Podolski, Giroud and now Cazorla – The end of Project Youth at Arsenal?

 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?


Chuks Aneke Kitchee FC v Arsenal FC

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.

Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment  below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitterhttp://twitter.com/goonerdave66



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  1. before Eisfeld is recruited,anyone thougt about him?
    If we still wait for developing ;
    at some point they all need huge wage…

  2. Nice article, good one, excellent write up. I just believe arsenal will get something done this season with the combination of matured and young players. Best squad arsenal ever had.

  3. For me the youth policy died last season. I don’t think age is a problem. If u are good enough, then u good enough.

  4. I believe that if they are good enough like Wilshere or Cesc, they will still break through. The examples like Muamba, Bentley etc. were not good enough and its good they didn’t spend 3-4 years at Arsenal struggling like Denilson.

    The youngsters would need to shine in loan spells or the Capital One Cup to do so. Out of the youngsters you mentioned the only ones that I really feel have a chance are Miyaichi, Eisfeld and Gnabry.

    At present, I don’t foresee a major problem regarding managing Ramsey or Coquelin into this squad. We need a big squad to sustain us thru the season, what with our inevitable injuries.

  5. Needless to say a very good work is done in the article with all the information about transfer activities from the past, average squad age and similar facts. I think all we fans are happy to see the established internationals with bags of experiences coming to emirates. But in doing so, what we shall continue doing is to recruit young talents and train them ‘the arsenal way’ in order to keep the balance in squad. Certainly the players from academy possesses high team spirit and they will be real gunners like frimpong, wilshere, szczesny. And when you add the likes of Podolski or santi, then there will be a complete team hopefully to challenge for silverware. As a fan, what I am really happy so far despite winning nothing ever since I have supported arsenal is that we are the preferred destination for most of the young-talented youngsters. In doing so, Wenger has been able to make one of the most beautiful football playing club, competiting in arguably the most difficult league of the world, has always been playing in Europe’s elite club competition. All after having built state-of-art stadium. Now since the debt has been paid (dont know much about the stadium debts but for what I have read), Wenger is signing the player of his choices in bargain prices. Hopefully we will end our trophy drought this season and continue to sustain in our style dominating the English and European football. Lots of positives to take from this summer’s transfer activity. I hope to witness the best season upto the date for me as an arsenal fan as it is being the best summer so far.
    Thanks Dave, really good read.

  6. Sadly, the way the premiership is going, I agree, the chances for youth players to come through the ranks, unless they are exceptional, is diminishing. All I would say is. AW will stiill give the youngsters a chance in the CC which is more than other clubs do, AFC may not be perfect but at least they try to do it the right way.

  7. older player who will leave in 3- 5 years
    mertesacker (27),sanga(29),van persie(whatever),arteta(29),santos(27),carzola(27),posolski(27)rosicky(30),arshavin(31),etc …..they will all be 30 + in a fews years .

    younger players will come in in 2- 4 years
    we got a avery talented crop of
    coquelin ,afobe,aneke,miyaichi,campbell,miguel,martinez,chamberlain,gnarby etc all about 19 or so who will be 21 -22 …
    arsenal is set 😀

  8. Bed in the youngsters with the older ones to teach them. Don’t push them into the spotlight too soon. They might end up either short of confidence/ability (denilson,walcott,ramsey.. specially denilson) or believing they’re too good for the team (nasri, cesc, song)

  9. I think these signings doesnt neccessarily mean the end of project youth but what it definitely means is that the average age for the youngsters breaking through will increase by two or three years so it comes down to patience on the part of the young players and i expect more of them will go on loan twice or thrice before breaking through (already happening with Ryo)

  10. I think the youth project is still on, integrating a young player into any trophy aspiring winning team must be based on exceptional talent and consistent performance when the opportunity present itself. We have a lot of young players that aren’t ripe for playing in the premier league. I personally feel Ramsey and co are too inconsistent in their performances and they should be allowed to go on loan to learn their trade, o return assess those that show exceptional talent and introduce them as sub. or play in the carling cup. Players like song and wilshere benefited immensely from loan spells. And on a last note a few young players broke in to the first team… 1. Szczeny, 2. Gibbs, 3. Wilshere 4. Walcott 5. Song . My conclusion youth should be integrated gradually into the team which could take 3 – 4 seasons.

  11. I do not like to think in the end of the Project Youth, I prefer to think that this is a new approach to the project. For Youths develop better, they need to be monitored and look up to with TOP players… That’s my view of the recent signings… And Welcome Giroud, Podolski, Cazorla ans 1-2 more players

    Greetings from Brazil!!

  12. Arsenal fans i don’t really understand you guys… we were crying that we needs more experienced and talented player, now we are in the ladder, you guys started murmuring and talking about the young players, should we stop buying? those who are saying that sahin should not come should stop talking like that pls.

    1. This article does not suggest we should stop current investment in experience and quality. It merely highlights what this might mean. No one is complaining. Dave

  13. I honestly don’t care about the young players. The last couple of years have shown me(and probably shown Wenger as well) that no matter how much faith and hard work you put into developing young players these days, If they make it, they will leave as soon as more money, or a chance of winning trophies comes. They will not take sympathy on us fans who stuck by them, so why should we care? If we don’t sign good players and win trophies soon, then they will leave us soon anyway!! I like the new direction we are taking, let’s be ruthless. we aren’t a bloody finishing school. Up the arse.

  14. Good point raised there. Players like Cole and Jack (exceptional players) will make the cut. With such a heavy production line and such a desperation to succeed, it’s criminal to expect more academy stars getting into the team as regulars. Part time, not that difficult. Gnabry and Aneke maybe the only ones who make it from the current batch.

  15. Good article bro. We all know these young project stuff can’t survive without add a little bit quality. We are now in new era at AFC and who doesn’t fit to it should look elsewhere.

  16. Have been against Wengers policy for the past 4 years as it seemed to be heading in one direction and that wasn’t towards success. Yes we MUST retain a good youth policy but it must be mixed with older, quality players. At last, this closed season, I think we have the correct balance. It has taken some time to evolve but I think with out new signings we have done it.

    One thing that has crossed my mind was, with RVP saying we are not showing ambition, is that what has spurred Wenger to change. I know Podolski was a done deal but does he want to keep his RVP that much that he has decided to create the environment that he wanted?

  17. That should read “At last, this closed season, I think we have the correct balance. It has taken some time to evolve but I think with OUR new signings we have done it.

  18. Thanks for all your comments and taking the time. This was a tricku blog to write and perhaps others are avoiding the issue. I would love to see more youngsters break through and I have featured Afobe. Gnabry, Aneke and Ebecilio in my own articles. However the pressure on Wenger and our great club to win soon is now too great and a change in direction evident. I am very happy with all 3 new additions and this Gooner is very hopeful that 2012/13 will be our year. Keep reading and subscribe to the blog for emailed links.


  19. Bringing in experience players wuld only make our youth team players better.they nid to learn more,up their game and in anoda 2/3 yrs arsenal shuld be reaping….but HOW do u keep them?

  20. Very good write up and I admire d research work done. But from my own point of view, I don’t think the youth project is over.let’s not forget that the likes of wilshere, walcott, song, szschenzy, gibbs, chamberlain and possibly vanpersie who joined @age 21 are all part of the youth project and are al in and around the first team now, and wenger still has the likes of djorou, diaby and ramsey in his mind. That shows you that these young stars you mentioned (eisfeld, aneke…) Have a lot of hope of making it in the long run in the team. More importantly, some of our players are fast getting old and they won’t be soo active in the next 4 years. Vanpersie, sagna, rosicky, mertesaker. People like campbell jerkinson,eisfeld,djorou, afobe chamberlain would know they have to step up. So the youth project is far from over and could still b useful for revenue generation

  21. In terms of “project youth” I believe that for a period of time Arsène chose (or had no choice because of budget restraints) to try and bring through a group of extremely talented/promising youngsters of a similar age. This isn’t something Wenger did on a whim or something that we started doing when we moved to the Emirates because if the stadium money was the problem then we would have stopped buying players altogether from 2002! Wenger actually planned a “project youth” from 2003 onwards. In 2003 he started investing in young players like Cesc, Senderos, Clichy, Owusu-Abeyi, Larsson, Stokes, Djourou, Simek, Steer, Muamba, Lupoli and Bendtner and continued to buy players under 21 to enter the first team set up like Reyes, Diaby and Van Persie. He was quoted in 2004 as saying his class of 2006 would be his best team yet. He was planning for a future where technical ability would dominate English football (and for winning the CL) instead of the power and pace of the past. (The EPL is probably 75% there). He planned to buy/coach a lot of technically gifted young players and get them playing at the physical level of English football and at premier league pace but with the technique and passing ability of European teams. A pretty potent combination some would say and to an extent he achieved that in 2007/2008 however the team fell slightly short and many at the time blamed it on inexperience and I feel that was fair. 80% of the squad had no experience of seeing out a season. The close season that summer started to see the beginning of the end of “project youth”. An integral part of the team left us in the lurch and joined AC Milan, Flamini was incredibly important to allowing Cesc to express himself and form an incredible trio with Rosicky and Hleb. Hleb then pushed a move through to Barcelona and we also made the mistake of selling Gilberto but I believe that was always planned as the idea was for Flamini to fill his role but Flamini thought otherwise. The issue since then was that when we lost a player we replaced them with a younger player and the cycle started again. With maybe a tad more experience in 2007/2008 or even a bit of luck in the Carling Cup final the season before to give the players the experience of getting over the line things would have worked out very differently at Arsenal. The players that have been brought in recently will enable a new generation to break through in the next 3-4 years but we won’t see 16-18 year olds playing for the first team like we have over the past few years. Jack and AOC are probably going to be the youngest in the team but in a few years time they’ll be some of the eldest at 23/24. “Project Youth” is not dead, it’s just been reset in my opinion.

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