The Arsenal Academy has come under intense criticism from all quarters over the course of the summer, particularly in the wake of the departure of a whole host of players at the end of last season prior to some disastrous pre-season results.
There will not be a quick and easy solution to the problem, with doubts persisting over the respective capabilities of U21 and U18 coaches Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman, whilst the influx of foreign youngsters into the Academy, and the perceived preferential treatment that they are afforded, has led to suggestions that the club’s English talents are being undermined. The appointment of Liam Brady’s successor, meanwhile, which will hopefully inject some new life into this aspect of the club, is still being deliberated over.
It cannot be denied that there is much wrong with the Academy, and it is certainly not providing a steady stream of players instantly ready for first-team duty each season, but there are still some positives to take from the current situation. Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden, two England youth internationals, find themselves on the cusp of the first-team squad having featured for the senior side during pre-season, whilst three exciting foreign talents, Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem and Hector Bellerin, are expected to feature for Arsene Wenger’s side at some stage during the campaign.
It is also worth remembering that three members of the current first-choice starting line-up, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny, are products of the club’s Academy, even though Gibbs and Szczesny were signed from other clubs at the ages of 14 and 16 respectively.
Matters are far from ideal, however, with a real dearth of options for both Academy sides at present, to the extent that nine members of the U18 side who faced Liverpool in their season opener on Friday were subsequently involved as the U21 campaign began away to Stoke City last night.
Nonetheless, there were positives to take from both encounters, particularly the Liverpool game in which Arsenal prevailed 2-1. After taking the lead through defender Tom Dallison’s first goal for the club, they were pegged back, only for first-year scholar Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a dangerous winger, to score the decisive goal late on.
The game was also notable for the performance of Chris Willock, a schoolboy midfielder who was named player of the tournament at the prestigious Manchester United Premier Cup recently. Stationed on the left wing on this occasion, Willock impressed with his precise passing and should be heavily involved as the campaign progresses.
The U21s had less luck, as they surrendered a two-goal lead to eventually draw 2-2 with Stoke. Both of Arsenal’s goals came courtesy of Thomas Eisfeld, who has a commendable record of a goal every two games for the second string since moving from Borussia Dortmund.
The club also secured the services of promising Swedish youngster Kristopher Da Graca this week. The 15 year old, who was previously with Gothenburg-based side Hisingsbacka, is a commanding centre-back who can also play as a defensive-midfielder.