Arsenal Academy: Time to Reimagine?

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In Sports, Academies are considered as schools where a talent is converted into a polished finished products. When a parent takes a call to send their kids to an academy the hope and expectation is that the coaches are professionals and they will give you an honest opinion about your kid and will let you know if he can make it or not. Once you are past that phase, you leave it the professional coaches to mould them into a professional player.

From a club’s perspective, an academy is a catchment zone where you recruit talented kids and turn them into professional player who can serve your first team and save you millions in the market. You will always have majority of players who will not make it but earn the club compensation to keep the cycle going on. You expect the academy to not only know these players sporting capability, but also their character to make the call to either retain or sell them.

I have started to question this entire process last season with respect to Arsenal Academy. The one player who has thrown this logic out of window has been Joe Willock. Joe has been in Arsenal academy since he was 6 I think. He has been through many years across all age groups with multiple professional coaches. They would have seen his abilities and you would think moulded his play and earmarked him as a player in a particular position. These professional coaches would have built the bridge with the first team coach on a regular basis and know the style of footballers that are needed for the first team. Yet we have a situation where Joe needs a team like Newcastle and coach like Steve Bruce to get the best out of him. 8 goals in 15 Pl games from midfield when our own midfield had 5 goals across all competition. How can a new team get the best out our player who has been with us for ages while we couldn’t? What’s worrying is that even now there is confusion about Joe’s first team position, our midfield setup and whether to move him on or not. We have essentially devalued our own asset with our inability.

What exasperates this issue further is the inability to asses a player who has been with Arsenal since the age of 6 and unable to find a place in the first team. You would have thought the academy coaches and first team managers are in constant touch to evaluate which players fit in which position. This is not an isolated case and you can draw a parallel with what is happening to AMN, Eddie and Nelson. The inability to identify these players best position, mould them and being able to utilize them in the first team is a serious indictment on the Academy and First team manager.

I think it’s time to start critically looking at Arsenal Academy, the methods used to identify, coach a young players best position, communication channels with First team’s playing needs, being able to course correct the Academy coaching  and finally to move them on early if they are deemed not up to standards.

Let me know your opinion fellow Gooners.

By Madhu

47 thoughts on “Arsenal Academy: Time to Reimagine?

  • Well written post, Madhu.

    I like our Academy a lot. Shame Wenger missed out on spotting Malen and Gnabrys talents,though.

    Willock loves space and Newcastle create that by playing on the counter a lot.
    At Arsenal he seemed to struggle with our passing game. Shame he went but good money and it will pay for Odegaard. Everybody wins.

  • Thanks TA for posting my first blog. Grateful for your encouragement and platform to express views in a civilized manner.

  • TA, Wenger did not miss out on spotting Gnabry. The young man just wanted to go back to Germany. The lure of home and Bayern was too tempting for a young and upcoming German.
    Wenger did everything to try to keep him
    I don’t know why some of you will always seize the slightest chance to slay Wenger for virtually every malaise in Arsenal

  • Corpo, he was loaned to The Baggies and then had seen enough.. Would not you? He then played for Bremen before being spotted by Bayern.

    I could be wrong but never got the sense that Wenger valued him..

  • Good Post…. also Madhu, your last comment on yesterday’s post was so well thought out, especially for me, because it encapsulated so much of how I feel right now.

    PB, a rare disagreement from yesterday. Leno, a player who’s back I’ve always had, was so bad, even before the 2nd goal. If you go back and watch every time he was involved from the beginning, he put our defenders in precarious positions playing out just by the slow pace, and slight mis-aiming of the passes, either just behind them, to put them vulnerable to the advancing opponents, or just slow enough pace to put them in a rushed situation. It’s impossible to build from the back when you’re just trying to not have the ball stolen around your own box.

    Maybe he didn’t like Mari, White, or Chambers positioning,…. then he should kick it long again and scream at them. Watching him critically, even if we had won the match, I would be saying that I’m very worried about him. I think he deserves lower grading than he received. His work on the 2nd goal would have me questioning his manhood. No offense to the Arsenal ladies, because they’d be ashamed of him too.

    It occurs to me that maybe we have underestimated the loss of even the Europa league to the players mood. Players who put up with missing champions league to live in London at at big club with generous salary,, are now ready to leave for pay cuts. Bellerin and Xhaka for example.. I see it in Leno, and am worried that it may have something to do with the Auba/Laca mystery. I hope I’m wrong. See Madhus comment yesterday for my worries a out Arteta. Auba will not give up his salary though. We might as well keep him if the choice is between him and Coutinho.

  • Thanks so much Jync.
    I wonder this thing about playing from back is made out like a new discovery. I wonder what we did during Wenger days. I always remember us to be a cultured possesion based team even with a goal keeper like Almunia. May the pressing was not so.mucj during those days but we always played from back. I alos think Lenos distribution both from hand and feet are weak. I remember Jen’s used to look for a lob as his first option.

  • Hi Madhu – Good show with your first post! and a fascinating topic at that. 👍 😀

    A few observations on the subject – advancing players from the academy to the first team is clearly complicated. Certainly they earmark players for certain positions. However, this is continually in flux based on the rest of the team, the weaknesses that are being picked upon by opponents, changes in manager’s thinking, and changes to managers! Not to mention the player’s own performance relative to others in the team, and the stage of development they are at when the stay/leave decision is made. Gnabry, De Bruyne, and Lukaku serve as good examples of decisions made at a certain point to let the player go only for them to shine massively afterwards. But they are not the norm I think. So I think it is a tad unfair to say that the academy is somehow “broken” because of the Joe Willock case.

    Willock was given chances with this team but for multiple reasons (players around him, expectations made of him, etc.) he did better at Newcastle compared to Arsenal. And when you have a team willing to pay decent money come in for a player you cannot guarantee being a starter, … It is disappointing. I would have loved to see him and AMN play on a regular basis for the first team and do massively well. Still keeping hopes up for AMN… maybe we’ll buy Willock back in a few years for gobs of money! 😬

    But I agree with your overall point that the Academy has to be looked at more closely. The team performance has not been consistently great in recent years in my opinion. The U-18 coach and team got off to a horror start this season. Here’s hoping to see more of our own break through and do really well. There is definitely a greater thrill to see someone from the academy succeed with our first team instead of someone else’s.

  • Thanks Henry. I was pained to see Willock, AMN career bring stalled. These guys were in academy yet we couldn’t find a proper place for them in the team. Willock till today we don’t know if he is 8 a 10 or a goal scoring second striker . AMN is not sure if he is a right or left back or a midfielder. In my mind it’s a travesty succeeding in a position is not a guarantee but atleast as an academy product you sure of your playing position.

  • Madhu……..you seem to think you have better insight than the professionals at AFC. They are priviledged to have inside insight of each and every player and the coaching-management process. It is a shame to lose willock as he definetly is a talent but did he fit into Arteta’s plans….obviously not. We must stop trying to second guess those who are paid to manage and coach AFC….we are amateurs, they are not!

  • OMG sir, I don’t claim to have better insight on the contrary I am an amateur and a fan of this beautiful game. I have played league cricket and so understand something about sport. My only submission is that it’s not whether Willock was sold, but it’s the lack of ability to fit Willock into our scheme of things when he has been with the club since 6 years. Also the fact that he had a hot streak of scoring goals when he went on loan and we have yearned for a goal scoring midfielder.
    I also believe that questioning and debating is an essential part of not only sport but society as a whole. I do understand your point that there are professional and they know what they are doing.

  • Don’t worry about that OMG fellow, Madhu. He comes here now and again and puts these one sided comments up and seldom or never returns. He blows very hot from his self named mountain of knowledge.

  • Hi TA! Its good to be back 😀 Things got a little rough with Covid and non-covid problems with family. But appear to have weathered it (Hope I didn’t jinx myself!).

  • C.Palace v Brentford… 1-2
    Leeds v Everton………..H
    Wolves v Spurs……….. 2-1
    Arsenal v Chelsea…… 2-2
    West Ham v Leicester…H
    Inter Miami v Toronto….D

  • C.Palace v Brentford… 1-0
    Leeds v Everton………..D
    Wolves v Spurs……….. 3-1
    Arsenal v Chelsea…… 1-1
    West Ham v Leicester…A
    Inter Miami v Toronto….A

  • I didn’t want the Ødegaard loan last year. I was pushing for Buendia and I didn’t think the loan would lead to a deal. I was WRONG and I’d be really happy to have him back.
    TA and others here were right again.

  • Nice post, Madhu!
    You have picked an indeed interesting topic, and articulated your views clearly.
    I also have mixed views on our Academy. While I certainly appreciate the talents like ex-Arsenal layers like Wilshere, Iwobi, Gibbs, Szczesny, Bendtner as well as current players like AMN, Bellerin, Willock, and Eddie I have to acknowledge that in the last decades we couldn’t develop undisputed stars like Rashford and Lingard (and I don’t rate the Manchester United Academy nearly as high as ours).
    Maybe Saka can become our 100M+, or even ESR, but only time – and playing opportunities – will tell.

    The good news is that our academy is stacked with immense talents like Azeez, Patino, Hutchinson, Flores and others, but the neither our loaning system, nor our internal process to introduce youngsters to the first team is not good enough to make me fully optimistic. Nevertheless I see Mertesacker’s appointment as a good sign, especially that he dared to sack loyal gunner legend Bould who almost manager to relegate the U23 team full of good players. But he cannot guarantee playing opportunities to the very best of the academy alone…

  • Thanks pbarany, I agree academy looks stacked with bright prospects. But iam skeptical of their path into first team. I thing that I was more dissapointing about Willock for me is that we just couldn’t work out his best position in the first team.
    Another beef with Arteta for me is his handling of youngsters. Many examples within 18 months makes me nervous. Guen, Saliba, Nelson, AMN, Willock, Martenelli, Nketia, Balogun doesn’t fill me with optimism. Hope we can find place for two other exciting youngsters in Azeez and Patino.
    TA looks like we will get Ode and Ramsdale not sure about Aubas replacement. If we do get another striker it would be good. But even better if Arteta moves Pepe central and put in Saka and Martenneli on wings. Pepe should not be allowed time on the ball to dwell, he should just be asked to attack box and score gaols. You give him time on the ball then his tricks are not to varied and will likely loose the ball.

  • Madhu, Pepe as CF is indeed a nice option, and I have suggested so in the past.

    Much less keen on Martinelli than you are, but you have always championed him.

  • Just had a proper chance to read your post Madhu and it’s a very good effort, you make your argument really well and pose some interesting questions.

    For me Joe Willock is a really good player, he has many many attributes, attributes that you’d want from an attacking midfielder and not least that element that is worth millions, the ability to put the ball in the net, and he’s done that at a fairly regular rate for Arsenal during his development phase, although he did lack technically in some other aspects of his game.

    Moving to Newcastle is his next phase, becoming a fully rounded player and in Steve Bruce he might have found a manager who will encourage him, indulge him and use him as a fulcrum of a team that in truth plays a very different style to Arsenal – and that’s another debate…

    He’s done brilliantly well at St James’ Park but the chances of him continuing his hot run are slim in my opinion especially as opponents will wise up to his style of play. He might not hit the net every other game but I reckon he’s a nailed on 10/12 goals a season player and that could keep Newcastle in the EPL…

    I think we’ve sold him at the optimum time because in a year from here his value may have nosedived if we’d kept him and used him in our system which in truth doesn’t suit his skill set. We’ve seen how the value of our young players can fluctuate as in Niles for example and the attempt at getting a realistic fee for Eddie. I think those issues have forced Arsenal’s hand along with our inability to sell some other players we’d be happy to see the back of.

    I think he’ll do great at Newcastle and might even earn a bigger move in time, alternatively he could easily fade much as Alex Iwobi did after his big move to Everton? It’s a flip of a coin.

    If his sale helps facilitate the arrival of Martin Odegaard then I’ll drink to that – tea of course.

  • Thanks kev for reading my attempt. This issue was eating my head. If I look at it from a consumer side like a parent I would be disappointed if my son spends the best part of years in the academy and yet not know his best position. As willock I would be disappointed at not given a good shot in a dysfunctional and defective midfield. From the club perspective we have effectively devalued our assets vis-a-vis Nketia, AMN and Nelson. While we celebrate Saka and ESR as our pride , at the same time we should critically look at other setbacks. Hope Per does something about that.

  • Hi Madhu,

    As you point out the academy is an interesting topic but it’s full of if’s, ands, buts, or maybe’s?
    Very few of the tens of (maybe) hundreds of thousands of recruits have ever made the grade and only a modest amount become 1st team players.

    We as supporters only really get glimpses of the players and even if we watched them play junior games it would be very difficult for the inexperienced eye to pick out those that could progress to the first team – as they are playing against a lower level of players.

    Over the years I’ve seen many players that I liked and felt belonged – only to see them continually loaned out or sold however I don’t fret over it as my belief is that our experienced coaching staff know the players far better than we ever would and I also feel that it’s a very good income source.

  • Hi folks, I’ve been pondering our decision to charge a small fee (15 quid) for our prediction competition.

    You see my personal preference is that it is a fun competition with no fee involved and I don’t want folks to feel that they have been unwittingly pressured into paying a fee.

    Some of my reasons for wanting it to be a no fee competition are:-

    1. Some people may have personal or religious reasons for not wanting to pay a fee.
    2. There may be times when folks are unable to participate and that will reduce their chances of winning.
    3. If no fee is involved then people can join in at any time with no risk, whereas if a fee is involved folks wanting to join in late would mean them a having a lesser chance of winning and therefore not choose not to join.
    4. Personally I don’t need a reward to enjoy a friendly competition.
    5. The more competitors the better as far as I’m concerned.

    So far no fees have been collected so we have a clean slate and being a BK is run democratically I would like to know how you feel about a fee in a simple response of – FEE or NO FEE. what ever way you choose will have no negative effect on me and I will happily continue with the completion.

    If you wish to comment on your choice that is also fine.

    So to give you all time to see this comment and ponder your own decision I would like to get your vote by a week today – August 25th and a simple majority will rule.

    Thank you all for reading.

    GunnerN5

  • GN5 fair point. Somehow this year the entire exercise has been a bit more.painful and debatable. Hoping for good years ahead as.we exceptional talent like Azeez and Patino. If.not here they should have a good career somewhere else and we should get good money for them.

  • Madhu, I enjoyed your post which was well written and thought out. I’m not sure I agree with all of it though. With Willock, I think that the club and player both knew his best position and style of play, strengths and weaknesses. As others have said, at the moment it doesn’t seem to fit the system that Arteta wants to use so, it is best for both parties that Joe moves to a team that can better utilise his skills even if it is a bit perplexing when you look at his goal stats for the barcodes and compare it with the goal stats for our midfielders last season.

    Having said that I am concerned that Arteta didn’t seem to trust any of the youngsters until injuries forced his hand and then the performances of Saka and ESR forced his hand. Then he probably overplayed them. Other youngsters, like Nelson, weren’t given much of a chance if they didn’t make an immediate impact. Yet, Arteta repeatedly played an underperforming Willian in the same position.

    I am concerned that we have so much young talent coming through the Academy at the moment that we may lose some gems. We can’t accommodate them all, and this season the opportunities to play for the first team will be limited as we are not in Europe and the Club is bringing in some big money signings before trimming the squad.

    Sometimes we lose talented players for reasons beyond our control. I seem to remember Wenger being interviewed at the time that Gnabry went to Bremen and he implied that Bayern had tapped the player up and that he knew that Bremen was a pre-arranged stepping point.

    Right now, I’m more worried about Edu than Arteta though. I’ve got nothing against Ben White but, did we need to splash out so much of our budget on a defender? After all, our defensive stats this calendar year were pretty good. Why the rush to get him when we have, and still have so many unresolved issues outstanding? If we hadn’t burnt all that money on White already, maybe we could/should have added Tammy to strengthen our forward line? I hope we’re not going to trade Laca for Coutinho!

  • Cheers Total, there’s always time for a cuppa, I’m just gonna make myself another as it goes, I quite like the Chai from Twinnings, it has a scented aroma, very nice. 😀

  • Nice comments all round. A pity I missed out on yesterday’s banter on the previous thread but I enjoyed reading it all. Mahdu and PB made very good points about the reasons we may have to have an eye on the manager to keep him on his toes. I respect the views made too as we do not know it all but can give opinions about the man, Arteta, as we desire the club to be more successful.

    I’d say, let’s see how things go after the close of the window then judge. Already, PB has got GunnerN5 creatively coming up with a “points haul after 10 matches” game, to gauge Arteta’s effectiveness and it may not be a perfect science but should prove interesting. We’d see.

  • Madhu, I think that Willock has been used many times by Emery, Arteta, Ljungberg and Wenger, he’s also been played in several roles without ever really nailing down a spot, Nelson by comparison hasn’t really had the opportunities I would have liked, signing Willian really damaged his progression whilst refusing to go out on loan was daft. Eddie’s had plenty of chances as has Niles, Niles is actually his own worst enemy because he should be a settled member of the squad.

  • Not yet read all of Madhu’s post but have to address the Gnabry comment by TA.

    TA, I read it, at the time, that in line with one of the dirty tricks of Bayern Munich (a pointer as to their influence in German football) was to use a smaller club to bid for a player they want, only to buy him off the club at a small profit, so as to avoid paying the market rate for big clubs. That was the case with Gnabry to Bayern. They used Bremen for the purchase under a secret pre-agreement. Not long after he moved, all the German press were already heralding Gnabry’s next move to Bayern.

    Anyone who listened to Wenger gush about Serge Gnabry would know he recognized his talent and loved the kid. Wenger managed him through injury after injury, just as he showed some promise. It was a time when we had Theo, Ox and other senior players doing okay.

    Gnabry recovered from one of his injury spells and wanted to get straight back into the side but that was not going to be an easy decision for the manager. This was the reason Wenger sent him on loan to Tony Pulis’ (a man who can’t recognize talent even if was staring him in the face), WBA. Alas! It was a disaster of an arrangement. When Gnabry returned, he just couldn’t get into the team and eventually left. Wenger knew he would be the talent he is today but couldn’t stand in the way of his desire to leave.

  • I just want to say i also agree with Madhu about Pepe. The further we keep him away from the touch line the better. Inside he uses his strength and pace. He abuses defenders. Dribbling out wide, they neutralize him, and he’s wasted, especially on the right. Was someone here who called for him to be tried on the left which I thought was a bad idea, but it turned out great for him and Saka …..by switching to the right improved also.

    Ødegaard will be fantastic for us. A young Madrid Ozil. Better scorer though. Watch his Real Sociedad YouTubes. Great stuff. Can finally be our free kick specialist and get Pepe attacking the goal instead of taking corners.

    Now a proper attack can flow through the middle, instead of all through Tierney.

  • Grateful to you all for reading my thoughts and debating. On the Academy I just wish that we integrate as much as we can to first team and have a clear roadmap to do so. If some talent can’t then it’s better to sell them quickly for Thier own sake and make some.money to invest back.
    Regarding Arteta, I somehow wants him to come out of Peps shadow completely. Use his learnings but deploy it within his own identity. He needs to create his own USP and I hope with the squad he is building he is able to get that identity. For me if he doesn’t get 30-35 points by end of 18 games he should go. We have to target 70 points this season i.e. 10 more than last season which will be a significant progress in my view.
    Regarding the squad, I worry about the striker situation. Whatever it is about Auba and Lace needs resolution quickly. We need more goals and hopefully it comes from flanks and through the central.zones.

  • Madhu, the coming out of Peps shadow intrigues me. Many say this but I see it as projection.

    Mikel has of course learned from the master but he is his own man alright.

    It will be another development year with all the new signings so a target for Christmas will not be set by the BOD. End of season is another matter.

    All very, very exciting!! 🏃🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️🏃🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️

  • TA, let’s see how this season goes. Either way it’s going to be a attritional season and the target should be 70 points.

  • On the Arteta vs Pep (shadow) topic, I don’t really see the full extent, as we don’t know after a (unfortunately regular) defeat whether it was a bad tactic, or just poorly executed. So I cannot chip in about Arteta’s intention, but I definetly support the Guardiola analogy considering the White-saga. Ben – as far as I’m concerned – is a signature Pep signing. The defense was working pretty fine last season (in fact was one of the few areas that worked alright), and breaking records on a new signing not (at least not obviously) necessary, sacrificing the changing room balance, no expenses sparred has indeed Guardiola written all over it. Just like Nathan Aké (a fine player obviously, but wasn’t a must have signing, and played only a little).

    Since Ben is with us I honestly wish him all the best and root for him to become an instant success, but I am willing to bet – if anybody interested – that by the end of the season his defensive stats will not justify his crazy price and salary compared to Mavropanos (Stuttgart) and Saliba (Marseilles).

  • JNYC, I’ve always preferred Pepe on the left, but our wide men always come inside to allow the space for the overlapping full backs therefore he gets put on the right so he can cut in and have a shot, I think that’s pretty much how he played in France as an inside forward. I’d love to know his scoring ratio, goals to games, from starting on the left and compare them with his starts on the right.

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