One of the key arguments for detractors of the Arsenal Academy is the perceived preferential treatment of foreign youngsters.
Players signed from abroad tend to become instant selections in the under-18 side upon their arrival, sign professional contracts automatically when they turn 17 and, in many cases, are likely to make their first-team debut in the Carling Cup before their 19th birthday.
Such a theory does have some weight to it, with the likes of Kyle Ebecilio and Elton Monteiro earning professional deals without really standing out for the under-18s, but the latest batch of internally-produced youngsters at the club are striving to be recognised in their own right.
The 2011 intake of scholars comprised seven players, four from abroad and three who graduated from the club’s Hale End system. Of the foreign recruits, Serge Gnabry and Jon Toral have already made their Reserve debuts, whilst Hector Bellerin and Kris Olsson are fixtures in the under-18 team.
The English youngsters are also making strides, however. Centre-back Zach Fagan earned his first Reserve call-up last week, Isaac Hayden has been installed as captain of Steve Bould’s side and Anthony Jeffrey has continued to impress since returning from injury.
It may well be the case that all seven players go on to become professionals at the club, and such a scenario, which also occurred with the 2009 intake, would reflect positively upon the club.
The main bone of contention is that players from abroad are deemed to be favoured, but surely it is more beneficial for the club as a whole if the introduction of a foreign player increases competition within the ranks. The majority of foreign youngsters signed by Arsenal below first-team level in recent years have been of a high quality and if that means that some comparatively less talented domestic youngsters fall by the wayside in the process, then that is a risk worth taking.
In terms of Carling Cup call-ups, many of the players summoned have been internally produced. Just this season, for example, the likes of Nico Yennaris, Chuks Aneke, Daniel Boateng and Jernade Meade have been called into the squad for the first time, and Benik Afobe would surely have joined them at some stage had he not been sidelined.
The reality is, the presence of the foreign youngsters helps to determine the level of the existing players. If they can compete with them then they are likely to be given an opportunity to shine. If they cannot, then a career away from the club is likely to await, but that is by no means a bad thing as it will help the English youngster to find his level more quickly.
In essence, there is no real bias towards foreign youngsters. They simply help to bring the best out of the players already at the club and increase the club’s depths of promising talents.