The Top Ten countdown of Arsenal’s greatest Academy graduates

Arsenal’s best Academy products by Dan Smith

A recent statistic emerged this week showing that Arsenal are the most inclined to give youth a chance. While that doesn’t stand out when your finishing 6th in the Leauge, there are many examples of players from our academy who went on to be a success.

Here’s a top 10 list of the best Gunners who began as part of our academy.

Micheal Thomas (10)
While millennials will tell you Sergio Aguero produced the most dramatic ever ending to a League campaign, that honour in fact belongs to Thomas, who wrote himself into Arsenal folklore at Anfield in 1989. Such was the feat of beating Liverpool 2-0 away,that documentaries and movies continue to be made based on the Welshmen’s last minute goal which took the title to Highbury. He showed versatility during his career, switching from fullback to midfield, having a decent goal return in both positions.

Jack Wilshire (9)
Refusual to extend his contract ended an Arsenal career that didn’t meet people’s expectations, due to injury more then talent. He broke on to the scene as a teenager with the likes of Iniesta complimenting his performances against Barcelona. His emergence was supposed to cushion the blow left by Fabregas’ and Nasri’s departures. Fitness concerns however meant he could no longer be reliable for club or country and he has become more famous for the length of time on sidelines than his displays. The fFact he chose not to fight for his place , choosing first team football at West Ham is not the ending anyone wanted.

Fabregas (8)
Kind of cheating as he didn’t start at our youth team but was a handful of teenagers we convinced to move to England.
It was a sign of things to come. Arsene Wenger’s reputation for giving youngsters a chance made our club a place where parents trusted their kids would get the best possible opportunity to develop. Like many Spaniards though he got homesick and a return to Barcelona was inevitable in the end. He deserved more for his contribution then 1 FA Cup

Ashley Cole (7)
Given how he left, some gooners wouldn’t have him on this list but if we judged this purely on his career he’d be higher. In essence, we hate him because we loved him. One of our untouchables who formed an understanding with Pires and Henry that saw our left side destroy teams. Chelsea offering a bigger wage was first sign that paying off the stadium was going to Impact the squad

David Rocastle (6)
Spent a decade at the club with Arsene Wenger later insisting he was a player ahead of his time in terms of his technique and vision. ‘Rocky’ is rememberd fondly by fans with tributes at both the academy and the stadium, with George Grham heavily critisised for tranfering him to Leeds. Ian Wright tells a great story the night before signing with us, staying up all night listening to Rocastle talk about ‘the Arsenal’. Don’t you miss the days when a player had so much pride in representing our club

David O’Leary (5)
A succesful youth team ran effectively develops players, saving the club money. To produce an individual who would go on to play more games then anyone else in history is credit to the whole set up. O’Leary was a calm defender who became a leader on and off the pitch. Those qualities were crucial in readying the next generation of stars such as Tony Adams.
Ironically his most succesful years in terms of trophies won were when he was no longer a automatic starter although deserved due to his longevity.

Paul Merson (4)
Spent over a decade at the club during which time he scored 99 goals. Technically superb, he gave creativity to an Arsenal team, during our famous ‘boring boring ‘ phase. Despite his success, he would have been even better if not distracted by other demons in his life.

Ray Parlour (3)
Longevity is classic example of how hard work and effort can make a career. Parlour saw more technically gifted players than him come and go but remained due to his work rate. An individual not appreciated ’til he was gone. Parlour’s the type of character we have lacked in the last 10 years

Martin Keown (2)
During our title drought lots has been made about our lack of mentality. Martin Keown is the type of character we desperately could’ve done with round the club. Despite starting his career with us, George Graham, who knew a thing about a defender, chose to sell him. Keown was re-signed a few years later, forming part of a famous back four. In truth he could of been part of it from day one.

Tony Adams (1)
As part of his contract negotiations, there’s talk of Aaron Ramsey being made our next captain. I miss the days when the armband was more then just a prop to pacify a star player from leaving. If Tony Adams was in our dressing room he would refuse this protocol of keeping individuals who didn’t want to wear the shirt. That’s because he grew up on the values of the crest and was surrounded by leaders who were equally proud to be a gunner. He was instrumental In preaching these standards to the French Revolution.

Will we ever be a club again who someone loves, where he doesn’t think the grass is greener?

Dan Smith


  1. gotanidea says:

    Great article

    I like Ashley Cole, because he was so skillful, fast and spirited

    If Maitland-Niles can keep his humility and focus on his training, he could be the next one

      1. gotanidea says:

        He also got the sweet Cheryl Tweedy

        What a man

          1. OzzieGunner says:

            Sue, the Evening Standard states that the appointment of Darren Burgess in a consultancy role to a new expansion team in Australia’s A League is not expected to affect his role with Arsenal.
            Please be kind to his wife so she doesn’t feel homesick!

          2. Sue says:

            Oh that’s good news then Ozzie!
            Haha yes!! ?

  2. leo says:

    To digres…y is it that we’re always moving into a new campaign one player short.. Y cnt we get rid of campbel welbeck n get in leon bailey..that guy is a beast…beating defenders with strenght n pace like they are’nt there.. Y do we stall..wasting time over a dembele false rumour… Bailey is just priced a little over 50million.. I hpe it wont be a same old arsenal dis season again.. I’l be pissed if chelsea sells hazard n replaces him with bailey wen we cud just have had him now..

  3. Ingleby says:

    John Radford
    Charlie George
    Ray Kennedy
    George Armstrong

    1. Ingleby says:

      Peter Simpson
      Peter Storey

      1. Ingleby says:

        Frank Stapleton
        Liam Brady

        1. A.ball08 says:

          Well done for getting chippy Brady in there..

          1. OzzieGunner says:

            Liam Brady, one of the best players to don an Arsenal shirt. Every player on the list would walk into today’s Arsenal. If only some other players had the commitment of the Ray ” the Romford Pele” Parlour, Tony Adams, Peter Storey et al.
            I was upset when “Rocky” Rocastle, Martin Keown, Ray Kennedy (to Liverpool!!), Paul Merson and Ashley Cole were sold. Cole was more than worth the money he asked to resign with Arsenal.

          2. Phil says:

            When I saw the headline my first thought was who has got it?Tony Adams or Liam Brady.And Chippy didn’t even get a listing in the top 10.
            I’m fine with new age supporters who just were not around when the great man was playing but this player was at the time the best Arsenal footballer I had ever seen.Liam Brady not being considered above Ray Parlour actually makes the whole article very amatierish

          3. OzzieGunner says:

            Yes, Phil his only shortcoming (admitted by him) was not recognizing the talent of Harry Kane when he was in charge of the Arsenal Academy.

  4. Sue says:

    Good topic Dan!
    Tony Adams… what a guy, what a legend!
    I agree with your last sentence…. however I think those days are long gone, unfortunately

  5. kev says:

    Both Fabregas and Wilshere were levels above Smith Rowe at the same age yet VSC will tell you Smith Rowe was better at the same age.Also we’ve seen better debuts than that of Smith Rowe.The goal was what made it standout.
    Let’s hope Smith Rowe becomes world class but please do not lie to yourselves because even at U18 he isn’t the best player.

    1. Eddie Hoyte says:

      Spot on Kev, I thought I was the only one to observe how everyone is suddenly hyping the boy, saying he was better than Cesc at his age? Fans online saying he’s a better crosser of the ball than Beckham n Pele? Even Arsenal showing him those tweets?
      Great way to keep him on his feet when he’s yet to kick a premier league ball.. Someone here even said He’s ready to replace Ramsey.
      Let’s just groom the boy and let him keep growing please, save the hype for later

    2. Angello says:

      ‘Let’s hope Smith Rowe becomes world class but
      please do not lie to yourselves because even at U18
      he isn’t the best player?’ seriously?

      I love your comments Kev, but this is simply B.S. Smith Rowe hasn’t even made his premier league debut and you already writing him off? pathetic. Fabregas and Wilshere are no longer Arsenal players, I’d rather appreciate and support the Smith Rowe we have now than a certain Fabregas we don’t.

      1. Eddie Hoyte says:

        Angello I don’t see where he wrote Rowe off, I don’t see him slating the boy or saying he’s not good. He only pointed out Smith isnt even the best player among the U18.

        “but please do not lie to yourselves because even at U18 he isn’t the best player.”

        It only means Yes Smith is good, but still there are probably players even better than him in the U18s.
        English FAM, English! It’s simple to under, the point here is how we are all hyping the boy, yes compliment and give him a pat on the back, he’s definitely one for the future no doubt but the way we are hyping him is too much that’s the point. I’ve read people saying he’s a better Crosser of the ball than Beckham, just because of 2 Pre Season games. Let’s keep him on his feet.
        Please and Please I’ve been asking myself this question since last season, what does Joseph Willock brings or add to the team? What’s special about him? Because I’ve seen nothing out of the ordinary each time he’s given game time

        1. Break-on-through says:

          Good question on Willock, watching him its hard to figure out what one thing he might excel at. He’s a big lad but he doesn’t use it enough, he’s not aggressive. His passing seems easy, he keeps it but slows the game a wee bit, and I don’t see him trying anything different. Am not sure if he can dribble. He hasn’t tried to grab hold of the chance he got. He should know that a certain toughness in his game would’ve been noticed by fans, but he didn’t try bring it. I think it might be the end of the road for the Willocks and Arsenal act. He has allot to prove so better light a fire and do it quickly.

        2. jon fox says:

          Eddie, Speaking as one of the most arch REALISTS on this site, I applaud your sensible use of perspective on young Emile SR. I loathe the way so many excitable, immature and plain silly young folk(in the main they are YOUNG) constantly hype so many of our players, which to me, harms us by adding unnecessary pressure. I applaud you for also being a realist. i wish there were far more realists who would regularly post on here. Many other realists, I believe, DO read these posts and silently agree but we need their voices heard on here to help drown out the brainless hype merchants who harm our club.

    3. Victoria Concordia Crescit says:

      Lol. he isn’t the best player at under 18, yet he’s the only one training with the first team ?? delusional much huh ? or maybe his dad is Kroenke’ hence the promotion ?

      1. Eddie Hoyte says:

        Heh victoria? all U23 players train with the first team. Emery made sure of that.
        Plus if we are to decide with the way moats guys are deciding that Rowe should replace Ramsey and Ozil..
        Fam please Eddie Nketiah should replace Aubameyang since we all want to over hype and get into the heads of our players??

        1. Victoria Concordia Crescit says:

          Emile Smith-RoweNALDO is from the u-18s . He just got promoted to the U23

  6. Sue says:

    It’s match day!

    1. GB says:

      Is it 18.30 kick off Sue?

      1. Admin says:

        Preview to follow…..

  7. Paddywhack says:

    Wasn’t our Mickey Thomas English.

    1. Admin says:

      He was – in fact he was a Londoner….
      Correction needed!

      1. DAN says:

        Yeah Soz
        I was writing other article about Ramsey , had wakes on brain lol

  8. snowden says:

    I don’t think there is another club in the country that has so regularly produce such great players from its youth set up. The list could easily be Top 20. 10 is too short a number for Arsenal.

    Its not just Arsenal that the ‘One team player’ has disappeared. In modern football he is a lost species.

  9. Mikey says:

    Let’s give the boy Emile Smith a run at Chelsea to test his abilities. I think Chelsea will be a better opponent compared to the others we’ve faced in this cup competition.

    1. Victoria Concordia Crescit says:

      my boy Emile Smith-RoweNALDO is unfazed by whatever opponent he faces . Bring on Barcelona for all I care . he’s going to deliver

      1. Mikey says:

        I think you are getting ahead of yourself a lot, let’s go easy on the young guy. I’m sure if he produces 3-4 poor performances when given a chance in the league you won’t say that RoweNALDO again. I also highly rate him but I’m rather choosing not to set the bar high for him to perform. Remember when Iwobi came and was producing assists people were even saying he is better than Ozil? I wish him the best of luck though, and hope he does rise up to become an Arsenal great.

  10. Break-on-through says:

    Thomas should be higher, I’d definitely put him ahead of Wilshere. That Anfield goal is folklore, I still get neck tingles whenever I watch it. Very proud day. City, they tried to compare Cities last minute turn around against this, they totally missed the point. We were away at the top dog, city was the top dog with massive finances compared to us never mind QPR.

  11. Victoria Concordia Crescit says:

    @Kev, I never said Emile Smith-RoweNALDO was better than CESC at the same age. I only stated at the same age, he already posses more understanding of the game than Wilshere did. you only have to watch the boy and stop reading what twitter users got to say.

    there’s nothing Wilshere did at this same age, Emile can’t do and he already has the edge over wilshere because he uses both feet well, and also, he already looks more suited to the EPL due to his physicality . Wilshere was and is still very small compared to Emile even now

  12. Victoria Concordia Crescit says:


    Aubameyang, what a guy. He always brings hard work and a smile, and he’s so so important to this team already. Look at Lacazette before, and after Auba came. And the way they’ve really taken care of Guendouzi.
    Auba’s positivity is spreading like the plague on an island.
    Damn it feels good to be a gooner.

    1. OzzieGunner says:

      ?also the fact that Lacazette had a successful return after his knee operation sure helped him as well.

  13. jon fox says:

    Dan , The very FIRST thing that I noticed is that all these listed successes were way, way , long ago. Reminiscinces are enjoyable but have LITTLE RELEVENCE TO TODAYS NEEDS. THE TRUTH IS THAT WE HAVE HAD A PAUCITY OF SUCCESSFUL YOUTH GRADUATES FOR MANY YEARS PAST. Until now, when it finally looks as if we may have some more come through to PROVEN success, ere long.

  14. Sal says:

    great article, refreshing change in reading material. unfortunetly our best youth has to be cashley and the career he had after he left us, left many of us bitter that bastard!

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