We're growing up fast!
The focus on youth players has been an important part of the clubs policy to cope with restrained finances during the commissioning of the new stadium. Now that these finances are less restrained, even if the manager`s policy is no less prudent, the pressure that young players were supposedly putting on older players to make room for them maybe beginning to turn in on them.
This must be a thought in Merida`s mind as he contemplates his immediate future at Arsenal with the relatively young players in front of him. Wenger has to find a way to maintain a delicate balance between motivating the best of the young players to await their chance while adhering to his policy of allowing the existing squad to grow together. While the current first team is more mature overall than in recent seasons it is still quite young and the majority of first team choices have plenty of growing time in front of them.
The position at left back can serve to illustrate the dilemma. With Gael Clichy as the current designated first pick still under the age of 25 he is backed up by currently injured 20 year old Kieran Gibbs. Yet 3rd choice Armand Traore is the same age while lurking behind him is a 20 year old Brazilian player bought 2 years ago, Pedro Botelho. The highly regarded player hasn`t played a competitive match for Arsenal in all of the time he has been at the club having followed a similar route to Carlos Vela in obtaining a UK work permit while on loan to Salamanca and Celta Vigo in Spain. Botelho`s work permit should be acquired in time for next season. Even though at one point we had all 3 left backs injured, allowing Silvestre to deputise, it isn`t hard to see that at least 2 of these 4 players between the ages of 21 and 25 next season must be considering their chances of regular football at Arsenal over the next few years.
As Merida, a couple of month`s short of his 20th birthday, contemplates his future in a midfield alongside 22 year old Fabregas, 23 year old Diaby, 21 year old Denilson, 22 year old Nasri and 19 year old Ramsey he must wonder how long it can be before Wenger has to look to accommodate others like Jay Emmanuel-Thomas only a few months younger than he is.
Young players, particularly at Arsenal with a reputation for their precocious development, find themselves in the limelight very quickly. This feeds their appetite to continue the same rapid rate of development. Former Ajax legend Johann Cruyff, a club that enjoyed a similar reputation to Arsenal`s at one time, feels that players are encouraged to end their development too soon by stepping up to first team action.
"With the youngsters from Ajax that were coveted by teams outside of Holland, my advice has always been the same: wait until you are at least 21 years old and, if possible, 23," declared the Dutchman claiming that the responsibility of having to perform in a big team can weigh heavily on young players and their careers can stagnate as a consequence. But it is hard to tell players like Merida who has watched Fabregas pick up an FA Cup winners medal as well as a European Tournament medal with the Spanish national side by his 21st birthday that he needs to nurture his talent with patience.
Competition for first team places is a healthy position for the club to be in but the number of young players eager for a place and impatient for first team opportunities, means that we will invariably have to let some very good players go before they have had much chance to prove themselves. Players like Simpson , Randall and Gilbert have probably already reached the point where their best chances of making it here are behind them. At least as new midfield signing 17 year old Bolivian Galindo embarks on his anticipated 2 year loan stint to acquire a work permit he won`t be adding immediately to the task of keeping so many happy.
Unsatisfactory though it must appear in the short term, Wenger`s reluctance to discourage the best of the young talent he has invested in by signing established players can be understood. If players like Merida are to stay he must be shown a clear path to regular first team appearances. At the same time Wenger must have enough confidence in the uncertainty of unproven ability to sacrifice the opportunity to bring in established players.
Transfers are the last resort CEO Gazidis declared last September. Merida and others will need to believe that is still true.
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