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What Now For The Academy?

In a season that has ended potless for the first team, it is worth venerating the achievements of Steve Bould and his team in first of all winning the Academy Premier League title (showing real first team aptitude by clinching it at our official title headquarters at White Hart Lane) and reaching the Final of the F.A. Youth Cup. It`s often noted that English football fans have a prurient desire to see graduates from the Youth Team gracing the senior side. A brief glance around the Grove on match days will see the legend 19 WILSHERE grace many a replica shirt. This is an extraordinary leap of faith for someone who has made two and a half Carling Cup appearances, as well as two substitute appearances apiece in the F.A. Cup, Premiership and 1 in the Champions League. (Also witness the difference in the supporters` treatment of Bendtner and Walcott, both of whom I consider peas in a pod in terms of the current stage of their development). It also speaks to the enormous amount of pressure hoisted on the shoulders of young English players.

The level of invective levelled at the manager in last Thursday`s Shareholders meeting would suggest the word on the street is that Arsenal fans are tired of living in a perpetual future. "The experiment" as it is often erroneously referred to has failed, the over reliance on youth too stark for us to challenge for the top honours. As Amos pointed out in an article last week, this is something of a mis-corroberation of facts as Wenger has only signed one first team player under 21 since 2006. The voluble criticisms from the gallows yell, "experience, experience" (probably the same people that have Wilshere`s name on the back of their shirts and deride the manager for picking Eboue over Vela and blame Gallas for global warming), yet apparently we don`t want "geriatrics" with immense experience either. The manager himself has ominously told us he is looking for players who "aren`t inexperienced, we already have enough of those." In a climate where our supporters are apparently now unwilling to continue to invest in a future that lies at the end of a hypothetical rainbow, one has to ask where this leaves Steve Bould and the under 18s? I`ve no doubt that thousands will file into our ground on Friday evening to watch the First Leg of the Youth Cup Final as we take on Liverpool. I will also bet you my left testicle right here and now, that I will hear at least one comment along the lines of, "well player x who I am watching for the first time ever at youth level is much better than that geriatric Silvestre/ Eboue/ Bendtner." So the question of who will come through from this current all dominating crop is slightly compromised by the confused rantings of our own beleaguered concerns of our own supporters.

The last time Arsenal had a Youth Side of comparative success was at the turn of the Century, when the team of 2001 absolutely mauled Blackburn 5-0 in the F.A. Youth Cup Final First Leg at Highbury. Before drawing 1-1 at Ewood Park in the second leg. The core of that side has eked out an existence in the Premiership; Jermaine Pennant, Jerome Thomas, Steven Sidwell, David Bentley, Justin Hoyte and Jeremie Aliadiere (Premiership footballers for the next few days at least), James Harper had two seasons in the top flight with Reading, as did Graham Stack- albeit as a reserve keeper and Rhys Weston has drifted around league football ever since. The captain of that side, Ben Chorley, had brief spells at Wimbledon and Milton Keynes Dons before drifting off the radar. As Youth Sides go, that represents a good crop indeed. However, the key point remains that none were deemed good enough to play for Arsenal. Whilst we have made an incredibly good currency out of raiding the products of the globe`s finest Academy products and "ripping and burning" them into our own file marked "Arsenal Youth Products." However, players to earn the strictly 100% organic label on the supermarket shelf have been in short supply. Ashley Cole being the only Arsenal youth product of the 21st Century who has earned himself a 1-11 squad number. You can justifiably argue that modern, freewheeling, Champions League chasing Arsenal`s standards are higher, hence the lack of real emergence from the ranks. But does that not mean our Academy is not matching our status as a club? Are any of the Big 4s academies mining and cultivating footballing gold? Liverpool have reared no one of significance since Gerrard and Carragher who are both nudging 30, Chelsea don`t have any youth project to speak of having harvested nobody since John Terry. United have some squad members in their mid 20s from the academy in O`Shea and Fletcher whilst the likes of Welbeck remain unproven.

So who from the current Arsenal crop will make it? It is interesting to note that, in true Wenger style, many members of this year`s Youth side have played in a multitude of positions. Emmanuel Frimpong, like his namesake Eboue, has been tasked with the full back and wide midfield positions. Jay Emmanuel Thomas, the current captain, has played at full back, central midfield and in the wide positions; Rhys Murphy can play in midfield or upfront. The jewel in the crown is considered to be Jack Wilshere, who was a persistent fixture in the first team eighteen until the New Year, when a loss of form and concern over the premature pressure placed on his shoulders saw him quietly ushered away from the spotlight. Wilshere is a left footed player weaving his magic on the right, though Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould see his future in a central supporting striker role. Yet the supporting striker position is one that is traditionally well stocked under the current manager; Merson, Overmars, Bergkamp, Pires, Ljungberg, Hleb, van Persie, Arshavin, Kanu, - the list is endless. So will Wilshere realistically get the chance to flourish? Particularly in a climate where people are apparently entitled to make curt and crude remarks to the manager in the absence of instant success. In the late 80s Arsenal forged a team from their youth set up with the likes of Thomas, Rocastle, Merson and Adams. Nobody needs reminding of how Manchester United`s current standing was earned back in the early 90s. Isn`t it about time Arsenal produced at least one more gem from its ranks? In the modern game has the importance of a quality academy really diminished or has it just been neglected amidst the rainbow chasing? Arsenal`s current under 18 side looks set to be very decorated, but so too was the 2000-01side and not one of them were considered precious enough diamonds to sculpt into pricely gems. Many of us will crowd into the Emirates on Friday night to watch these young charges, but contemporary football shows us it is likely none of them will ever grace the stadium for regular top flight football. If it`s because they`re not good enough we should perhaps ask questions of an academy system that has waited nearly a decade to unearth a genuine first team player (though Gibbs` emergence might just break that glass ceiling). If they are good enough, the question lingers, are we as fans patient enough to let them develop. It would appear not.LD.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Tuesday May 19 2009

Time: 9:28PM

Your Comments

I wouldnt say it has failed at all, unfortunately some players werent prepared to wait that extra 18months ala Bentley and sidwell. Perhaps we would liked to have seen more come through, but as you mentioned Gibbs has broke through and he will push clichy for his position next year. Wilshere is outrageously talented and will blossom again, taken out of the limelight, he will prevail at Arsenal. Not sold on Frimpong at the moment, need to see him a bit more. The one I am looking foward to seeing in the first team is jay-emmanuel Thomas, fierce competitor, strong powerful and an engine to match,and also knows where the goal is. Traore has been out on loan for further experience and should get more appearances next season. The others to look out for are Lansbury, who got massively hampered last year through injury, and randall has the ability but his attitude has let him down. Then following on should be Freeman, afobe, murphy, nordveit and bartley. So there is enough coming through, but will the arsenal fans give them the time without no silver to keep them occupied?
Harry671
I was not really "around" at the time of that 2000/01 team, but I am sure than nobody was talking up Aliadiere, Hoyte, Sidwell and Thomas like they do Wilshere, Frimpong, Coquelin, Jay Thomas, Merida, Gibbs et al.
Tom14
I dont see why the fans wouldnt be patient enough. The example of Theo, when he's allowed to make several mistakes without being criticised is a case in point, which will be extended to other academy graduates as well. I'd really like to see someone graduate to the 1st team and was very pleased when Wilshere was given a squad number. Its understandable if they dont, as the standards are much higher, but I do believe that 1-2 of the current bunch will make it. Its pointless to pick out names as a lot of things could change - the most talented player is not necessarily the one who will make it, as attitude and mental toughness counts more.
prits
Maybe it's just me as a foreigner. Agree with Prits - I thought the Gooners in England showed great patience with someone like Theo, possibly because he's English. That's natural and I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It's only a bad thing when the likes of Bendtner haven't received the same level of support when they needed it. Since this crop is full of English kids, I'd guess they'll be given time and support that the Gooners have shown for Jack Wilshere. It's just impossible to predict whether they'll be good enough - let's wait and see until they're like 23, 24. What I like about this bunch of kids is not only their technical ability but their mental toughness as well. Gibbs is a great example, he's recovered from the disappointment of that slip in the high-pressure CL game and performed well these two games. The Youth players have also delivered results at their level when they weren't playing well in the League play-off and in the Youth Cup. These qualities will set them apart from other kids in England where, if we're honest, it's easier to find spoiled kids than mature ones.
GoonerLou
The point I was making with regards to supporters' patience surrounds the hypocrisy of the disenchanted amongst our support. They don't want any more young players, but they don't want "geriatrics" either. They want experienced players, yet they want players coming through the youth team. This looks a very decent crop indeed, but we have to start producing players now, we haven't had one really make it since Cole made his debut 9 years ago. If Arsenal's standard of player is higher now, then the Academy has to now show it has moved to reflect the club's standing and start producing at least one or two of that calibre of player. If less than two come through from this crop, you have to think that our Academy is 100% a breeding ground for other clubs. Let's hope a couple of them from this lot are good enough, if they're not, you have to wonder whether we're just not bothering with the academy enough or whether it is just not handled well enough.
Little Dutch
Oh and the side if 2001 were spoken about in glowing terms. I think Aliadiere would have made it were it not for his appalling injury record in his formative years, Sidwell and Pennant were considered dead certs too, as was Hoyte. In fact, I'll chance every set of fans in the world thinks they have "the next big thing" in their academy. Ask a random fan of another club and they'll see "oh yeah, Jonny Wotsit plays at left back, he's 16 and being compared to Carlos. He'll be in our first team in two years." Then three eyars later Jonny Wotsit is turning out for Ten Em Bee and fixing roof tiles.
Little Dutch
As you point out most other clubs academies have similar problems in bringing through kids from pre-puberty to the first team. Off the top of my head I can't think of one that has done so consistently. Brazil seems to the 'academy' feeding most European clubs. I think our academy has to be judged on the basis that it is financially viable - that's to say even if the kids don't make it to our level we can still finance the academy from sales of players like Bentley, Sidwell, Muamba et c. That way the Academy can operate as a 'finishing school' for players like Fabregas, Bendtner, Nordtveit, Coquelin and others that come with a level of development while continuing to mine for gems like Wilshere (if he makes it) that can reach our level. Like all gems though they are rare and difficult to unearth.
Amos.
When you analyse our season can you really say it was the youngsters that stopped us acheiving things? I would look at Toure, Clichy, Sylvestre, Adebayor more than say Gibbs, Song Denilson or Bendtner.
iceman10
The academy is a money making machine...Aliadiere was a real talent, i wasn't ever convinced on Pennant though or Sidwell come to think of it.
shewore
"Particularly in a climate where people are apparently entitled to make curt and crude remarks to the manager in the absence of instant success." Erm, even Bob Wilson said there was only 3 or 4% of the questions would be considered abrupt, but not even rude. Lets drop that common fallacy immeadiately please? Also the bit about instant success and the people clamouring for more experience with Wiltshire on their shirts, the whole artical is aimed at a very, very small minority while the rest of us are being tarred with the same brush or lumped in with them. The people you describe make up a small minority of f***ing idiots and complete 'tards whose opinion means squat in the grand scheme of things. Couldn't agree more with you about the "produce one more gem atleast" comment, it's been inexcusably too long and teh much vaunted youth system of Brady has failed dismally to produce 1st team calibre players, fair enough they go to oteher teams, but we aren't here to stock other teams with average English players.
LondonGooner
Fair enough LD, but were any playing like Gibbs in the first team? Or looking as good as Wilshere, ramming into Salgado?
Tom14
It may be a minority LG, but it still happened. I made no mention of how many supporters this applies to, but in truth, I'm beginning to think that is a fair portion of our home support that that applies to. I don't know if you're familiar with a TV show Chris Morris wrote called 'Nathan Barley' but if not, get on YouTube and watch the first ever episode. A journalist called Dan Ashcroft gets so *****ed off with the trendy media types he has to work with he writes an article called "Rise of the Idiots", I feel like that some times! Tom, Aliadiere was very much on the brink, as was Pennant (though not strictly our product), Aliadiere was derailed by injury, had he had a clean bill of health in his late teens I think he'd be playing for us now. Pennant was derailed by a ***** poor attitude and thinking he'd already made it at the age of 16. It's fair enough that the Academy makes us some income, but after nine years without a bona fide first teamer, you have to ask if it's good enough? Let's hope the likes of Gibbs and Wilshere break that glass ceiling.
Little Dutch
http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/club-statement-eduardo Hmmm, doesn't sound good.
Little Dutch
blibbering buggery...
Tom14
LG: "Erm, even Bob Wilson said there was only 3 or 4% of the questions would be considered abrupt, but not even rude. Lets drop that common fallacy immeadiately please?" -- thanks, LG. I think this has been exaggerated all out of proportion. Just read another blog from a guy who was actually there (and is a strong supporter of AW's) who said that the focus on the less than a handful of people who made abrupt remarks is all out of proportion to the entire session, which was actually quite reasonable and favorable to Arsene. // Re the Academy kids....I remember in last year's shareholder Q&A session Arsene answered a question about how many kids he thought might come thru. He explained how very difficult it is to find and develop players good enuf to play at the top level -- meaning in the PL, never mind in one of the top 4 teams, which is incredibly difficult. He said that maybe 6 or 7 Arsenal Academy kids could be good enuf to go on and play regularly in the PL. For Arsenal? Maybe 1 or 2, 3 at the most.
jaelle
I didn't make mention of how many people were curt in their remarks to Wenger, just that it happened and some people were. I'm not the one blowing this up here, people are making assumptions that I have said that was the predominant tone of the forum. Read again, I haven't, so who is really sensationalising here?
Little Dutch
LD, your recent posts on the Q&A have all depicted it in that way -- a hostile, rude atmosphere for AW; your comments have all been in the same vein, trashing those shareholders, focusing only on those who were supposedly rude and hostile as if that's the only thing worth commenting on in the session. I don't think it unreasonable to challenge that as an exaggerated depiction. // Also, re Aliadiere: I agree he could've made it. At the time AW brought him to Arsenal, in France it was considered a coup for AW because Jeremy was considered one of the brightest, most promising players to come out of France's academy system. Great things were predicted for him. He's been a huge disappointment.
jaelle
This is the first article I've written since the Q and A. On the article Amos wrote regarding the Q and A, I made five posts. One saying that people have a right to question him but should have afforded him more courtesy, one saying the forum came the same day season ticket renewals came out so there was always going to be a little more fuel to the anger, one saying people were entitled to criticise and that he was entitled to criticise back and one saying he was right to make a demarcation between home and away fans. The other said that I hoped the players would react to the negative press around the meeting and that the individuals named would react accordingly at OT. My only other post was to say I like A Cultured Left Foot. Like I said, I'm not the one whipping up the drama here, most of what I have said about the meeting directly has been pretty bland.
Little Dutch
Most of what has been said about the Q&A has been pretty bland really. It was only 3 or 4 questions that were discourteous and agressive which led to the TV broadcast of the hour long session being reduced to 35-40 minutes from it's scheduled one hour. I really don't understand why anyone feels the need to defend those that could have got their point across far more succesfully had they chosen to do so in a less antagonistic manner. Yet even an article primarily concerned with a good point about the academy seems to have its focus shifted in order to defend those whose actions just don't deserve it.
Amos.
Steve Bould and his Staff has done so well, and deserve all the success that's coming to them. I'm looking forward to seeing the Youth team tonight at The Grove.
hackneyval
 

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