Youth Policy? Here’s a list of ones that DIDN’T make it at Arsenal

It’s fitting in a week where studies say Arsenal are the most inclined to give youth a chance we are all getting excited about Emile Smith Rowe. We used to say pre-season didn’t matter but the teenager has used the tour of Singapore to suggest at least in cup competitions, he could break into the first team. As the list below will show it’s not just talent which determines if you make it. Fitness, attitude dealing with fame are all contributing factors ……

Below is a list of Arsenal youngsters who didn’t fulfil their promise with us…

Serge Gnabry
One of the few youngsters you could accuse Arsene Wenger of mishandling, in terms of not putting up enough fight to keep him at the club, with sides in Germany more then happy to take advantage. Werder Bremen signed him as a replacement for Kevin De Bruyne and once he started to play regularly the more his career advanced, earning a summer move to Bayern Munich and being capped by Germany. It’s not that anyone at Arsenal doubted his ability but was more a case of timing. Having started to break through into our first team squad his progress was undermined by a serous knee injury in 2015. Once recovered he saw being asked to join West Brom on loan (where he barely played) as a backwards move having been nominated for one of the world’s best teenagers in 2013.

Quite a sad story as Ryo went from a youngster who had earnt his own chant to almsot a forgotten man at Arsenal. Fans might be surprised just how long he was on our payroll before Arsene Wenger finally gave up on him. The Japanese international won over many gooners with his performances in a couple of League Cup ties, this after his positive reputation earned on loan at Feyernoord. A loan to Wigan was meant to be part of his development but instead of getting game time he suffered two injuries to his ankle ligaments, something he never truly recoverd from. Journalists from Asia would often show up at Arsene Wenger’s press conferences asking for updates with the Frenchmen insisting time was on his side. The truth was he made less impact with each passing loan move, being released in 2015 and now playing in the Bundesliga 2nd division.

Carlos Vela
A prime example of how a player can be technically as good as anyone but simply too light weight for the Premiership. His goal to game ratio in the cups was good but he didn’t have the physical build to make an impact in the Leguge. This was further evidenced by an unproductive loan spell at West Brom but then a free scoring spree at Real Sociedad which earned him a move to La Liga. The fact that Arsenal insisted on there being a buy back clause suggests Arsene Wenger always sensed he could be productive elsewhere. That we never used that buy back option maintains that the perception of him being too small persists.

Jermaine Pennant
At the time of his departure, Arsene Wenger was accused of not giving the teenager enough chances.For him of all people, to eventually give up on Pennant and let him leave should have indicated how troubled Pennant was. Not that anyone would’ve envisioned him spending time in jail. There were moments where it looked like he had turned his life around, His most consistent level of form came at St Andrews where in truth he should have stayed under the wing of man manager Steve Bruce. A chance to go to Liverpool offered him one more shot at the big time. He played in a Champions Leauge final but couldn’t maintain that level of performance. Since then his career has been a journey around the world, from Spain – India- Singapore- Scotland.

David Bentley
When Arsenal were going a whole season undefeated there wasn’t a lot you could accuse Arsene Wenger of. One though would be his failure to bring through British players from the academy, something he tried to rectify by giving David Bentley game time where he could. Fans alway love seeing one of their own make it to the big time and therefore were disapopinted when he was allowed to move to Blackburn Rovers. His initial form at Ewood Park led to a move to Spurs where he was being dubbed the ‘next David Beckham’. Meanwhile as the ‘Untouchables’ were being split up and replaced by a more youthful looking Arsenal side, it appeaerd that Bentley could have fitted in and therefore his sale seemed hasty. At White Heart Lane, he’s best remembered for ironically a wonder goal against us and dumping a bucket of ice over Harry Redknapp. People have often joked it was in that one moment Harry decided to get rid of him but it’s another example of a respected boss not being impressed by Bentley’s professionalism towards the game. Gambling and injuries have been cited as reasons why Bentley couldn’t maintain this form but it is worth considering that he retired at the age of of just 29 saying he ‘fell out of love with football’.

Quincy Owusu-Abeyie
Originally Abeyie excited Arsenal fans with his pace and flair in cup games and cameos off the bench in the League. Some of his tricks and skills had him very quickly compared to Jay Jay Okcha. He backed this up by shining in juniour tournaments for Holland. Looking good in the last 20 minuites aginst tired defences is one thing, starting every week requires a level of discipline that he lacked, both in terms of tactical awareness and behaviour issues. This is what got him released from the world renowned Ajax Academy and would plague him throughout his career. He would make instant impacts upon arriving but would fail tp keep up those standards.

Arturo Lupoli
Lupoli was built up as the next big thing in Italian Football, so it was seen as a coup when Arsenal manged to sign him as a teenager. The Italian had an incredible goal scoring record in our youth/reserve teams that he originally had at Parma. He put that to use in the few Leauge Cup fixtures he played but it was hard for him to break into a strike force that included Thierry Henry. Arsene Wenger encouraged him to be patient but with his potential constantly being talked about in Serie A he didn’t need to be. His agent lined up some of the biggest Italian giants to sign him with Fiorentina ingnoring his lack of game time in North London. Lupoli would go on to be more prolific in Italy then Engand but only in the lower tier of football. Not what was hoped for him.

Jeremie Aliadiere
Prehaps the classic example of why it can be hard for young talent at the elite clubs. Like a lot of his senior colleagues Aliadiare was a graduate from the renowned Clairefontaine academy. Signed as a 16 year old, Arsene Wenger was happy to give him the cup competitions to make an impression, which he did, but it was perhaps the worst time in our history for a young prospect to try to get into our first team. The Frenchmen probably stayed for too long, comfortable at a club he had been at since a teenager. When he went to Middlesbrough, suddenly he wasn’t linking up with the same quality of player or getting the same amount of chances per game. Wrapped up in cotton wool by the enviroment Arsenal provide Aliadiare didn’t seem to have the confidence he had when breaking onto the scene. Wenger has continued to look after him throughout his career, letting him use our training facilites to recover from a serious injury and using his connections to get him a move to Lorient.

Fran Merida
Seeing the development of Fabregas, Arsenal again targeted Barcelona’s academy with the Catalans being critical of the Gunners approach. This was a big deal in Spain as the youngster was predicted to have a bright future, shining for the underage national team. On more then one occasion Arsene Wenger predicted his midfielder had the talent to be world class and assumed he was on the verge of signing a new deal. Homesick, he was struggling to settle in London, something Atletico Madrid were willing to take advantage of. The La Liga side were accused of tapping him up similar to how we were the first time. He continued to struggle for first team football and has since rebuilt his career in the lower leagues.


  1. GoonerP says:

    I would have included Chuba Akpom. Officially gone to PAOK today.

  2. gotanidea says:

    Great article, Admin. Gnabry was a missed opportunity

    In the last twenty years of Arsenal youth development history, only Ashley Cole, Ray Parlour, Tony Adams and Martin Keown were able to bring major trophies for Arsenal. The rest (like Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott, Fabregas, etc) cannot bring the glory back to Arsenal

    I believe Maitland-Niles, Nelson and Smith-Rowe can change this, if Arsenal play according to their strengths. Looking forward to see which senior players they will replace in this season

    1. Eddie Hoyte says:

      I’ve not been too impressed with Niles actually, he seems to be struggling because he’s trying too much, as in each time he has the ball he’s always trying to be stylish and he forces his movement.
      Other than the assist against Chelsea, I haven’t really seen much contribution each time he played..
      Personally, losing Gnabry hurts me a lot more than it did when we lost R.V.P
      Gnabry is that winger that we need back now, can’t we try to sign him back up? Bayern Munich signing him ain’t stupid I know

      1. Eddie Hoyte says:

        Not Niles… I meant to type Nelson

        1. Sal says:

          you where about to get an earful eddie :).. gnabry was explosive might have been something under another manager same with ox.

  3. Eddie Hoyte says:

    Forgotten to add Yaya Sanogo??
    Who can forget his famous hat trick during one of our pre seasons

  4. Max41 says:

    How about zelalem, cowley, landsbury, bielik, akpom, welington silva, ozyakup, couquelin, frimpong?? all of them are basically been seen as “next big thing” but failed..

    1. Sergio says:


  5. Nayr says:

    thomas eisfield too.

    if unai emery remains as arsenal coach for a few years emile smith rowe might develop into a ballon d or contender.

    quick feet,clever,agile,good delivery,tactically clever.

    he looks more like a hazard type of player than debruyne.

    kid has a big future.

  6. Phil says:

    Very good article.All AFC fans encourage youth developments but how many actually come through the ranks and succeed here or at other clubs when released?Gnarby COULD make it.He should never have been allowed to leave like he did but the lad does have ability.Whether he can make that breakthrough at Bayern remains to be seen but his (or Wengers)mistake was allowing him to go on loan at WBA.Tony Pulis uses carthorses so why did Wenger even consider allowing Gnarby to be loaned to a Manager who for years had only a single tactic.Get a throw in high up the pitch and let Rory Delapvlaunch a long throw.
    We do seem to have promise in our Youth System where some promising players MAY come through.But Emery cannot allow sentiment to rule his judgement no matter how keen he is to promote young players

  7. Innit says:

    At what age is considered end of youth in foootball terms?
    Is Guendouzi considered a youth at 19?

    1. Innit says:

      Holding/Chambers is about 22-23. Youth?

  8. Snowden says:

    Thank you for an interesting article

  9. Sue says:

    It’s a shame Gnabry left…

    OT Ramsey to Liverpool???

    1. Phil says:

      If he went there Sue can you seriously see him getting in the team?How about a swap with Luke Shaw?Both have a year on their contracts and we need a LB of quality.Sorry if that means your latest heartthrob Kolasinic being dropped.

      1. Sue says:

        No I couldn’t Phil… he’d warm the bench for sure
        Oh no not the tank being dropped ??

        1. Sue says:

          Phil, it makes me laugh the way you say ‘your latest heartthrob’ ???

          1. Phil says:

            Well Sue just as you were getting over the Pony Tailed Hearthrob Petit it was Podolski who stole your heart.When Wenger quite wrongly bombed him out up popped Kolasinic.I mean how many more times can Arsenal break your heart????

          2. Sue says:

            The devastation over the years hey?!!!! ? I’ve just about coped Phil ?

  10. Innit says:

    Most of the youth people mention are attackers . nelson, nketiah, niles, akpom, zelalem , Rowe

    Does anyone know of good defensive youth prospects? Defender, goalkeeper
    I can only think of Macey and Beilik.

    1. Blacout says:

      Conor Henderson

  11. Brian Rotich says:

    Dembele is in London

    1. Innit says:

      I knoe. I saw a photo him with Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette and Guendouzi but he is close friends with Aubameyang from Dortmund days

  12. Ackshay says:

    Lots of clubs have lots of failed youth potentials. Look at barca academy who hasn’t really produced anything of worth these last years. I think the ratio of youth players making it to the squad is 1 out of 20. Right now Niles, Iwobi, Bellerin, nelson, nketiah are in the squad so they are a success unlike others wonderkids who didn’t even make it in our 1st team squad like akpom, zelalem.
    So 5 youth players in this season squad is good, will they progress to starting 11 ? 1 or 2 maybe. Its not a coincidence that apart from nelson the rest aren’t the most talented skill wise that made it. Rarely do the wonderkids ever make it and nelson is struggling whereas hard workers like niles, iwobi, bellerin(talking before they stagnated when they were assured of a place) got in.

  13. It is the way of life or let me say football life, a lot of players hyped in their younger years to become the next big thing but did not happen.

    Possible reasons the players never succeed
    1. They believed in the hype but did not put in the hard work
    2. Countless injuries over the years, started to add up
    3. Drugs and the party life
    4. Poor coaching or mismanagement
    5. No self motivation/lost of interest

    There are many more reasons and all teams are faced with the same dilemma, it would be difficult to count on one hand how many players from the junior squads have made it through to the starting 11 of the top clubs. This problem is not unique to Arsenal.

    We have to continue finding gems from all over the world and ensure a proper framework for their development, which does not always work. It is just basically luck of the draw.

    1. jon fox says:

      Good post but wrong last sentence. The skill is in picking the right characters in the first place. You always need great strength of character as well as great ability to be a top player. One without the other is useless. Snowflakes are so common now , world wide in thr younger genertion. Finding tough , mature but still very young players is NOT” luck of the draw”, but good character judgement and needs proper skill of human analysis as a person.

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