During this international break, a lot has been made about Gareth Southgate not being afraid to put his faith in youth, Jadon Sancho the first to be born after the year 2000 to get called up to the England squad. When it comes to not being afraid to blood teenagers though, Arsenal have one of the best reputations in the world. In fact, statistics show the Gunners are the most likely top-flight club to give youngsters an opportunity. So here are my top 10 teenagers to have played for Arsenal.
I’m going off how old I am, so anyone older feel free in the comments to add any names.
Gael Clichy (10)
Leaving in the same depressing summer when we sold Fabregas and Nasri, our left back also going to Manchester City went under the radar. Fitting, as I don’t think he ever got enough credit for his consistency. Introduced in the ‘Invincibles Season’ he played enough games to qualify for a Championship medal, often asked to play in front of Ashley Cole. At a time when paying off stadium debt meant we were always looking to save money, having a readymade replacement for Cole saved us millions.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (9)
Slightly disappointed that the OX has often rewritten his history with the club. He says his move to Liverpool was motivated to play CM, feeling his career had stagnated at the Emirates. This attitude is an example of how comfortable our players became under Arsene Wenger. The reality is, as a teenager he was given playing time at the top level under a manager who stuck by his injury problems where others wouldn’t. He didn’t stay fit enough to ever prove his dream of being ‘the next Gerrard’ while not having the mentality to take a game by the scruff of the neck. While he never liked the role of wing back, for me it was that position where he had his best run in the first team, his contributions in the FA Cup semi-final/FA Cup Final the highlights of his career so far. Worth pointing out, he finds himself injured at Liverpool.
Jack Wilshere (8)
Kind of sad to look back at when this man was a teenager, predicted to be his club and country’s next big thing. MOTM performances against Barcelona led to praise from the likes of Iniesta and Xavi, who compared his playing style to what they had been taught. The reality is, he’s still yet to top those nights in Europe. It became clear early on, the only thing to stop his progress, would be the man himself. Wilshere started to suffer ankle injuries, that ever the loyalist, Arsene Wenger dismissed as coincidences not a long-standing issue. The midfielder displayed incredible mentality to keep coming back but refused to change how he played the game, dribbling with ball, releasing at the last moment, inviting kicks from the opposition. He was willing to take a pay cut to stay at the club he loves but was unhappy when Uni Emery didn’t guarantee him playing time. Having finished 6th, it was unreasonable for any gunner to have such demands from a new boss. I wished he had the mentality to fight and prove his manager wrong but can understand he’s missed so much football, he wants to make up for lost time. The fact he’s already injured at West Ham, validates Emery’s decision.
Theo Walcott (7)
There’re not many players who score over 100 goals for a club who would divide opinion from start to finish. As a teenager, Theo achieved landmarks such as being called up to the World Cup without kicking a ball for his club, while his first goal as a gunner was in a League Cup Final against Chelsea. He earnt a reputation for blistering pace but a lack of a footballing brain. My opinion though is he was greatly let down by the lack of leaders in our changing rooms. In hindsight, it was unrealistic for Arsene Wenger to expect a young squad to win things without any experience around them. Theo would even publicly talk about being too nice and finding a mean streak, like he was trying to convince himself. The poster boy of the post Invincibles era, injury prone, protected by his boss too much, mentally not strong enough?
Aaron Ramsey (6)
The world took notice of the teenager after Cardiff’s unexpected road to the 2008 FA Cup Final. England’s top sides began a bidding war for the Welshmen, with Sir Alex Ferguson believing coming to Old Trafford was a done deal. Arsenal though had developed a reputation for giving youth a chance, making them a number one destination for the top youngsters in Europe. Rambo, along with Wilshere were the future of our midfield, something that didn’t happen due to injuries to both. Breaking his leg at Stoke, Arsene Wenger showed patience where others wouldn’t, especially when his own fans got on his back. To this very day, he divides opinion. I would love him to stay. Although many view him overrated, the majority agree he’s been too injury prone to deserve the 200 000 pound a week he desires. Whatever happens, he’s won 3 FA Cups, 2 of which he scored in, a contribution to our history no one will ever be able to take away from him. Not bad for 4.5 million.
Paul Merson (5)
Grew up at the club, more than just in sporting terms. Came to North London, as a teenager, experienced the highs of winning titles and Cups then the lows of addiction which made everyone question the drinking culture at our club. In an era where fans would chant, ‘boring boring Arsenal’ Merson offered some flair. It takes a lot for George Graham to believe in creativeness/imagination, that’s how good the midfielder was when focused/motivated. I wish he had followed in his peers’ footsteps by following Arsene Wenger’s ideas regarding training and dietary requirements, he would have added a couple more medals to his collection.
Nicholas Anelka (4)
Not for the first or last time, Arsene Wenger used his knowledge of French football to recruit a young talent, most of the World hadn’t heard of. Not loaned out to adapt to the physical nature of the League or saved for cup ties, the striker was trusted almost immediately, eventually pushing Ian Wright out of the team. Got the nick name,’Le Sulk’ for how his big brothers manipulated his move away from Highbury, an image he never shook off. Did he end up with lots of money and some trophies? Yes. Did he become one of the best in the world like his early form suggested? No. Meanwhile his transfer paid for a state-of-the-art training facility and a certain …. Thierry Henry.
Ces Fábregas (3)
His team had just gone a whole season undefeated so there was no need to rush a 17-year-old into the squad. After his first year, he had convinced Arsene Wenger the time was right to sell Patrick Viera. The Spaniard became the face of the,’new Arsenal’. Wenger was trying to rebuild a team, relying on youth due to us paying off stadium debt. Fabregas became a role model for his younger peers, leading by example. Taught in the same academy as the likes of Messi, Iniesta and Pique, Fabregas had the footballing philosophy Arsenal stood for. It became a case of when and not if he returned to Barcelona with all parties seemingly with an agreement it would happen one day. He needed more experience/physicality around him. For what he gave, deserved more than just an FA Cup medal for his time with us
Ashley Cole (2)
Forming this list with my head not my heart, it’s hard to produce someone from your academy who will have a better career then Ashley Cole. That’s why it hurt so much when he was caught talking to Chelsea behind our backs. This is a man who should have been our future captain, leading a young team into a new era. It’s not often you find a talent in your youth set up who could claim to be the best in the world in his position. He had an understanding with Pires and Henry on our left side which proved vital in our Untouchable season.
Tony Adams (1)
Debuted soon after turning 17, with senior internationals saying how a rookie was not scared to order them into position and tell them when they made mistakes. Adams was given the armband at just 21 – a responsibility he didn’t give up until 2002, making him our longest serving skipper of all time. A defender we developed who won 13 major honours, leading the Gunners for most of them. The real Mr Arsenal.