Our PR department were smart enough to wait until after our kit launch to announce the signing of Gabriel Martinelli. With some gooners holding an outside hope that the club would be unveiling a new face in the Adidas strip, you can imagine the apathy if it turned out to be someone most of us have never heard of.
The 18-year-old is highly thought of in Brazil, invited last month to train with the national team. Over the years the likes of Barcelona and Man United have invited the teenager for a trial so European scouts have been aware of the youngster for some time. It remains to be seen if part of his development will be the underage groups, occasional cup tie, followed by a loan out somewhere.
What we do know is Arsenal have always been receptive in giving youth a fair chance. Our history is littered with talent you might not heard of who we turned into household names. What we must do is separate this signing with our frustration with Stan Kroenke. It’s not the youngster’s fault our owner hasn’t brought anyone else. Just because we wish to see more ambition from our recruitment team doesn’t mean that in a few years we couldn’t be viewing 6 million as a bargain.
So, in a bid to stay positive, let’s review the 10 best youngsters who played for us in the Prem and judge our success rate.
Hector Bellerin Prem debut 19 years 213 days
He was the latest we poached from Barcelona’s academy. A loan to Watford in 2014 was part of his development but was ended early when Arsenal had long term injuries to their full backs. In a stunning turnaround he ended up starting the FA Cup Final Win against Villa. He became the talk of the club due to his pace over short distance. At his most confident, his quickness was a huge part of our famous win over Bayern Munich. One of many though who’s form suffered from the uncertainty over the managerial role and the toxic atmosphere of fans. At Selhurst Park he was verbally taunted by the away crowd and deserved more protection from his senior peers. Naturally being so young, his form dipped. It was now apparent he was scared to cross the ball out of fear of getting it wrong so he would cut back, slowing down our play. One of the few to. improve under Emery, until serious injury ended his season. He has been badly missed.
Alex Song prem debut – 18 years, 10 days
I wrote about the Cameroonian during my African Contribution series. Having played a few cup games in defence, Song was thrown in at the deep end away at Fulham when we had an injury crisis in midfield. Gooners didn’t take his age into consideration, turning on him to such a point that he was subbed at half time. Years later Mr Wenger would reference that night admitting that a loan to Charlton could have been permanent had they not got relegated.
In 2008 he started to win the battle to partner Fabregas, showing more discipline in the role. Instead of bombing forward like Denilson or Diaby, he would be more prone to give the ball to his more creative peers. He was the closest we come to replacing Gilberto Silva, to the point I thought we should have re-signed him when he was admitting he regretted going to Barcelona.
Oxlade-Chamberlain Prem debut – 18 years 12 days
Like many of our British core from this era, his career has been hampered by injury, meaning that eight years after his debut he was still to have a run in his favoured position. With Gerrard as his ‘idol ‘ the Ox asked to leave us based on not believing he would start as a CM. Injuries at Anfield show that we did well to get 45 million for him. The irony being he walked away from us just when he was finally starting regularly but disliked his new role as a wingback. His performances at full back were a huge part in our FA Cup win, destroying City first, then Chelsea at Wembley.
Gael Clichy Prem debut 18 years 118 days
Despite playing 3 seasons in France’s third division, Arsene Wenger trusted his compatriot more than most. Not just playing him in the League Cup, Wenger would bring him on in the Prem on the left in front of Ashley Cole as a defensive switch. It meant that Clichy more than deserved a title medal, at the time the youngest man to do so. Learning from the best left back in the world, Clichy’s style was compared to Cole’s. Ironically this may have been one of the reasons the England full back felt no one cared about him staying as we had his replacement waiting in the wings. For the next 5 years he made the position his own and became one of the leaders in a young Arsenal squad. The loss of Fabregas and Nasri in 2011 overshadowed Clichy’s move to Man City.
Jack Wilshire Prem debut 16 years, 256 days
Many were hyping this kid up before he had kicked a ball. He was so good I remember thinking he and Ramsey could replace Fabregas and Nasri, and he would have if not for injuries.
Wilshire was so good against Barcelona the Spanish press compared him to Iniesta and Xavi, with both complimenting him. The likes of Gerrard described super Jack as a future 3 Lions skipper based on him having the technical ability other midfielders lacked in this country.
The only things that would get in this man’s way were his ankle knocks which were becoming an issue. Arsene Wenger would often downplay the issue, insisting a contract was on the table for a man who been a gooner since the age of 9. To be fair he hasn’t proven Emery wrong at West Ham, out with another long-term injury. Will he have to retire young?
Theo Walcott prem debut – 17 years, 155 days
For someone who has scored over 100 goals for us, Theo still divides opinion in our fan base. The spotlight was put on him as a 16-year-old when despite yet kicking a ball for us, England took him to the 2006 World Cup. The cruel irony being that when playing every week, he wouldn’t get called up for future World Cups. The perception of the winger has always been of someone too nice, with the man himself admitting the need to find a ‘mean streak’. Others are harsher saying he should have developed more under Arsene Wenger, especially when he was campaigning to play through the middle. He stagnated under the Frenchmen and needed a change, but he hasn’t done anything at Everton to change our perceptions.
Aaron Ramsey Aged 17 261 days
It’s funny how many gooners criticise the club for letting such an ‘ asset ‘ leave for nothing. Funny, as recently as last year some fans on this site were patting Emery on the back for telling the board to end contract negotiations. Our manager felt that the salary on offer was too much for someone he didn’t view in his first team plans. It’s fitting as Rambo as always divided opinion in North London. The cruel irony of him being injured for the Europa League Final also highlights he missed too much action. Nonetheless, he scored in 2 out of the 3 FA Cup Finals we won. No-one can take that away from him.
Cesc Fabregas Prem debut 17 years 103 days
The Spanish youngster was convinced to move to England at the age of 16. He became our youngest scorer at the time in the League Cup against Rotherham, and did the same in the Prem a year later.
He and Flamini started to fill in for an ageing Gilberto and Vieira. Not just was the Spaniard trusted to start in our midfield, his development encouraged Arsene Wenger to sell Vieira. Fabregas became the symbol of a younger Gunners squad who transitioned from Highbury to the Emirates. Fabregas became captain of a team who lacked experience but also changed the type of player our scouts identified, less physical and more technical. It became a case of when and not if he would return to Barcelona. While some gooners were not happy with his forced return to the Nou Camp, it should be added it was our choice not to take up an option of a buy back clause.
Nic Anelka prem debut 18 years, 222 days
The classic example of how you can sign a young gem most haven’t heard of and turn them into a superstar. From a pure business point of view Arsene Wenger spent 50,000 pound and 2 years later sold the striker for 23 million. Or you could simply say we swapped the Frenchmen for Henry and a new training ground. While thanks to his brothers he is now a rich man, but he has often admitted his regret at leaving Highbury. While still winning trophies, he didn’t come close to the form he showed as a teenager.
Ashley Cole Prem debut 19 years 145 days
If we are judging this fairly Cole has to be number one, as for most of his career was the best left back in the world. We hate him because we loved him. As one of our own, he should have been a future captain, the man to take us through the transition from Highbury to the Emirates. His understanding with Pires and Henry was a massive part of our Invincibles Season. He became a better defender at Chelsea but was more exciting to watch in North London.