Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Malen and Bennacer signings underline Jonker’s vision

It was clear that all was not well with Arsenal’s youth set-up when the Gunners, having won the Premier Academy League title five years earlier, suffered the ignominy of finishing as the lowest-placed team in the U18 league last season.

Few people, though, would have anticipated the response to that setback. It was expected that the club would bring in some players from abroad to supplement their new scholarship intake, as is usually the case, but this summer Arsenal, led by Academy Manager Andries Jonker, have undertaken a substantial recruitment drive, with seven young prospects being signed so far.

The two most recent acquisitions were announced this week, with striker Donyell Malen joining from Ajax’s academy, whilst Frenhc attacking-midfielder Ismael Bennacer (pictured) has made the switch from Arles-Avignon. There could yet be another new arrival, with the club believed to be close to finalising a deal for 15-year-old goalkeeper Joao Virginia.

Of the players that have arrived this summer, some have already made a considerable impression, none more so than Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who was one of the star performers as the first-team won the Emirates Cup. The former Lens player could well feature in the Capital One Cup this season and is likely to train regularly with the senior side.

As far as the other new signings are concerned, Kostas Pileas, Yassin Fortune, Vlad Dragomir and Jordi Osei-Tutu have all settled in well with the U18s, and there are raised hopes that the club will be able to fare much better at that level this time around.

As for Jonker, you certainly can’t accuse the Dutchman of being indecisive. Under his stewardship, the club have recruited some of the most promising young players in Europe (not forgetting the signing of Krystian Bielik in January).

If just one of those goes on to become a major success for the first-team then the initiative can be said to have paid off. The next task will be to improve the quality of players being produced by the club at Hale End, but that, of course, is a much more difficult process that will take a very long time to deal with.

For all the above signings, Arsenal’s youth sides are still worryingly short of options in defence, whilst the U18s are also lacking a bonafide defensive-midfielder. However, the overall quality of the youth squads certainly seems to be at a higher level than last year.

It would have been churlish to blame Jonker entirely for Arsenal’s frustrating academy season last year, with the 52-year-old not having been given sufficient time to make a significant impact on proceedings. Now, though, we are starting to see his intentions and they will hopefully be of great benefit to the club in the long-term.

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

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Rohith J

Why do we always keep defenders and defensive midfielders for last? Serious question. Are they harder to scout or train? Or do we prioritise attackers and move some of them to defence? Like how Bellerin/Gibbs moved from RW/LW to RB/LB?

Bill o reilly

It’s hard to tell young kids to “stay put”. Discipline is hard to teach at those ages.


Love reading these type of articles, its a nice break from all the silly season bs. I’m hoping to go to a few youth games this season.. Gonna take the kids along.

Clock-End Mike

[pedant alert]

“this type of article” or “these types of article(s)” (if you mean more than one type). Never “these type”.
Or simply “articles like this” will do fine.
Pleas edon’t take it persoanlly, yhis isn’t aimed at just this contribution; I’ve seen the Arseblogger himself get this wrong many a time too, this was just the latest example and caught me in the right mood to make a point.


Clock-End Mike

“Pleas edon’t take it persoanlly, yhis isn’t aimed at just this contribution” oops!

That should be “Please don’t take it personally, this isn’t aimed at just this contribution”…

(Why am I getting thumbed down?)

Springbank 1962

If you’re in it for the thumbs then you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

Plus, no one likes an arse smart.

Clock-End Mike

No, I’m not in it for the thumbs. I dfidn’t expect any, I was just trying to help, and I couldn’t see why I was getting thumbed down. Guess you’ve answered that… 🙁


Wenger has handpicked the majority of these players ,not jonker he only negotiated the paperwork.


Judging by the fact that Dick Law is smiling like a buffon in all of the instagram pictures that are leaked by the players when they joined, I think he was the one who got the deals over the line. Wenger has been rather lackadaisical when it comes to signing highly rated youngsters from across Europe in the last decade, so the coincidence that we are starting to snap up a number of them so soon after Jonker joined for the purpose of running the youth setup is there. I’m sure Wenger had a hand in these transfers, no doubt,… Read more »


I agree. Our academy was badly neglected for far too long, years after the writing was on the wall and some of our more promising kids were refusing the contracts we offered and defecting to Liverpool, even, God help us, to West Ham. This was partly because Wenger had too much on his plate anyway, but also because he’s always been stubborn and reluctant to make changes, especially where the backroom staff are concerned. Look at how long Primo has been with him, how long Pat Rice stayed, and how he chose Bould, a familiar face, rather than bringing in… Read more »


Hi. I’m in Durban. Heard of the team being here a bit late. The games are being played a bit far from where i am and i’m not too keen to get to that part of town. Several of us are quite disappointed that the games are out of the way.

But if they do make it to the final, and i’m really hoping they do, we will definitely be going. The final is being played in the main stadium here in Durban.

We drew 1-1 today.


Yes, I saw the 1-1 scoreline, which was quite creditable considering it was achieved with only ten men on the pitch. The sending-off, as far as I could see from the brief video clip, was bizarre. Not a bad challenge, just a very mild disagreement with the linesman about a throw-in. Then up charges the ref like a mad person pursued by an angry swarm of wasps and brandishes a red card. Weird. Hope it doesn’t cost us in the next game, losing our left back.


Agreed, during this period there is so much rubbish being written about potential players joining that it’s refreshing to read articles about players with potential that have joined us. We’ve been lacking in our youth setup for sometime, gone were the days of having a stellar youth squad with exceptional players rolling off the conveyor belt (and subsequently leaving one by one bar a few). It’s about time we shook things up in that area and Jonker looks like he is following through with his vision. Some very, very interesting prospects have joined in the last few months and our… Read more »


Bennacer looks a little Nasri-esque in the picture, not that that really means anything.

Off topic, Theo and Santi have just signed new deals!


*Nasri-esque, but less chubby-lesbian looking.


I was thinking he looks more like Munir El Hadadi(sp) of Barca.


Couple of things ; although it’s fair to comment on disappointing results and performances at youth level, it’s nearly always the case that our strongest possible team isn’t playing, especially at u18s. Loans and the club’s policy of pushing promising players up a level ensures this. As the article correctly points out, one big success of brining a player through means that the period of his development goes down as a success. Bellerin, for instance. Moreover, it’s not a neat process. So it’s hard to make a judgement on any given season of youth results even a year later, let… Read more »


Hi Jeorge, thanks for the column, always thoroughly enjoy hearing your updates on our youth. I just wanted to ask how you know that we are indeed recruiting some of the best talent in Europe? Just interested (no tone intended there…), is it coz you have some inside info at your disposal as it were, or are you just drawing the inference from the fact that The Arsenal does have strong pull and doesn’t play the game fuck around when it comes to recruits?


My problem with the youth teams is i feel we have not put enough emphasis on defensive players, whether it is defensive midfielders, center backs and to a less extent left or right backs. we tend to attract mostly attacking players. It is common knowledge that attacking players will value more money when being sold especially if they are exceptional, however if we are to ensure the continual growth of the arsenal brand we most also be grooming young defensive stars in England and capture those who are available from foreign lands. Not withstanding the generous influx of potential superstars… Read more »


This is what Bonkers Jonkers and his Dilly Dutch Boyz were brought in for, their knowledge of youth football on the Continent. It’s great to see the new kids brought from all over Europe, as far afield as Romania. If we really want a top notch youth system, this kind of scouting is essential, just look at Barcelona (minus the child trafficking). Hopefully there are plans to extend it to North and West Africa, where it doesn’t seem we do much scouting. With our presence in Greece, hopefully we can extend that further into Eastern Europe as well, there are… Read more »


North America would be better than Africa. Remember, any African players who make it with us will disappear for two months every second season for the ACON. North America is a gold mine waiting to be discovered.


No it isn’t.


All these people prattling on about buying every day. We are buying and we have bought a bunch. We are a club that builds. We built Henry, Veira Pires, Llungberg. We realised their potential But we hand crafted Ahsley Cole, Fabregas, Gibbs, Jack, now Coquelin and Bellerin Sometimes we are finishing school like for the Soton boys Walcott, Ox and Chambers to some extent the Barca boys Fabregas and Bellerin. We have been under pressure at youth level bc some of the oligarch teams have been plundering to fill their ‘homemade quotas’ but they have sullied their name in recent… Read more »


We should also be on the look out for a good Lback for the future.


Overall quality in academy has to be raised plus any future purchases in the first team will be going hand in hand with development.

This is not an automatic gaurantee for any of those players as we will be buying from market should we not find the solution from academy to be sufficient.

But we are about building players.

We are a self built club built with our own money.

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