When it comes to the playing staff, signings are a great way to improve the squad, both in terms of quality and depth, and indeed, are becoming the most common way. However, onlookers, especially fans of a club tend to derive great joy when a product of the club’s academy makes it through to the first team, and gains importance in it. With this in mind, we will look at some of the best youth academies across the world of football.
We carry on the series by taking a look at some products of The Arsenal.
Arsenal FC is one of the biggest and most historic clubs in England. After a golden period in the ‘30s the club went through a barren patch until winning the double in 1970/71 with likes of Mclintock, Rice, George and Graham. Although the club only won an FA cup after that the academy did produce two club legends in David O’Leary and the mercurial Liam Brady. The club then failed to win a league until 1988 with Michael Thomas famously clinching the title against Liverpool. As the ‘90s began Arsenal started to become a big player in England with its academy producing the likes of Adams, Merson, Parlour, Keown, Thomas and Rocastle. Since Arsene Wenger’s arrival Arsenal have gone on to win trophies and put an emphasis on bringing on young players.
10 BEST PRODUCTS
Note that these are players who have played professional football in and after 2000.
CESC FABREGAS // SENIOR DEBUT: 2003
Snatched from Barcelona at the age 16, he went on to make his debut against Rotherham to become Arsenal’s youngest ever first team player at the time. He did not play much of a part in Arsenal’s unbeaten season only making his break into the first team the following year following injuries to Viera and Edu. Even at such a young age Fabregas was blessed with tremendous technical skills and after the Invincibles era carried Arsenal many times. He was made Arsenal’s captain following William Gallas’ departure in 2008 and was a talisman during a major rebuilding period at Arsenal. Fabregas was key to Arsenal but also Spain and was a part of the infamous golden era which won two European championships and a World Cup. After struggling with injuries Fabregas switched to Barcelona, where although he won trophies never rediscovered the form he had at Arsenal and subsequently returned to England albeit to play for Chelsea in 2014.
JACK WILSHERE // SENIOR DEBUT: 2008
Having been at Arsenal since the age of nine, Wilshere made his first start for Arsenal at the age of 16. After a loan spell with Bolton in 2010 Wilshere broke into the first team and was an instant hit. Arguably one of the best English prospects in recent memory ,Wilshere has been regarded by the Barcelona legend, Xavi as being very talented, so much so that “he does not seem English”. Wilshere’s ability to pass and play around the box has seen him become integral to the Arsenal team but also placed him in the England squad. If Wilshere can stay fit he is almost certain to be a future Arsenal captain and a mainstay in the England team, but that is a very big if.
ASHLEY COLE // SENIOR DEBUT: 1999
Maligned and often forgotten by Arsenal fans, Ashley Cole is arguably the best product to come from Arsenal’s academy. Originally a striker, Cole was honed to play as left back and it is this position INto which he broke into Arsenal’s first team at the turn of the millennium. He had the ability to go forward to both defend and attack, a rare commodity nowadays. A part of the ‘Invincibles’, Cole formed one of the best left sides of football with Henry and Pires. Internationally Cole would go onto gain a hundred caps for England and is arguably England’s best ever left back. Cole, however moved to Chelsea, became the best left back in the world and won multiple FA Cups, League title and a Champions League- a move that Arsenal fans still question.
HECTOR BELLERIN // SENIOR DEBUT: 2014
Brought in from Barcelona at the age of 16 as a winger, Bellerin has established himself as the starting right back for Arsenal. Having been on loan at Watford for 2013/14 season Bellerin returned to the U21 squad for the beginning of the 2014/15 season. With an injury to Debuchy, however Bellerin was placed into the first team and has not looked back. Although his debut against Borussia Dortmund was not the best, Bellerin has made vast improvement to become one of the most improved and possibly one of the best right backs in the league.
FRANCIS COQUELIN // SENIOR DEBUT: 2009
Out of the players on this list, Francis Coquelin’s career is completely different. Having been at Arsenal since he was 17, Coquelin has spent loan spells at Freiburg, Lorient and recently Charlton. Coquelin was called back from Charlton, however due to injuries within the squad. He has since provided a toughness and defensive presence in the Arsenal squad. He is now, arguably one of Arsenal’s most important players and is probably one of the first names on the team sheet.
WOJCIECH SCZCESNY // SENIOR DEBUT: 2009
The tall Pole has had a slightly strange Arsenal career thus far. Having been made Arsenal’s first team goalie as of 2009/10 season, Szczesny’s career has regressed. In his initial year Szczesny was a promising young shot stopper and naturally progressed to be Poland’s first choice keeper. Aside from a calamitous incident in the 2011 League Cup final, he progressed and notably won golden gloves in the 2013/14 season. Last season, however saw Szczesny take a step back in his development with a series of poor performances. He is currently on loan at Roma and playing for a side contending to win the Serie A title.
KIERAN GIBBS // SENIOR DEBUT: 2007
An English player that seems to go under the radar, Kieran Gibbs has come a long way. At the beginning of his career Gibbs faced some tough games especially against Man United in the Champions League. Following the departure of Gael Clichy, Gibbs became the starting left back for the 2011/12 season. Although Gibbs has the tools to be Arsenal’s permanent left back, injuries and Monreal’s resurgence in form has seen him become the forgotten man at Arsenal. He still, however has the potential and years ahead of him to regain his spot.
BENIK AFOBE // SENIOR DEBUT: 2011
Afobe progressed through the ranks at Arsenal but never really broke into the first team. Having spent many years on loan Afobe was sold last January to Wolves. Since joining Wolves, Afobe has gone on to score 32 goals for MK Dons and Wolves last year. This year he has already scored six goals in 12 games. Before Walcott’s rising performances, it can be argued that Arsenal had sold a striker whom they desperately needed. Such has been Afobe’s form that a big move to the Premier League could not be far away.
JERMAINE PENNANT // SENIOR DEBUT: 1999
Joining from Notts County for a fee of two million, Jermaine Pennant showed promise at first. Although he spent loan seasons away he was a part of the famous ‘Invincibles’ while also playing against Arsenal for Leeds. He notably scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Southampton, which turned out to be his only goals for Arsenal. After many loan spells away from the club Pennant joined Birmingham. Pennant then moved to Liverpool and began to fulfil his potential while winning a Champions League medal and scoring a wonder goal against Chelsea at Anfield.
SEBASTIAN LARSSON // SENIOR DEBUT: 2004
Discovered in his native Sweden while playing for his hometown team Eskilstuna in 2001, Larsson was quickly brought over to the Arsenal reserves. After initial years in the reserves, Larsson made his debut for Arsenal against Manchester City, coming on as a left back. Larsson, however carved a role for himself as a smart midfielder who excels at dead ball situations. After a loan spell a Birmingham, Larsson made the move permanent a year later. He became a stand out performer for Birmingham and ironically was a part of the team that beat Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final. With Birmingham’s relegation from the premiership, he joined Sunderland and once again became one of the league’s best from free kicks.
After a slightly barren period, Arsenal’s academy has seen a concerted effort to produce talent. Arsene Wenger has made an effort to restructure Arsenal’s youth academy and we are starting to see some young talented players coming through. Notable talents coming through are Dan Crowley and Chuba Akpom (whom there scouting reports on). Crowley has recently been compared to jack Wilshere- he is small technical and can play wide or through the middle. Akpom is obviously a different type of player, he has the size and build to be a good striker. Moreover, he has good pace and seems adept at moving off the ball. Such is Akpom’s potential that some questioned why he had been sent out on loan, especially in light of Arsenal’s striker problems. However, there has been a new arrival into the youth set up- Jeff Raine Adelaide. A tall and technical player, the Frenchman earned rave reviews during Arsenal’s Emirate cup tournament and is regarded as being “something special” by Wenger.
Another player who is thought of very highly is Gedion Zelalem. Discovered playing in America, he was very impressive during Arsenal’s 2013 preseason tour of Asia. An incredibly clever passer of the ball, he can thread the ball through the eye of a needle and is impressing with his performances for his current loan club Rangers.
Other youngsters include Alex Iwobi, Kaylen Hinds, Chris Wilock and Stephy Mavididi , the later who has scored five goals in five games for the U21 side. Iwobi has been impressive this year and has been used as a part of the first team. Central midfielders Ben Sheaf and Krsytina Bielik have also been impressive and played in an U21 team that sits third and a UEFA Youth League team that is unbeaten so far.
Written by Bill McLoughlin
[contentcards url=”http://outsideoftheboot.com/category/series/the-academy-series/” target=”_blank”]
Bill is a recent graduate of the University of Portsmouth and seeks to get into the sports journalism industry. Being an Arsenal fan there is plenty of material to write about, unfortunately. He loves to talk about football and is currently writing for ‘Outside of the Boot’ , ‘The Footy Site’ and ‘The Boot Room’.
Latest posts by Bill McLoughlin (see all)