It was announced yesterday that, as expected, the appointment of Andries Jonker as Arsenal’s new Head of Youth Development will be the precursor to several other changes amongst the club’s coaching staff at youth level.
Frans de Kat, who has worked with the Dutch national youth teams, will take charge of Arsenal U18s next season alongside current U16 coach Kwame Ampadu. Another Dutchman, Jan van Loon, will take control of the U16 side. The major surprise, however, was the announcement that Steve Gatting will be retained as the club’s U21 coach, where he will be joined by current U18 coach Carl Laraman.
Both Gatting and Laraman have come under considerable criticism from regular watchers of Arsenal’s youth fixtures this season for their coaching methods and the incredibly disappointing sets of results that have occurred in the U21 and U18 leagues this season.
Arsenal did manage to reach the latter stages of the U21 Premier League Cup, the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup this season, and they still have a chance of winning the latter competition, but their league form has been little short of abysmal at both age groups.
The U21s are in 18th place in the league, having registered just five victories in 17 games this season. They have lost three games in the past seven days alone, suffering disappointing defeats at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, Bolton Wanderers and Everton.
The U18s have fared even worse. They are ninth out of the 11 teams in their group, having won six games out of 27, conceding 43 goals in the process.
It must be stressed that results are not always the most important factor at youth level, with player development taking precedence, but there comes a point when you wonder whether losing so many games could potentially have an adverse effect on the progression of some players.
There are some mitigating factors, with players often being unavailable to feature at youth level due to injuries, loans, international commitments and first-team call-ups, whilst the Arsenal U18 side is often predominantly made up of schoolboys, with many of the scholars already firmly established in the U21 set-up.
That said, the decision to retain both Gatting and Laraman would appear a rather strange one. Neither appears to have the coaching credentials to match their predecessors, Neil Banfield and Steve Bould, whilst the fact that many players make the same mistakes week after week without them being rectified is another cause for concern.
Jonker’s decision is a surprising one, particularly with Terry Burton departing this summer, but only time will tell whether his selections are correct.