Arsenal’s under-18s have been in impressive form in recent months and Arsene Wenger believes the latest generation of Academy prospects have what it takes to help return Arsenal to the top of the Premier League.
Kwame Ampadu’s side recently went 14-games without defeat, a run that has seen them climb to second behind Chelsea in the Premier League South table and into the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup; a tournament the Gunners haven’t won since Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and co. lifted the trophy in 2009.
Ahead of the under-18s quarter-final clash with Colchester United, Arsene Wenger underlined his belief that the next few years will see Arsenal reap the benefits of considerable investment at youth level.
“I always have an eye on that [the FA Youth Cup],” the Frenchman told Arsenal Player this week.
“We spoke about our DNA and that’s part of us as well. The quality of our youth is very important.
“We invest a lot of money in there and it is to have end products. End products are players who have the quality to play for the first team. That’s why you always look around when it’s international competition or national competition, like the FA Youth Cup. It’s always very important to know where we stand compared to the other clubs.
“Behind the players that we know already, like Nketiah, Willock, Dasilva and Nelson, we have another group of young players just behind who are very good as well.
“I’m convinced that in the next two or three years, Arsenal will have a lot of satisfaction on that front. I’m convinced that the way for Arsenal to come back to fight for the Premier League is to rely on a core of young players to come out of our football club.”
From the summer, the responsibility for the Academy will fall under Per Mertesacker’s remit. He faces a tough job striking a balance between attracting the very best talent to the club, developing them as players and men and also ensuring that the environment in which they hone their skills isn’t too comfortable.
Arsene Wenger has spoken recently about his desire to see the FA and Premier League combat wage inflation at youth level because, in his opinion, the influx of cash is stunting the hunger to succeed at the highest level.
There’s also the issue of big clubs snapping up all the best schoolboy talent and ultimately not being in a position to give them first team opportunities. For context, Chelsea have won the FA Youth Cup in six of the last eight years, the last three times beating Manchester City in the final.