Saturday, May 25, 2024

Arsenal U21s suffer promotion setback but development is key

Another Academy season is hurtling towards its conclusion and, as has often been the case in recent years, results haven’t made for positive reading as far as Arsenal’s youngsters are concerned.

This week Arsenal U21s lost 3-0 away to West Bromwich Albion, with Steve Gatting’s side falling to their third defeat in succession, a run that has seen them concede nine goals in the process.

The defeat to West Brom, which came despite the inclusion of the likes of Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem and Julio Pleguezuelo in the starting line-up, was significant in that it rendered it mathematically impossible for Arsenal to achieve promotion back to the top tier of U21 football this season.

This could have negative repercussions in terms of development, with Arsenal’s youngsters unable to test themselves against the best second-string sides in the country. However, with the club’s participation in next season’s Champions League almost secured, the U19s will most likely encounter some interesting and varied challenges in Europe.

Development is and always has been the end goal at youth level. There are some discrepancies about what it actually means to be an Academy product. Does Wojciech Szczesny count as an Arsenal product, for example, despite the fact that he joined the club at the age of 16? Regardless of whether he does or not, he is still a player who has made the jump from the youth team to the first-team at the club.

Hector Bellerin also falls into the category of having moved to Arsenal on scholarship terms before progressing to the first-team. It has been an impressive breakthrough season for the Spaniard, who perhaps wouldn’t have envisaged himself being Arsenal’s first choice right-back at this stage when he was struggling to get games on loan at Watford last year.

Whether any further youngsters will be able to join Bellerin in the first-team fold in the near future remains to be seen. Krystian Bielik’s performances at youth level so far have been largely impressive and the youngster, who is seen by Arsene Wenger as primarily being a defensive-midfielder as opposed to a centre-back, should receive some senior minutes next season.

Others, such as Alex Iwobi, Glen Kamara and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, are likely to experience their first loan spells next campaign as they seek to make the incredibly difficult journey from youth-team prospect to first-team player at Arsenal.

There is an argument that winning trophies at youth level isn’t always reflective of a successful academy. Chelsea, for example, have been involved in five of the last six FA Youth Cup finals, winning four of them, yet John Terry is the only academy graduate who has regularly played for their first-team this season.

In that respect, so long as Arsenal are able to produce players capable of making the grade at the club, results shouldn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things, although it would surely be more beneficial for the youngsters to be able to test themselves against opponents of a higher calibre.

The worry is that most of Arsenal’s best prospects were signed from elsewhere, although there are a crop of Hale End products currently playing at U18 level who will be seeking to buck that trend in the future.

Jeorge Bird is the author of  Follow him on Twitter @jeorgebird


Related articles


Notify of

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Very few make through to the first team. Some do, we have Gibbs, Bellerin, Wilshere, Coq and Szcz in the squad and others like Afobe that have done well elsewhere. However it would be good to see the chance for more to come through eg if we compete well in the Youth League and the FA Cup, which when we won in 2008/9 included the Coq, Wilshere, Lansbury, Frimpong and Kyle Bartley. I don’t know if there is anyone to blame eg Jonckers but would love to see a steady stream progressing to the first team, as at Southampton and… Read more »

Juxta Position

I think the debate over what exactly qualifies as an academy graduate is a bit pedantic. Our goal is obviously to find the best youngsters in the game, at any age, and educate them to play the arsenal way. Whether they came here at the age of 9 or 19 is irrelevant from a developmental standpoint. Our academy more than pays for itself, and most definitely has supplemented the first team with quality players. I’m not saying it couldn’t be better, just that it must be considered an overall success thus far.


I don’t think Jonkers has had enough time to see his philosophy/tactics implemented and grown, especially the players that have been brought in might have been from the previous. He did say that from age 16 on is where players need to cultivate the mentality of winning instead of playing style. Hopefully this is rectified over the summer and onto next year. Hoping he brings at least 2-3 players during his tenure.

Bendtner's Ego

It seems like some clubs are really looking at academy success through different lenses. Some teams look to academy to produce first team players. Some top-level clubs might look to academy to offset purchase costs of elite players, which block the progress of academy players.

I think the only way to measure both styles equally is to look at the careers of players 4+ years after graduating from the academy to see if they are still productive.


Surely a youth academy is like a ‘finishing school’ for youngsters. Making the grade at Arsenal means you have to be one of the best players in the world, so it’s highly unlikely that any significant number of such players are going to come through Hale End, and come from the area. Surely a large part of the success of a youth academy is scouting and bringing in the right youngsters, wherever in the world they come from. In that sense, someone like Szczesny should definitely be considered an Arsenal academy product.


Yeah scouting is a large part, but coaching is the biggest part. It’s hard to judge if the coaching itself is good if your graduates are scouted later in their development, with arsenal putting the finishing touches, so to speak.
Not that I personally care really, but if you want to judge just how good the COACHING ability is at arsenal, i’d figure how many Hale End guys get through to the end is a good indication of that.

But like I said, I don’t care either way.


Of course the better prospects will be signed from somewhere else. London has what, 10 or 15 million people? That’s a very small percentage of the European population. With Arsenal able to sign youngsters from all over Europe, and being a top 10 or 15 club in the world, the sheer numbers of it are going to dictate that most of the talent is going to come from elsewhere. As long as Arsenal is looking for the best youth prospects it can, most of them are not going to coincidentally happen to have been born in a 20 mile radius… Read more »

Big Dave

Youth and academy football doesn’t need to be about winning games. Its all about development and learning. Say you have a 6ft striker you could lump it up to, well, put him on the right wing for a few games, he might not play very good but he might learn what crosses are most affective for strikers and improve his overall game.

John Doe Gooner


I think you do a fabulous job covering the young uns. Thank you so very much.

Could you by any chance list all the Hale End lads at the club presently(First and youth teams included)?
It would be much appreciated.


Harish P

This is among my favourite weekly reading material. Thanks for the insight, Jeorge.

“…although there are a crop of Hale End products currently playing at U18 level who will be seeking to buck that trend in the future.” If more could be said about these specific players, I’d be intrigued to learn who the stand out boys are.


What’s happening????

A thread with no thumbs down! Voice of reason throughout. No trolls.

Someone say something controversial quickly….

RC Motors

I wonder how much of our youth teams results are due to playing U’18 players in U’21 games and playing 15/16 year olds in U’18 games. I can think of Zelalem and Crowley who are around 18 years old regularly playing for the U’21s and surely since they are playing against older guys, they are in fact testing themselves against higher calibre of opponents at least in terms of physicality. Just a thought.

I hope it does their development wonders. Would love to see them make the step up to first team in the future.


What about the Beckham’s boys?

Share article

Featured on NewsNow

Support Arseblog

Latest posts

Latest Arsecast

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x