Arsenal have been heavily active in the transfer market this summer with regards to bringing in youth players and there has been a common theme amongst all of the individuals that have been signed.
George Lewis, Tim Akinola and Salah-Eddine were all free agents and the same applies to Jonathan Dinzeyi, whose move to the club is expected to be confirmed shortly.
It seems clear that Arsenal, under the guidance of academy manager Per Mertesacker, are aiming to bring in players who are available for free and have raw qualities that, with the right coaching, could potentially see them develop into first-team players or alternatively be sold to raise funds.
The signings of Lewis and Akinola, who were previously with Fram Larvik and Huddersfield Town, appeared rather unusual, but they do make some sense, in the short-term at least.
Arsenal are short on left sided wingers at U23 level and Lewis can fill that void, while they also lack midfielders who can break up play, so Akinola can help in that regard. Whether either player could push into the first-team remains to be seen but they seem to be useful options to fill gaps in the U23 squad.
The arrival of Dinzeyi is a little more puzzling. While the centre-back had some good performances at youth level for Tottenham, they didn’t feel that he was worth persisting with. Arsenal, meanwhile, have several centre-backs in the U23s and also have the likes of Alex Kirk and Mazeed Ogungbo ready to step up from the U18s. Dinzeyi could well turn out to be a worthwhile signing but his arrival will surely mean that other youngsters will have to depart.
Salah-Eddine appears to be an exciting prospect who can link play well. The former Feyenoord youngster is eligible to play for the U18s but is most likely to go into the U23 squad and the expectation within the club is that he could quickly progress to be involved wiht the first-team. Again, Arsenal aren’t short of creative midfielders at U23 level – Ben Cottrell, Miguel Azeez and Catalin Cirjan all fall into that category – and there are many more beyond that.
The likes of Zech Medley, Trae Coyle, Matt Smith and Zak Swanson have all been sent out on loan and the expectation is that others will follow, with Arsenal perhaps starting to replicate Chelsea’s approach of loaning out many prospects.
Arsenal do, though, now have 57 full-time players at academy level, which is more than they have ever had before. If the approach is to have many youngsters at the club and see which ones succeed then there is a risk that some very talented players could get lost in the system owing to a lack of game time.
In addition, many prospects won’t be willing to be patient for opportunities at youth level if they feel that they could get more playing time elsewhere.
Arsenal’s new intake of scholars contains some very exciting players but this group has now been pushed further down the pecking order.
It also has to be taken into consideration that there are already a significant amount of youngsters in the first-team squad, so it won’t necessarily be easy for players to make the breakthrough in the near future.
Still, the best prospects will surely still be given chances to impress and if any of the players that have been brought in end up succeeding then the policy can be deemed worthwhile.
If this works as planned then it would certainly be a cost-effective way of developing talent.
This feels like a time of significant change with regards to how the Arsenal academy is operating, and it will be intriguing to see whether this policy proves to be successful.