Is Project Youth at Arsenal on the way out?

Project youth comes under the spotlight once again with the news that promising young defender Martin Angha has signed a pre-contract agreement to join German club FC Nuremburg in the summer. Arsenal football club has created a reputation for nurturing young talent and blooding them into the first team earlier than expected at most big clubs. When it has worked it has really worked and at other times many fans have been left scratching their heads wondering what the manager actually saw in a player.


Having the eye to see star quality in a young player is not a simple science at all; running rings around players in your age group does not automatically transpire into becoming a world star when thrust into the first team. Sometimes it can be linked to an earlier growth spurt or sheer athleticism that leads a player to stand out from the crowd but then there is the crossroads that is met where cutting it against men requires that special star quality that sets apart a youth star from the real deal.

Now given the growing barren spell of trophies at the Emirates over the years Arsene Wenger has been seen to gradually decrease his initial faith in bringing through youth and instead purchase more established players. He hasn’t completely done away with blooding youngsters and the Capital One Cup is still a platform for the potential to test themselves against more challenging opposition than what they are used to in the reserves and youth leagues. Though the past couple of seasons has seen Arsene Wenger produce more balanced teams thus ensuring enough experience is on the field to help along the youth. In the past it wasn’t a shock to see a Capital One Cup line up littered with young players; they would play with no fear and leave the fans in the stands glowing about how bright the future was.

Now more often than not players that were tipped as standout players in the youth set up have been moving on to pastures new, what isn’t entirely clear is whether these players have moved on because Arsene has identified they don’t have what all it takes to transfer their quality into top level football or whether their impatience has got the better of them. Many young players experience first team football out on loan and when they return to the club the prospect of playing in front of one man and his dog fails to inspire them. The first sniff of an opportunity to become a first team player elsewhere can be too hard to turn down; the manager doesn’t seem to stand in a player’s way when he cannot justify a place ahead of the current players he has in the first team.

Last summer promising Dutch/Turkish player Oguzhan Ozyakup made the move to Besiktas, it seemed a bit of a shock at the time as he was on the fringes of the first team and seemed destined to take his Arsenal career to the next level. Fran Merida comes to mind as another who maybe left before the manager expected. This season there are a number of players who could potentially move on this summer as the club delays on the offer of new contracts. It’s a gamble the club plays on those the manager is not 100% certain of, the time spent thinking allows players like Angha to make other arrangements.

Was Angha a top prospect? I believe he was, he made his first team debut this season in the Capital One Cup. He was highly rated when signed a couple of years back along with Sead Hajrovic and the times I have seen him in various youth and reserve games he had been impressive and comfortable at that level. I think he is one that got away but it would be interesting to hear the view from the club and Arsene in particular if he regrets the loss of the player.

Personally I think the time is up for players like Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt; they have been given opportunities around the first team but have failed to advance their development to the level required. Their loan spells have produced mixed results and I would not be surprise to see them as former Arsenal player by the time next season starts. Chuks Aneke is another player who has had massive potential coming through the ranks and I feel that he may stay on with the club next season but it will be a make or break season for him. He has done well on loan at Crewe Alexandra this season but in all due respect he needs to be testing himself at a much higher level if he is to break into the first team.

chuks aneke

Successful loans don’t always equal a passage to the first team as the example of Henri Lansbury will show you. Despite a few outings for the first team the majority of Lansbury’s last few years at Arsenal seemed to be away from the club on loan. Although I wouldn’t class his departure to impatience, his time away meant that when opportunities presented themselves in the Arsenal midfield he was not around to take them.

It really is interesting to see how the project youth will take shape in the near future at Arsenal, there is undoubted quality coming through such as the likes of Serge Gnabry and Tomas Eisfeld but will those players have the patience to wait to compete with the likes of Arteta, Wilshere Cazorla for a start or fancy their chances of first team opportunities elsewhere? A lot of money is invested in the scouting system at the club and development of young players but at what point is the line drawn if players don’t hang around? Maybe the chance to unearth another Wilshere is worth cutting the loss on players just not at the required level yet.

Enjoy your day people.

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Oguzhan Ozyakup: is Arsenal youth policy failing?

When the recent unconfirmed news that Oguzhan Ozyakup had signed for Besiktas broke this week it had me thinking of the many young players that have left arsenal over the years. Arsenal is a club famed for its development of young professionals and it’s rare to find a player who started at Arsenal who did not credit the academy for giving them a great grounding.

The thing about having a great youth set up is it is meant to transpire and develop into an integration of promising youngsters into the first team squad and carry on the traditions and foundations created.Barcelona despite their superstars still manages to successfully integrate youth players into their set up.

Given the way it has worked out at arsenal you could argue that is a flawed strategy as many players have worked their way through the ranks only to become frustrated at not becoming a first team player instantly. Wenger would champion them and talk up their unlimited potential but then their heads would be turned by the first chance of 1st team football elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong not every player that has come through the ranks has been the level of a jack Wilshere but many have had the potential to be as good. Some players develop to that next level of superstardom a little later in the process, not everyone can crack the first team at 17/18. That is one of the main problems, some youngsters choose Arsenal because they saw Fabregas getting his debut at 16 and think they will get the same opportunities. Their development can be different and the coaches in charge of the younger players and Wenger himself can spot those that have that something special that warrants fast tracking to the first team as well as those that may need a bit more time.

Footballers’ egos are one of the hardest things to manage; they go from running rings around opponents their age and being praised no end to then being told they’re not ready just yet for the first team which is something many young players just don’t seem to register with anything but negativity. This is the point to knuckle down, work even harder and earn the right to be a part of Arsenal first team squad. Some players are not prepared to just play reserve football and get the odd run out in the Carling cup, they want more sooner.

The opportunity to go on loan becomes available and most take it. I’m a big fan of young players going on loan; they get a chance to experience the real ins and outs of first team football. It can also be a measure of their potential if they excel at the club they go on loan to. I mean if a player goes out on loan (in this instance a striker) to a league 2 club and doesn’t score his fair share of goals there it can give an indication that maybe he may not ready to dislodge Robin Van Persie just yet. It can be a nice reality check as the goal a game ratio they had at u-18 level was just that.. u-18 level, the real world is not as easy unless your name is Messi.

The players that go out on loan and do have successful spells often return to Arsenal and find it hard to shift back into reserve football and out of the limelight. They taste that idolisation and when they return they struggle to accept being out of the picture again.

This is the stage where Arsenal has lost many a player they were not planning to let go of. If you look back names such as David Bentley, Sebatian Larsson and Steve Sidwell come to mind. I know, you see those names and probably think not good enough players but to me I honestly believe if they stayed at Arsenal and carried on their development they would have made it at Arsenal.

Ok, David Bentley turned out to be a complete sewer rat but he did have the ability to make something of his career. The main problem for David Bentley was David Bentley; he believed his own hype and thought he was a superstar before his time. Honestly with the right mindset and people around him he could have been a massive player for club and country instead he’s deemed a pompous joke that wasted a promising career. Larsson and Sidwell have carved out decent premiership careers for themselves and could have done a job at Arsenal without setting the world alight if they showed a bit more patience but the good times at Reading and Birmingham swayed their heads.

When Arsenal chooses to let a player go they often prove it was the right decision as we tend to hold on to the ones that have the superstar quality required for the top. I guess that must be part of our ‘business model’ to create marketable superstars with massive returns if ever sold.

A player that had the potential to follow in Cesc’s footsteps towards Arsenal 1st XI was Fran Merida. He had amazing technical ability and was slowly integrating into the Arsenal squad before deciding he wanted a lot more a lot sooner. As is the risk you take from obtaining a player from abroad Merida seemed to miss Spain and it was inevitable he would go back, it was just how soon it happened that wasn’t expected.

His career has stagnated after a bright start at Atletico Madrid and is probably another reason that proves moving too soon isn’t always so prosperous. His situation when you look at it hasn’t changed much from his time at Arsenal as he has struggled to get into the team and spent half of last season out on loan to Braga. Was it worth it? He might say it was but deep down he knows the truth.

Ozyakup falls into a similar category as Merida in terms of ability and potential, if channelled correctly a very good player could emerge. The move to Besiktas still hasn’t been confirmed and I hope it is a made up story. There is some weight behind it since Ozyakup has recently swapped national representation from Holland to Turkey; so a move to a leading Turkish team wouldn’t seem so crazy. I actually think Ozyakup is in Wenger’s plans and should have a long hard think before jumping ship.

A loan move would be a more logical career move at this stage of his career, we will have to wait and see how this plays out but if Ozyakup does decide to move on then Arsenal will have to take a long hard look at whether their strategy to grooming youth is working. The time, money and effort put into these young players is not a guarantee but a gamble and its interesting to know how much money is lost when these players move before their time.

P.S Thank you to Oguzhan Ozyakup for breaking my spell checker.

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