First team in next 2 years? Not now
Before I get into the meat of this blog, let me first lay my cards on the table and say there will be no conclusion and I will probably sit on the fence and not give a definitive opinion either. This is not like me but I feel this subject is so emotive and whilst I have not necessarily seen it addressed in a blog, we are all skirting around the issue on twitter and in Gooner conversation. This may be a bit of a ramble but there are some salient observations I hope and some serious issues to discuss.
There was an indication with the purchases Wenger made last summer, with the exception of Oxlade-Chamberlain, that he recognized that Arsenal to progress required some top flight experience, to blend with some of the youthful promise. The investment in Arteta,29, Mertesacker, 27, Santos, 28 and Benayoun, on loan at 31 may have raised a few eyebrows but all 4, particularly Arteta and Benayoun latterly, were instrumental in our rise from the lower echelons of the EPL to a 3rd place finish.
I am not going to debate the 6 years reluctance, despite fan and media pressure, on Wenger’s part to invest in proven top league credentials or so called ‘Big’ names. If I did it would be purely speculation on my part. Whether Wenger was stubborn and wanted to prove he could build a winning side without huge investment, or whether he was covering for the board’s inability to make funds available whilst paying for the stadium can be debated by us all. What is not up for debate is that from 2006 to 2011 in the main the policy appeared to one of investment in talented youth that Wenger and his coaching staff could mould. Has it worked for us? Well if the ultimate test is the delivery of silverware it has not to date.
Right about now though everybody is feeling pretty good and buzzing about the new season and rightly so. We have brought in 3 world class players and done it the old Wenger way, right from under everyone’s noses, and for crazily low fees. @thedanielcowan over at North London is Red summarized this tradition superbly well this week so no need for me to duplicate his quality work. http://northlondonisred.co.uk/wenger-and-arsenal-do-it-again-time-to-win-2/
So is there a downside or a potential knock on effect as a result of this summer’s activity? Well I think there is a very good chance that there is and the impact will be felt by our young aspirational stars in the next few years and perhaps beyond.
Much has been written and rightly so about the production of young talent by Arsenal in the past 6/7 years. Our worldwide scouting network has identified stellar youth talent both at home and abroad and brought this talent to Arsenal. We should not underestimate this work and this project because both Liverpool and Chelsea have tried and failed to emulate what we do. Diaby, Walcott and Ramsey all turned down our West London rivals. Why? Because at Arsenal they knew they would have a genuine chance to develop into actual first team players and all 3 have done so. This is why players like Szczesny and Fabregas have left their families and home countries as teenagers to follow at dream in North London and it is why we are the only team able to poach from the might Barcelona.
Now there is a great part in all of us I imagine, that would love to have succeeded in the past 6 years and most particularly to have seen the club we all love win with a nucleus of Arsenal produced players, as George Graham did in 89 and 91. Are those days gone? Is this possible competing with the oil rich clubs in 2012? Will we see a core like Rocky. Adams, Thomas and Merse again? I had hoped as many that the compromise was the way forward. In an ideal world the Dortmund model, so eloquently described by @Blogwhenhewant2 on his ‘Poznan in my Pants site, a few weeks back would be perfect. http://poznaninmypants.com/2012/07/27/part-deux-how-we-win-kloppelganger/
The combination of home grown with intelligent scouting for top talent and exceptional value that fits a system makes perfect sense to me. However based on the past 2 season’s activity I am not sure that will be the basis for the foreseeable future. For those young stars already established in the first team set up there may be opportunities, but in the main it seems quite likely that the current crop of hugely talented young footballers may have to seek a career away from the Emirates.
As I say I am not judging here and if this is the case we the fans are largely and understandably to blame. Most of us are impatient and have called for investment in established talent and experience to bring is the trophies we crave. Well now we have it but many of those on blogs/twitter and fan forums, in my view mistakenly seem to believe that there is still an avenue into the first team for Eisfeld, Gnabry, Aneke, Yennaris and the like. I have written blogs on these youngsters and I hope there is a bright future but history tells me different.
Am I being harsh or over dramatic? The evidence I ‘m afraid would suggest I am not. Well a quick look at the glory period from 1997 to 2005 under Arsene Wenger, characterized by trophies yes, by big name signings, on occasion, yes and by shrewd investment in diamonds in the rough. However, this period was singularly not characterized by any young talent from our academy breaking into the first team at all over 8 years, with only one exception. Yes the only player in the whole period made into the famous red and white, Ashley Cole. Surely there were others? No there were none, even from those Wenger himself bought as teenagers failed to make the break through.
This is not an exhaustive list but this would represent a high percentage of those who did not make the grade between 97 and 05 who many thought would do so and have done elsewhere: Alberto Mendez, Paul Vernazza, Julian Gray, Tommy Black, Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Upson, Steve Sidwell, Justin Hoyte, David Bentley, Jeremie Aliadiere, Jay Bothroyd, Quincy Owusu-Abeiye, Seb Larsson, Fabrice Muamba, Arturo Lupoli and I could go on! Many of these made it at other clubs and some are internationals but they did not cut it at a Wenger’s Arsenal then on a trophy roll.
The one and only success 97 – 05- Ashley Cole
So what am I saying? What I am saying is that Wenger very rarely invested in youth during our glory years and even when he did he did not trust it in the first team that was constantly challenging for honours. Just in case you doubt that it was experience that won things for Wenger just consider the 2004 Invincibles squad. There were 20 players who played 10 games or more to win a Premier League medal and the only regular fixture in the team under the age of 23 was Kolo Toure at 22. The average age from the 20 players most used was 27.7, which goes up to over 28 if we remove the baby Clichy who was only 18. Clichy was the only teenager barring Aliadiaere to get more than 1 game. The actual team we would all name as the 1st choice 11, of Lehman, Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Ljungberg, Vieira, Gilberto, Pires, Bergkamp and Henry had an average of 27.63 so I am not manipulating the figures.
This summer has seen the arrival of Giroud at 26, Podolski at 27 and now the exciting third addition of Santi Cazorla, who is 27. Now none of us know who will be the first choice eleven, or even if there is such a thing but I would hazard a guess that all things being equal, injuries to Wilshere allowing and formation being unaltered most of us would have a team the same as or close to this:
Szczeny, 22, Sagna, 28, Koscielny, 27, Vermaelen, 27, Gibbs, 23, Song, 25, Arteta, 29, Cazorla, 27, Walcott, 23, Giroud, 26, Podolski, 27. You may change Gervnho for Podolski or Walcott but he is 25. You might still have RVP is he stays who is 29. You may have Santos over Gibbs but he is 28. In fact the only potential change you might make that would significantly lower the team age and experience would be to include Oxlade-Chamberlain. (For the record my view is that the Ox is one player who will not only make it at Arsenal but medium term he WILL BE ARSENAL, and learning from Santi will be brilliant for him.) The bench also would be full of age, experience and quality, with the likes of Diaby, Rosicky, Mertesacker, Santos and Gervinho. Do we honestly see Coquelin and Ramsey getting any regular football? Both these players have immense talent and along with a returning Wilshere and even Frimpong, would be have been considered valuable 1st team members last season or the one before. So if these established squad member will see opportunities limited that spells the end of the road for Eastmond, Watt, Lansbury and Henderson quite possibly, but where does it leave Aneke, Yennaris, Myachi, Eisfeld, Ebecilio and Gnabry in the next few seasons?
Aneke and Eisfeld – A bright future at Arsenal or no future?
Are Gnabry or Ebecilio this generation’s Ashely Cole?
Wenger is not investing considerable sums of money on transfer fees and wages on top internationals for them not to play. It appears that Wenger has finally listened to the fans who have moaned and the media who have criticized. The fact that all the established stars we are buying are in their mid to late 20s suggested a massive push in the final 2 years of his contract to return this club to the head heights we got used to between 97 and 05. I have no issue with this policy and as I said at outset I will not judge, merely present the facts for you to discuss and debate.
I certainly was not complaining in the trophy winning period and I can genuinely see the new squad he is building challenging this season. I love, as we all do the coup of us picking up top class talent at reasonable prices, as has been Wenger’s trade mark. In the past this ability made Arsenal, Wenger and our scouting team the envy of Europe. I am sure in fact that there may be a few green eyed Chairman looking jealously at the work of Wenger and Gazidis at the moment.
I will however throw the question out there and ask how we feel about it: Is this the end of Project Youth? It could be worse for our young midfield hopefuls if the loan deal for Nuri Sahin materialises. I cannot see any way that as a club we can keep all these incredibly talented youngsters happy for 2/3 years whilst we go for the silverware with the type of age and experience that has worked for Wenger before. I guess I feel slightly different about this batch than I did about all those who did not make the grade in the first half of Wenger’s reign just because there has been so much effort and focus put into the project in the past 6 years. We have all been wondering who would be the next Fabregas or Wilshere. Would it be Aneke, Eisfeld, Gnabry or Ebecelio? Or perhaps it will be only one or none of them and the green eyed chairman will begin raiding our youth set up, offering a chance of first team action, as we have been doing to them
So many questions but one things is certain only the very best of our currrent youth will break in as Ashley Cole did.They all have huge potential but in the past 2 months circiumstances/policy appear to have changed and only the VERY best will realise their potential in the famous red and white.
Until next time thanks for reading.
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