH they were run this well!
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