It was announced today that Per Mertesacker will become Arsenal’s new academy manager, succeeding Andries Jonker, when he retires from playing in 2018.
The appointment of Mertesacker is certainly an intriguing move and it is clear that there will be much work for the German to attend to, both in the short-term and the long-term, once he takes charge of the youth set-up.
Here’s a look at some of the objectives facing Mertesacker.
- Improve Arsenal’s defence at youth level
Arsenal’s defending at youth level in recent years has left a lot to be desired, with players frequently being caught out of position and making avoidable mistakes.
The club have struggled to produce top quality young centre-backs, with individuals often having to be drafted in from elsewhere simply to make up the numbers in the U18 and U23 squads.
As a defender himself, Mertesacker could be the man to address this issue and some individual coaching sessions with Arsenal’s young defenders may well be beneficial.
2. Help Arsenal’s academy to win trophies again
The main aim of an academy is, undoubtedly, to produce players for the first-team, with results at youth level not as important in comparison.
However, Arsenal have gone seven years without winning an official trophy at youth level and regular success would certainly help to establish a winning mentality amongst the academy players.
3. Set the right plan for Reiss Nelson’s development
Reiss Nelson is Arsenal’s standout youth player, with the 17-year-old, who is capable of playing as an attacking midfielder or out wide, having already been told by Arsene Wenger that he will receive first-team game time this season.
A skillful player, Nelson has a vast amount of potential but it is vitally important that his development is planned correctly, including when he is formally integrated into the first-team squad, whether he is sent out on loan and ensuring that the hype that surrounds him (and will inevitably build) doesn’t have an adverse effect on his progression.
4. Ensure that youngsters aren’t marginalised
All too often in recent years there have been youth players at Arsenal who are clearly surplus to requirements yet, as they are still under contract, are unable to move elsewhere.
Mertesacker must ensure that Arsenal are more thoughtful when giving out contracts to youngsters and create an environment where each player in the academy is worthy of his place.
5. Make Arsenal a place where young players want to stay and develop
While Wenger is renowned for giving young players opportunities, the process has slowed a little in recent years, with not quite so many prospects getting a look in.
There are a growing number of prospects who have decided to leave Arsenal in search of getting more first-team chances elsewhere, with Chris Willock the most recent example, and youngsters at the club must be shown that there is a pathway through to the first-team if they are able to demonstrate that they are worthy of promotion.
6. Appoint a new U23 coach
Steve Gatting has been at Arsenal as a coach for a decade but his limitations in helping to get the best of youngsters have been laid bare in recent seasons following his progression to become the club’s U23 manager, whilst his tactical decisions are often questionable.
Appointing a new U23 coach may not be entirely Mertesacker’s decision but the 32-year-old could suggest that reinforcements are needed in the coaching department; something that would certainly benefit the club in the long term.