Nothing is nicer than seeing a youngster come through the ranks to make it big at Arsenal. It will be rarer and rarer to see an eight or ten year old make it through to the top at our club though. It really is far too hard to judge whether a young boy (and girl for the Arsenal Ladies) has all the qualities to make it to the top, and the vast majority do not get there, unfortunately.
Arsene actually tends to get youngster at the age of 15-19 from other clubs. It is far more easy to judge whether these ‘young adults’ have what it takes to become a regular first team player eventually. But it is still a gamble and it requires a lot of financial, emotional and management time investment to get them there.
During Wenger’s first ten years at Arsenal, he was very successful at buying these young(ish), unknown-to-many gems and shine them up for success. From Anelka to Henry, and from Vieira to Fabregas, to name but a few, he made us all purr with excitement from the sheer quality these players brought to our game eventually. He was more or less alone in this in the Premier League, and hence his incredible success rate during the first half of his tenure at Arsenal.
Ferguson, Wenger’s main competitor for most of the first ten years, had his own youngster who became the backbone of the majority of the successes he had with MU – the likes of the Neville brothers, Scoles, Giggs and Beckham – but he was never able to replicate that one group of talented youngsters that made it to the top gradually. And as soon as Mourinho arrived in the PL, the days of being able to afford to build a team bottom upwards were simply over. He was given unlimited money to buy 27-30 year old who were at the very top of their game and added value from the moment they arrived. Ferguson, the ultimate adapter, reacted quickly with buying ready to roll players himself – with the purchase of Rio Ferdinand at a then eye-watering £28m or so as perhaps the best example of buying for instant success. And what a difference he made!
Wenger could not respond to this new era due to the financial restraints we all know too well. He had to keep buying and developing raw talents with the hope that Arsenal could continue to compete at the highest levels. He moved mountains with his bare hands, but it just was not enough to compete with the financial might of Chelsea and MU. And then came Man City on to the scene as the next billionaire’s toy. They actually targeted our players to strengthen their team instantly – and weaken us in the process. The BoD needed the cash to pay off big parts of the substantial bank loans, so were not overly reluctant to get rid of our established and/or promising players.
We just could not compete with these teams till a few years ago. They are still financially stronger than us but we can now also buy good and experienced players to strengthen our squad without having to make a return on them necessarily. It still looks like the BoD are not doing that (enough): Xhaka and Mustafi are very promising players but, for example, right now a class below the totally matured Kante and returning ex-Chav in defence. These two made a real difference at Chelsea this season, like they would have done at Arsenal if we had bought them last summer.
On top of this, Arsene is still pushing through youngsters who even after 100+ PL games have not claimed a first team spot. And for me, more than anything else, this is the real reason for Arsenal’s inability to push on to the very top, both in the PL and CL. Ox, Gibbs, Ramsey, Bellerin, Ramsey and even Wilshere and (the now at mature age) Walcott are talented but not back-bone material to overcome the highest hurdles and push us on to winning titles when the difference has to be made. A few will at some point become really useful or key pivotal players but for now they cost us dearly time and again at the pivotal moments.
IF Arsene wants to stay and take us to the next level, he really has to start buying 27-30 year old quality players, so we can properly compete again.