As Frank Lampard and his young blood continue to take English football by surprise, the levels of importance of the academy and players coming out of it has become more important than ever. With world class players costing as high as nine digit figures these days, the production line from academies have a bare minimum expectation of producing players who can at least play the role of squad players in the first team. If an academy meets this expectation, a team will have more funds available for the main players.
Chelsea’s youth policy has finally reaped rewards as players like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus Cheek, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson Odoi and Reece James have all made a lasting impression on the first team. Whether their rise to the first team is due to their transfer ban remains a question but there are no doubts that they have maximised the most from their ban. Frank Lampard has got the West Londoners play some eye catching, attacking football with the aforementioned youngsters at the heart of the first team.
On the other side of the city, Chelsea’s hated rivals Arsenal are producing an enormous amount of attack minded youth players in both quality and quantity. Arsenal, historically, have had a fair degree of success with youth but the upcoming generation of players look like the real deal. Apart from their obvious talent, one more thing that catches our attention is the polished technical ability of these young guns. Their combination play and pass and move football firmly falls in line with what Arsene Wenger wanted to implement.
As mentioned earlier, the technical ability, the comfort in playing combination pass and move football is what sets Arsenal youth from other English youth. Players like Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi, who have left Arsenal to play for West Ham and Everton respectively, are a testament to this unique feature of players coming out of Hale End (As Arsenal’s academy is referred to as). Other youngsters who left Arsenal for greener pastures in recent years like Donyell Malen, Serge Gnabry and Ismael Bennacer are famed for their immaculate technique.
This article explores Arsenal’s upcoming youth revolution, coming at a time when the Gunners are lost in between being a top club and mediocrity.
Starting with Reiss Nelson, Nelson had a fairly good loan spell at Hoffenheim under the tutelage of Julian Nagelsmann last year. He started brightly winning Bundesliga rookie of the month for October 18. He ended the season scoring 7 goals in 29 appearances for the German club. Before leaving Arsenal on loan, Reiss Nelson previously won the Premier League 2 Player of the Year as Arsenal emerged winners of the Premier League 2, a competition for youth. Nelson’s quick feet, electric pace, eye for goal and smart decision making make him a player to look for in the future.
Emile Smith Rowe followed Nelson to Germany, although six months late. Despite struggling with injuries in RB Leipzig, Emile Smith Rowe gained valuable experience under Ralf Rangnick. Emile Smith Rowe caught everyone’s attention with this fine performances for the under 23 and under 18 teams in 2017-18. He received his first team call up for the preseason tour of Singapore in July 2018. Smith Rowe could not have had a better introduction to the first team as he scored a wonderful solo goal against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. He became the first player born after 2000 to score for the Gunners following his goal in a Europa League game against Qarabag. Emile Smith Rowe is a very dynamic attacker comfortable both as a wide player or an attacking midfielder. His eye for goal, vision and his sharp turns are some of his strengths. He is a direct runner with the ball with an eye for spectacular goals. He is somewhat similar to Kevin de Bruyne in his game style with Smith Rowe even describing De Bruyne as his idol.
Joe Willock is a box to box midfielder who loves to drive forward effortlessly with the ball. He has established himself in the first team squad and made his presence felt in games. He scored thrice last season and has already scored 4 this season for the senior squad despite playing from midfield. His intensity, energy, drive, off the ball movement and workrate are top notch for a youngster of his age. Coupled with his attacking instincts, Arsenal have got a gem in their hands around whom they can build their midfield in the future.
Bukayo Saka is a speedy winger who impressed for the under 23s despite being 18 at the time. After Lacazette’s injury in September, Saka seized his chances putting up consistent performances for the senior team. He even managed to grab an assist against Manchester United in a game that ended in a 1-1 draw. His ability to take on forwards both using his speed and his technical ability makes him a delight to watch. As of now he is more of a natural winger who likes to beat the fullback and cross the ball into the box. His movement and presence between the lines and the ability to ward off pressure in between the lines make him a tricky player to deal with.
Eddie Nketiah announced himself to the Arsenal faithful with a double in a League Cup fixture against Norwich. His goals helped Arsenal come back from one nil down to record a 2-1 win. Eddie Nketiah is a proper center forward with excellent movement both with and without the ball. His talent to create space and shots for himself are signs of a world class player. He has improved his physical strength too. He is spending the current season at Leeds United where he has scored 5 goals in 12 appearances for the senior team. In Eddie Nketiah, Arsenal have a player capable of replacing Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in the future.
Tyreece John Jules and Folarin Balogun, until now, have shown a great deal of promise in front of the goal with their hunger for scoring goals. Zach Medley is considered by many to be the best defensive prospect to come out of the academy since a certain Tony Adams, a club legend who captained the club to three league titles and is fondly called Mr Arsenal. Robbie Burton is the current captain of the under 23s despite being 20 years of age. Among other players Arthur Okonkwo, Trae Coyle, Ben Sheaf, Jordi Osei Tutu, Ben Cottrell, Sam Greenwood, Joel Lopez, Miguel Azeez are some of the many players who have showcased enough of their talents.
The appointment of Freddie Ljungberg albeit as a temporary interim head coach could not have happened at a better time considering the wonderful rapturous relationship all these youngsters have with Ljungberg, a bond built during his time with the youth teams.
All these players, along with recent acquisitions like Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba, makes Arsenal a team to look out for in the future.
How Arsenal are going to manage all these talents and bring the best out of them remains a valid question considering the quality of the players. A few players like Charlie Gilmour, Krystian Bielik and Xavier Amaechi have already been sacrificed solely because of intense competition. But one thing is for sure, Arsenal’s youth revolution is set to take the world by storm in the upcoming years.