Amaechi, Saka, Burton, Ballard, Smith-Rowe: 5 Young Gunners to Watch Closely

It’s not often these days that I get the chance to see the Arsenal youth team, or reserves for that matter; life just gets in the way and as most games are played at the training ground or Borehamwood, it’s just not convenient. Popping into Highbury pre-Wenger, to see a Combination game or a Southern Junior Floodlit Cup tie was always a pleasure, for those who worked in London it was simple as well. That was followed up  by being a pre-Internet kind of ITK as you could then tell all your Arsenal mates at work the following day that we’ve got, say, a promising centre half in a 17 year old Martin Keown or an interesting fullback in Gus Ceasar- I didn’t always get it right….

So it was interesting and very enjoyable to watch the FA Youth Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea and the England games in the Euro U17’s on TV recently, despite Arsenal and England falling at the final hurdle in both competitions.
I came away from both events very encouraged by the 17/18 age group at Arsenal and the prospect of possibly 3 or 4 of them developing into genuine 1st team quality players for the Gunners.

I’ve seen possibly three generations of youngsters coming into the Arsenal 1st team squad en masse, all of them playing significant parts in successful Arsenal teams.
There was the George, Kelly, Rice group who played a central role in Arsenal winning its first league title in 17 years when they took the Double in 1970-71, the Original Double Team no less.

Almost a decade later I saw the O’Leary, Rix, Stapleton and Brady bunch gradually being fed into the 1st team. Those lads had to contend with a dominant Liverpool at the time or I’m sure that they could have won at least one league title. But they were instrumental in 4 major cup finals during 3 seasons in the 1978/80 period.

Move on around another decade and we saw the Rocastle, Adams, Thomas generation who eventually succeeded in knocking Liverpool off of their perch; it was the Arsenal that did it, with two league titles in 3 years, not Man Utd as is the popular folklore.

And so we move on again to today, a gap of time that took in the birth of the Premier League, a more monetarist organisation, wall to wall football on television and online, Arsene Wenger, foreign players, foreign owners, a worldwide and knowledgeable audience of fans, but a steep decline in young player development, until now.

A top German coach (whose name escapes me) when asked, claimed that the best young players in the world are currently English, which the recent results of the England youth teams seem to bear out.

So has the advent of St George’s Park, the English Clairfontane, better quality coaches, the Academy system and good old financial prudence brought about this improvement and where do Arsenal stand in it?

One youngster who caught my eye was Bukaya Saka (17), I saw him perform admirably in both the right-wing and left-back positions. He has excellent close control, a high level of technique and is very fast as well as being versatile, the perfect example of the young, modern footballer no less. He has a great attitude and a top work ethic, yep I liked him.

Xavier Amaechi (17) has a silky smooth style and I love players who glide over the pitch. He has a fantastic technique, an excellent turn of speed, can go outside or inside defenders with equal comfort and has a rasping shot. A lot of development can happen between the ages of 16/17 to 20/21 but if he doesn’t make the grade then I’ll be amazed.

Robbie Burton (18), is a tenacious midfield pit bull without the ball and an intelligent midfield prompter with the ball, I can’t recall him wasting a pass in the two games against a rampant Chelsea. He has a high level of technical ability and plays the box to box role with alacrity whilst also doing an excellent def/mid job. These type of players sometimes pass under the radar as the Smith-Rowe’s and Amaechi’s get all the attention, but every team needs a water carrier or two and he fits the bill.

Northern Irishman Daniel Ballard (18), has had a mixed career at Arsenal. Twice it seemed that he was going to be released only for him to be retained and he eventually ended up as the Youth team captain, echos of Pat Rice perhaps?
He has a great attitude and personality, leads very much in the mould of a Tony Adams, those are attributes that Arsene Wenger recently admitted that he found impossible to replace after Adams and Vieira left. Ballard isn’t just a big lump, he is a proper defender with a lot of ability, skilful on the floor and powerful in the air.
The fact that he overcame the threat of being released twice and remained to still develop his career at Arsenal shows he is a young man of impressive character.
I liked him a lot.

Emile Smith-Rowe is quality, I don’t need to add anything as I think 2018/19 will be his breakthrough season and you can all see for yourself.

I was impressed by others, notably Olayinka (17), M.Smith (17), Daley-Campbell (18) and Thompson (18). Add all those to N’ketiah, Nelson (if he stays?), Osei-Tutu, Dasilva and Willock and the future definitely is a youthful red n white…

By Allezkev

55 thoughts on “Amaechi, Saka, Burton, Ballard, Smith-Rowe: 5 Young Gunners to Watch Closely

  • Excellent stuff, King Kev. I am out for the rest of the day so had to publish it straightaway. Will comment later today. 🙂

  • Nicely done Kev.

    Particularly well-smithed:
    “That was followed up by being a pre-Internet kind of ITK as you could then tell all your Arsenal mates at work the following day that we’ve got, say, a promising centre half in a 17 year old Martin Keown or an interesting fullback in Gus Ceasar- I didn’t always get it right….”

    These days it’s ‘your Arsenal acquaintances on the web’. So, thanks for your insights Kev.
    As even at those sources an Arsenal fan might find more than a superficial gloss? Seems the need to entertain– cuts the queue in front of a knowledgeable opinion.


  • 2/2

    By results, the youth ranks look stout today.
    (Without going off on a rant?) Being a central trait, an indicator, of a club (in any sport with youth academy or minor league clubs) who have integrated analytics into their methodologies for rating and improving the caliber of prospects at all levels (Too, it fits the model timing-wise– from when Arsenal began investing in video-driven statistical analysis.).

    Will go as far as claiming the ‘why’ of some interesting youth departures. Some, where new contracts weren’t even offered; others surprisingly moved-on. The goal? Re-purposing funds that would have supported (for another year) the Dragomirs or McGuanes in Arsenal’s ranks. In order to locate and sign younger and better prospects sooner.


  • Good gracious, me! I wasn’t expecting such a dominant performance by the French. Thought Uruguay will at least, make them work for it. That Klarius-esque error by Muslera just seemed to knock the stuffings out of them. I saw a certain (hitherto, unseen) quality in the French today; they are getting better and stronger and more competent, as each round has gone on. They will certainly be tough to beat; but they are beatable.

    On a different note, I thought Torreira was immense for his country today but his efforts were undone by simple errors by his teammates, who after starting strongly, ended without a whimper. Gimenez already weeping with 7 minutes to the end of the game wasn’t good sign.

  • Allezkev,

    Thank you, that is a top class Post.

    I, too, used to visit the youth teams when I could before the changes to the playing venues, although your era predates mine, I still had the pleasure of watching the young stars of the time.

    It was always sad when youth team kids I had watched, who were really good, were eventually released to make room at the club for the next inflow of hopefuls each summer.
    But that’s life I guess.

    The latest group of kids seem possibly at another level, and I think among the players you mention I especially have very high hopes for Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith-Rowe.

    And then there is the Jeff, who if he does not make it I would be both amazed and gutted.

    Anyway, fingers crossed. 😀

  • What are the chances we will not manage to reel Torreira in, as already there is talk of other clubs prepared to pay a transfer fee of £45m for him, rather than the £25m we had apparently provisionally agreed to pay.

    That would be a shame as he has had a great WC despite Uruguay going out today.

  • RA–
    Per BBC following today’s WC match:
    “The Gunners have agreements in place with their Serie A counterparts. The 22-year-old needs to undergo a medical and put pen to paper before the deal can be confirmed. The timing will depend on whether he flies straight from Russia to London now Uruguay are out of the World Cup following their quarter-final defeat to France, or travels via his homeland.”


  • Bad day for predictions Fromm me, it would seem. Anyway, I fully expect some reaction from Brazil, or it just won’t be Brazil. Just feel they are still to exorcise the demons of 2014 when they lost badly to another European side in Germany. Thing may change if they get one goal back. At the moment, Belgium playing a very good counter attacking game plan.

  • Cracking post. Credit where it’s due.
    I remember seeing Jack Wilshere score THAT GOAL against West Ham (How Ironic!) as a 16 y.o for the youth team and screaming to every man and his parrot about our future star.

    I too agree with your ‘Ones to look out for’ especially E, Smith-Rowe and Amaechi whom i feel posses that “Star” quality. Liking your reports on Ballard and i’ll keep an eye on his progress. Would love to see a defensive leader rise through the ranks.

    Overall, i think this is a big season for Eddie NKetiah to try and cement his spot as a reliable 3rd choice CF option

  • Hey Kev great post. You are correct though it’s difficult to see the youngsters, I remember when Frank Stapleton was scoring buckets of goals for the reserves. When he made the first team he didn’t dissapoint either. That is before he did a Robin Van Pursestrings To United. The one grest shame is he didn’t take Gus Ceasar with him. I guess at the end of the day only the odd one or two will make the grade. Let’s hope they are easy to spell names. I hope Eddie gets his chance, I felt that he should have been given more pitch time towards the end of the season.

  • Very insightful post, Kev. Nice to get some of the low-down on the goings on in the academy, even as we see what the BFG does with it. Our youth sides (U-18s and U-23s) have been prominent and tend to do well in the competitions they take part in; while the U-23s topped their group table in EPL 2, even though the 1st team had to use some of their key lads towards the end of the season, as we tried to balance a good league placing with winning the Europa league. The U-18s came 2nd in their own grouping last season and threatened to go top a few times, before appearing to lose steam towards the end of the season. We do seem to have a good core of talented footballers who need to be cultivated, for as many as make the mark into first team football. It is always a good sign when the cadets get to the finals of the cup. It portends a bright future, usually.

    England’s recent performances at UEFA and FIFA age group tournaments have been impressive and shows it won’t be long before England lift the World Cup (Watch this space) and Arsenal lads make up the core of all of the England youth sides. It can only bode well for the club, methinks.

  • Great stuff. Always good to hear about this from ITKs 🙂

    After the disappointment of seeing all the wonderful youth prospects we had about 10 years ago slowly disappear into non-Arsenal hell, I stopped following the youth teams in any way. I kind of started to watch the highlights last year as we were having a good season and some good prospects were reported to be there.
    I wouldn’t get my hopes up about kids breaking through en masse. Our stated goal via Gazidis the new king of Arsenal, is 1 academy player every 2 years. Maybe we can exceed that but it won’t be by much. However I really hope Nketiah or Mavididi or another striker makes it and makes it big. Strikers cost the most money and it’s would be great to see one come through the academy.

    Ps from
    The previous thread. On mavropanos I am going by the official Arsenal site which lists his DoB as December 2016, which would make him over 21 before January 2018 and hence needing to be registered

  • December 1996. Though it would be awesome to have an 18 month old defender make our first team. How’s THAT for youth development!

  • That was a hugely disappointing moment Shard.

    Reading your comment at 5:28 I thought I could have great fun with that date of birth typo — then I read your 5:31 correction and my hopes lapsed! Boo. 😀

  • France vs Belgium looks to be the semi-final of the eventual winners of the competition to me.
    France started slowly but have built a momentum as they progress and Belgium have so much quality allied to resourcefulness, I couldn’t separate them, but I hope the Belgians make it, a new name on the trophy would be good for the whole thing.

    Thanks JW, I’m really looking forward to the Checkatrade Trophy, depending on work pressures and convenience I’m aiming to take in a couple of those games.
    Great point on analytics.

  • Cheers Red, I thought you was older than me. 😉
    As JW says I reckon we have tied Sampdoria to some kind of pre contract deal, but yeah, it seems that in Torrieira we have done some really smart business.

  • Thanks Top Gun, Ballard is just a hunch, you know how it is, you just warm to certain players and I like his approach, maybe it’s a bit old school but when I see Vincent Kompany putting himself on the line and recall Jaap Stam, it’s clear to me that a variety of qualities make for a better balanced team.

  • Great stuff, Kev. It is great to see youngsters make it big, but it is less and less likely to happen, I am afraid to say. It requires a lot of patience and teams drop points as a result of sticking with youngsters in order to help them breakthrough. Having said that, if youngsters are used judiciously, in less risky games and when we are already safe in games, it can still be done.

    I am looking fwd to seeing more of Smith-Rowe who imo stood head and shoulders above the rest of the team that were beaten by the Chavs. With Wilshere gone will he be the next one to pin our hopes on?

    Hope England beat the lacklustre and overly defensive Swedes. How can a nation with such beautiful women, musical talent and great social welfare play such boring football? You tell me!

    I have a horrible feeling that Russia might win again today, and if they do I can also see them beat England or Sweden in the next round and go to the final. It is weird World Cup altogether but both Shard and me are on course with our prediction that France will win it.

    Great achievement by Belgium and what a great, Robin Hoodlike, goal by DB. To shoot that straight and powerful is a special skill to possess. France were also impressive again and so was little giant Torreira. Let’s hope he’ll sign soon. 🙂

  • Hey Retsub, how’s things mate…
    Yeah, Frank Stapleton was my favourite player back then, I saw him in the youths and remember him scoring 4 goals against Swansea in the Combination. I loved his spirit and his drive to improve himself and make himself the best that he could be, but I’ll never forgive him for joining Man Utd. ☹️

  • Kev, …. fascinating how you are able to keep your huge interest for the juniors going. I’ve gotten spoilt. Can almost not wait for tomorrow. It’s now, now and now foe me. The youngsters are finding it more difficult to move up the ranks unless they are really special, delivering top performance right from the off, Mbappe and co.

    I begin to take interest in them from pre-season with the seniors but after dashed hopes like Carlos Vela and Zalalem am careful about getting over excited. Having said this, am very excited about the goal machine Nketiah. I’ve stopped trying to understand how he does it (l guess you can help me here) but he keeps scoring.

    Am also excited about AMN. I hope Emery gets him a little bit more proactive that would transform him into an immediate star. Nelson has it all but he is still his age. If we can somehow keep him, at 22/23 yrs he would be ready to go.

    I’d want the club spending more money buying the 18/19/20 year range. The trajectory of the younger ones are so unpredictable.

  • So I went back and searched this post and comments for ‘AMN’.
    Found only the one instance in PE’s previous comment. How is it? That as knowledgeable Arsenal fans– we can go through all of the permutations we have above without thinking to place Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the plans for the upcoming season?

    In that vein– the club doesn’t really need another midfielder. Having cover for a variety of positions.


  • **Actually meant in the previous post regarding the ‘need for a midfielder’.

    Though in both of these posts? This and the previous?
    One in requirement of a midfielder– the other in talking up the youth prospects progress?

    Just the one mention of ‘AMN’.
    Right now Ainsley appears to be the one who has earned his stripes.


  • Hey guys
    Anyone watching the great boys in white (or should I say red)? I am hopeful but a draw and penalties seems likely to me.
    the biggest issue seems to me we have very limited players who are true midfielders. Delle Ali looked far from fit the other day, Henderson is one but Lingard, Sterling Kane all seem to want to be strikers.

    Interesting stat the bbc just quoted that the England team created less chances from open play than any team in open play hmmm.? Maybe it’s just me. Shame Jack didn’t make it

  • Good spot there, jw1. Surely, AM-N has earned the right to mix it up with the big boys. So has Eddie; Willock May need to go out on loan for playing time.

  • Will be a very enthrall8ng encounter, retsub1. Game’s on now. Some long ball aggression shown early on but the Swedes have been slow starters. And now, there’s the pressure of that silly twitter bet between Zlatan and Beckham, signed off by L.A. Galaxy, just to spice things up…..

  • Maguire heads in a corner. 1-nil.
    England needs to keep up the pressure– keeping the ball in Sweden’s third.


  • Raheem The Profligate.
    So much better when he doesn’t overthink things.


  • The real news– in the 77th minute– when Sterling’s point blank carom– did NOT arrive magnetically onto Harry Kane’s boot for a freebie.


  • It’s curtains for Sweden now, I’m afraid. They were no match, to be honest; second best most of the game, with a smattering of good moments.

    Congratulations, England.

  • Well I was wrong. Jack not really required as the Swedes were easily beaten in the air and once they were one nil behind they were in trouble. England in the semis for the first time in 28 years and with a great opportunity to make it into the final. Who will it be: Russia or Croatia?

  • Hard to go against the Croatian midfield.
    Though no one up front seems to know how to shoot straight.


  • Jw1
    On AMN and the previous post I think it’s because he’s still U21 and the post was concentrating on building the squad for next season

    Congratulations to England. Sorry for Bergkpesque football but that’s ok. If it works it works

  • Total/PE, patience is in ever increasing short supply and that’s what fans need with young players, Pochettino has proved that it is still possible at WHL I hate to admit, but yes, expecting youngsters to graduate en masse in these days of instant instant is maybe over ambitious of me.
    But I live in the hope that clubs and fans recognise the financial benefits of DIY. 🙂

  • Total, if I recall Pickford made 3 or 4 really good saves to keep the Swedes out, so I can’t agree that they were ‘easily beaten’ mil amigo.

    Retsub, corners and free kicks, they all count mate and it makes sense to play to your strengths.
    Part of the reason that England don’t score many in open play is because the teams finishing in open play is appalling. Sterling and Lingard both worked like trojans, but putting the ball in the onion bag is a real problem for them.
    It’s going to become more and more of an issue for England and the reason that I feel they will ultimately fail, but they’ve already done better than most expected, so credit to them for that.

    Maguire really is a very impressive defender and Trippier once more stood out for me.

    Thanks for the congrats Eris, appreciated mate.

  • Nationality Greece
    Age 20
    Date of Birth 11/12/1997
    Height 194cm

    From the official Premier League website.

  • Kev, I know he made a few good saves but I never got the feeling that the Swedes had a chance in that match. Happy they are out tbh.

  • Hahaha Kev, I am delighted for you and Retsub and other three lions supporters. 🙂 This is such an opportunity for Southgate and his players….. England could become the WC Leicester City my friend.

  • WC Leicester City works for me Total, but it’s gonna be tough, Croatia are a great side, nevermind the other two…
    What’s Flemish for ‘Its coming home’..? 🙂

  • Het komt naar huis, het komt naar huis, voetbal komt naar huis 🙂

    Croatia can indeed not be underestimated, but bloody hell what an opportunity to go to the final of a WC for England, Kev! Win the midfield battle, which I agree will not be easy, and the game can be won, as they are vulnerable in defence and not great in attack. What an opportunity!!!

  • It is a fantastic opportunity Total, 28 years since the last one and no Germans to upset us Anglais😀

    Maybe Southgate will need to change his midfield to counter Modric and Rakitic, as he hasn’t faced two technicians of that quality so far this tournament?
    It’s going to be two fascinating games.

  • Name Konstantinos Mavropanos
    Number 27
    Born Athens
    December 11, 1996


  • Shard–
    Age notwithstanding? That spot can be filled by a player already in the team. Unless Ramsey or Mustafi depart? it’s unlikely we’ll drop further or sizable coin on a midfielder.

    So ‘why not’ AMN?


  • JW, when the great oracle Ornstein reported only a few hours ago, that Torrieira was set to be signed off next week, he also suggested that Arsenal had concluded their business except for the possible addition of a young midfielder…

    Who that could be is pure conjecture, but it kind of rules out N’Zonzi at 29, if what Ornstein says is correct.
    I’ve a hunch that AMN might have a central role in the plans of Emery and even if he doesn’t start the season in the starting XI he may well be a regular by the turn of the year.

  • Kev–
    That was on Ornstein’s Twitter feed yesterday. And where I’m assuming the BBC excerpt I’d pasted upthread originated. So– while I’m on-board that he’s ITK? There’s still, as Arseblog ruminates, while we’re currently at £119M spend (including Auba in January)– that an outgoing sell could make funds available– for more business to be done.

    Doesn’t it seem odd to you– to state that Arsenal will do no further business– on July 7th?


  • I am concerned about the safety of Croatia players after their win against Russia. Nice work by both Croatia and England, not forgetting France and Belgium. Who would have thought that the Semis would feature these 4 teams?

    Anyone has any news about Cech? He seemed to be MIA.

  • Jk, Petr Cech has been training hard in pre-season with the rest of the lads who were not in Russia. Looks serious in training too as he looks to retain his No. 1 shirt.
    Croatians will be Safe. I think the Russian fans weren’t expecting their team to get this far in the tournament. Worst preparation ever, with poor results in their friendlies and injury to Smolov and Dzagoev, their main men, right before the start. They will be pleased their boys gave it a go to the end.

  • Eris, out of these 4 semi finalists who are you rooting for?
    For me, I would like France to win it in the final against England, but Belgium and Croats are strong teams.

    My money is on a France vs England final.

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