Arsene Wenger used to be widely known as the manager most likely to promote youngsters to the first team after training them in ‘the Arsenal Way’ at the academy, but in recent there has been more focus on buying readymade stars as the pressure on winning has become more intense.
But conversely that has led to LESS success on the field, and Ivan Gazidis has already spoken out saying the new manager should be looking at our youth teams rather than turn to the transfer market. He said: “There is another value which I didn’t talk about which is young players. Our academy teams are doing extremely well and under the radar we have got a lot of players coming through into our first team, not just ones that you already know about but the next generation as well. So that value of giving youth a chance is also very important to the football club.”
We already have Bellerin and Iwobi from our youth setup in the first team, and Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock, Matt Macey and Reiss Nelson are getting more opportunities now, but who else could be promoted next season. I have been checking out Jorge Bird’s Arsenal Youth site and these are a few U23’s that he recommends after studying them all season….
EDDIE NKETIAH (13 games, 12 goals)
Although he has been on the fringes of the first-team squad for much of the campaign, Nketiah still featured fairly regularly for the U23s, and, unsurprisingly, finished as the team’s top scorer with 12 goals. Amongst the highlights was a brace in the 4-3 win over Manchester City at Emirates Stadium early in the campaign.
KONSTANTINOS MAVROPANOS (5 games)
Despite being a first-team player, the January arrival was given plenty of game time at U23 level and produced some impressive displays.
VLAD DRAGOMIR (20 games, 6 goals)
Dragomir started the season on the fringes of the U23 setup but he ended it having made more appearances at this level than any other player. The Romanian, naturally an attacking midfielder, filled in well in several positions, including at left wing-back and as a striker at times, while he weighed in with six goals, including a brace at home to West Ham.
JULIO PLEGUEZUELO (12 games, 1 goal)
The long-serving Spaniard left for Gimnastic de Tarragona on loan in January but before that he made a major contribution to Arsenal’s title-winning campaign. Pleguezuelo’s late equaliser in the 3-3 draw at home to Derby County in December was very important and it is fitting that a player who has featured in so many games at this level was able to play a part in the title win.
JORDI OSEI-TUTU (18 games, 2 goals)
Another player who developed extremely well this campaign, Osei-Tutu hadn’t made a competitive appearance for the U23s going into the season but soon established himself as a regular and provided a frequent attacking threat. The former Reading defender also showed signs of improvement defensively and relished playing as a right wing-back when Arsenal deployed a 3-4-2-1 system.
JOSH DASILVA (17 games, 1 goal)
One of the most impressive performers in this side, the powerful midfielder ended the campaign by captaining the side. Providing the perfect link between defence and attack, Dasilva helped Arsenal to retain possession and initiate attacks, while he also made good use of his physical strength.
EMILE SMITH ROWE (10 games, 1 goal)
Injuries affected Smith Rowe’s campaign at times but when fit the England youth international produced some excellent displays as he stepped up to the U23s with ease. Possessing flair in abundance, he was on the scoresheet in the win at Sunderland in January.
The last named was one of the names spotlighted by Wenger when he also spoke about youth before the West Ham game. The boss said: “Emile Smith Rowe is close and Josh Dasilva is close,” Le Prof said.
“Mavropanos as well, but at the moment he is injured, and Osei-Tutu, the right back. These are the players who are close and they need to be developed before we slowly give them a chance.”
So it looks like we will be seeing a lot more youngsters coming through to the first team, and going by Jorge’s recommendations we have a lot of up-and-coming talent around. We had a lot of success with them in Wenger’s early days and maybe we could do so again in the future.
They all sound good, but we still need to invest in a ready-made centre-back and a DM this summer!