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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Henri Lansbury: frustrated gem gone, Walcott to follow? – AFC

Another day another departure, yesterday Arsenal announced the sale of midfielder Henri Lansbury to Championship side Nottingham Forest. The youngster signed a 4 year contract with the club in a deal believed to be in the region of £1m. I can’t help but feel we have a knack of selling players and not receiving anywhere near the kind of money these players are worth. Henri is a promising England midfielder an undoubted star player in the u-21 national team with proven experience at successful teams at championship level. He has helped 2 of the 3 championship clubs he has played at gain promotion to the premiership and even his spell at Scunthorpe lead to a play off place only missing out on playing in the play offs due to his loan not extending beyond last game of season.

There is no shame in being unable to break into the Arsenal midfield past players like Arteta, Diaby, and Cazorla; when you are young you have to be exceptionally talented to force players of that experience to the bench. The problem with players in Henri’s case is that their value is lowered because of this, an insane philosophy as there are players with half of Henri’s talent at smaller clubs being sold for ridiculous fees. Not being ready to dislodge players in Arsenal midfield does not mean you are a bad player sometimes timing is all wrong. Football can for a lot of the time be about luck, the injury to a first team player and being at the right place at the right time to get a chance to shine and stake a claim for a place. It happens; some players sink some players swim and a player like Lansbury although he was developing well in his loan moves he never seemed to be around at arsenal to take any chances. The Carling cup games hardly ever graced his appearance as he would be on loan somewhere, the times when our whole midfield would be crocked and again Lansbury would be elsewhere. One of the most memorable moments for Lansbury was scoring against spurs in the Carling cup, we won the game 4-1 and Henri was on everyone’s lips. Problem was other clubs noticed this and pressed forward with loan offers for the youngster, he duly obliged in order to gain more experience and improve. Maybe that year was the year to stay at arsenal and wait for any opportunity that arose. He didn’t stay and I suppose out of sight out of mind in Wenger’s case.

You look at players like Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin; they are not better or worse than Lansbury but were clearly more established as first team players. Their opportunities came because they hung around and a chance came for them to take. Their specialist position is different from Lansbury being defensive midfield but despite a couple of loan moves for Coquelin initially he decided to stay at the club and wait for a chance to shine. His versatility granted him a chance in another position but he still grabbed his opportunity with both hands and put him firmly in Wenger’s plans. Once he proved he had what it took to perform in the first eleven the chances were bound to come in his preferred position. Frimpong despite the setback of a long term injury bided his time and took his opportunity when Alex Song was suspended for a few games; he impressed in his performance against Liverpool last season (despite getting himself sent off in that game) and made his claim for a place in the arsenal midfield.

I wish Henri good luck in his career at Forest and hope he graces the premiership again to show what he is really capable of. Despite his weird obsession of doing the dougie he showed his focus and drive at the many clubs he played for.

In other news it is claimed contract extension talks has broken down between Theo Walcott’s people and the club. Though according to BBC sport Theo wants to stay at the club and is willing to continue negotiations. This situation frustrates me as the closer we move towards the closing of the transfer window the more power moves to Walcott’s agent in negotiations.

It will not be ideal to have the player in his final year of his contract and the window shut. With the transfer window being this close to closing we would most likely miss out on a decent fee If we decided to cut our losses and sell. If we foolishly think we can tie Walcott to a contract once that window shuts we are very mistaken. He will have the opportunity to pick and choose his club and walk out the door on a free at the end of the season or move to a club for peanuts at the next transfer window.

As we learnt with Robin Van Persie we cannot afford to let these negotiations drag on, Walcott keeps making noises as if he wants to stay at the club but yet no contract is signed.

The Walcott situation also frustrates me due to the money and patience invested in the winger over the years, he is a player who on his day can terrify and destroy defences for fun but in between those good games are many where he has looked like a little boy lost in a game of men. Arsenal fans have backed him and believed in him; fending off all the accusations from outside the club (and inside when you consider Stewart Robson) of having no football brain. We have persevered with him whilst he has frustrated many a time and I feel he owes it to the club and the fans to commit.

I believe there is still more to come from him and despite seeming to be around for an eternity already he is still learning and improving. I still see the potential to reach the levels of Thierry Henry as he develops his game and physical strength I just won’t be able to stomach him moving on and another club reaping the benefits of our hard work.

I just hope Theo can look deep inside and realise what the club has done for him and return the favour by offering his services for years to come.

Enjoy your day people

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Benayoun farewell, players in/out as transfer window opening looms – AFC

When the 1st July arrives it will signal the cut off point where many a deal ends for footballers. 1st July is primarily set as an end point to contracts to coincide with the opening of the summer transfer window in England. Despite the high number of transfers announced by clubs since the season ended and in some cases towards the end of the season while it was still being contested; the deals do not officially kick in until 1st July.

Arsenal took the opportunity to re-confirm the professional players that will be released come this date and there have been no new additions to the names mentioned at the end of the season; Manual Almunia still being the most high profile name. A few second year scholars have also been released while a number have been offered professional contracts. Some names of the new professionals will be known to arsenal fans already, young players such as Hector Bellerin, Kris Olsson and keeper Reice Charles-Cooke.

Another set of players have 1st July as a significant date and that is the loanees who were on season long loans. In that category for Arsenal will be the loss of Yossi Benayoun. The Israeli became popular amongst Arsenal fans because of his contribution to Arsenal’s run of form in the second half of the season gone. He scored some important goals at times and proved to all he had the passion and ability to fit into the Arsenal team. Unfortunately it seems with no word of any negotiations between Arsenal and Chelsea that Yossi will return to his parent club.

Benayoun even took to twitter yesterday to give his thanks to the Arsenal players, staff and fans for his time spent over the past 11 months at the emirates.

He tweeted:

“My loan spell with arsenal will be officially over tomorrow… I want to say again a big thanks to the fans and the club for the opportunity and the great support and I wish this club all the very best!”

Very nice words from the midfielder towards the club and I’m sure all Arsenal fans will wish him the best in wherever his career path takes him (with the exception of games against us of course). It could be that with a new manager at Chelsea he could feature in Robert Di Matteo’s plans for next season or he is holding out for an offer of a more secure longer term contract; something Arsene doesn’t throw out freely to over 30’s very often. Whatever the reasons are behind the scenes Yossi will leave the club on good terms.

Whilst signaling the end of season long loanees to Arsenal in the opposite direction the doors will open once again to a number of players who spent the last season elsewhere. The likes of Bendtner, Denilson and Vela will all become property of Arsenal again. It will be fair to say that neither of these players will be returning with the intention of starting the new season playing at the Emirates. Each has been quite vocal in their insistence that they see no future at Arsenal; Bendtner has been putting himself in the shop window at Euro 2012 and his agent has been talking up his demand across Europe. Vela and Denilson have enjoyed productive loan spells at Sao Paulo and Real Sociedad respectively and look towards potentially making permanent moves to those clubs.

Only sticking point is with Denilson, the Brazilian club is pushing for an extension on his loan rather than a permanent deal. Not ideal for us and we really need to stick to our guns and push for a permanent deal at the right price for a player who doesn’t want to return to Arsenal.

Young players returning which are very much in Arsene’s plans for the future are Joel Campbell and Ryo Miyaichi; however their involvement next season depends heavily on work permits and whether Arsene feels their experiences gained has made them ready for the first team.

A player at crossroads will be Henri Lansbury, its unclear whether Arsene will finally give him a run in the team next season, he had a mixed season on loan at West Ham as he was hampered by injuries and struggled to get back into the first XI after a long spell out on the sidelines. Arsene has spoken highly of Henri in the past and he has been one of the standout players in the England u-21 set up. Time will tell how that pans out though it would be a shame for him to not get a fair crack of the whip. Oguzhan Ozyakup has gone after he confirmed via twitter last week will Henri follow him out the door?

Enjoy your day people

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Oxlade-Chamberlain For England – AFC

So the rumours were correct, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made it into the England squad for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.  If it wasn’t for Theo being picked by Sven all those years ago maybe there would be uproar at the inclusion of the 18-year-old Ox . Instead in comparison Chamberlain is a couple of years older, has experience of not only playing in the premiership but also showing enough to stand out in many of the games he has featured.  He seems a lot more ready than you would expect most youngsters at similar age and experience.

The Ox has been putting the performances in for the England U-21’s over the past season and I suppose even before he was an Arsenal player. I believe that was one of the major factors in Roy Hodgson selecting him. It appears to me Roy has swayed towards giving chances to those who have performed and stood out at U-21 level this season. At times the Ox has made a mockery of that level with the perceived minimal effort he needed to put in to show how good he was.  The likes of Henderson and Butland being included all be it at standby shows Hodgson has really taken this into account.

Admittedly my theory is slightly flawed as Henri Lansbury would be a shoo-in for the squad if it was based on England U-21 form. He has actually been one of the leading players this season and has scored some cracking goals to boot.

One important outcome from the England squad is the inclusion of Theo Walcott. He is in the perfect position to pass on advice and share his experience of the 2006 World cup.  He is quite close with Chamberlain and so should help put him at ease. I remember at the 2006 world there were not many arsenal players in the England squad and so a young Walcott was surrounded by all the Chelsea and Man Utd players who based on all the scandals that have come out between now and then were not the best role models to be around. 

Luckily Theo wasn’t corrupted by the likes of Terry, Cole et al and is still pretty grounded in his personal life.  Now Theo is in best position to keep Chamberlain grounded during the experience.

Experience aside this has to be one of the most negatively perceived England squads in a long time. The royal mess the FA made with the timing of the appointing a new manager did not help matters one bit. Hodgson can do no right in the public’s eye and hopefully this will not filter too much through to the squad.  The Terry vs. Ferdinand debate has already dominated the squad selection and it makes you wonder if sides will be taken within the squad. Last thing England needs is a divided squad. France showed how much a mess that can be in South Africa and to an extend England had their own problems themselves within at the World cup. 

 Let’s hope any negativity does not affect the Arsenal boys.

With Theo and Chamberlain being selected for the Euros it means they will not be involved in the Olympics. A good thing I guess and they will have a bigger gap for recovery and wind down before the new season starts.

Doesn’t mean any other Arsenal players are immune, Gibbs could be considered maybe even Lansbury since Pearce knows him from England U-21. A very long shot but you never know.  We will cross that bridge when it comes.

One last thing to consider from the inclusion of Chamberlain into the England squad. There is every chance a clause will be triggered when he makes his international debut. Southampton will be due some form of payment for this achievement. 

Let’s hope it doesn’t eat into the new RVP contract budget…

 Enjoy your day people

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