Sunday, March 3, 2024

Will Mertesacker’s academy recruitment policy pay off?

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.

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

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Spanish Gooner

They’re all signing for free and will be on low risk contracts. If even one is sold for £750,000+ we’ll make an overall profit, so if they can help the u23s it’s definitely worth it.


In the past we’ve sold quite a few youngsters for low fees (or no fee) without giving them a fair chance. Some have gone on to good/great things at other clubs. Selling a youngster for, say, £750,000+, without given them a chance here, who goes on to be worth £millions elsewhere really isn’t worth it.

Johnny 4 Hats

We should absolutely start collecting coupons too. If all the players brought in supermarket coupons on, let’s call it coupon Wednesday, then the catering department could go around the various supermarkets cashing them in and using the reduced ingredients to make the players lunch.

Arteta-tinted Glasses

I am glad there’s a strategy in place now. We’ve been floating along for a while now. The Saka, Willock, Nelson, Nketiah, Smith-Rowe generation is from the good work that was put in a decade ago. We got a good guy in Per!


No issues at all with us signing 18-20year olds who haven’t made the cut within lesser (Spurs) teams academys. Plenty of players develop at a slightly slower pace and then explode in their early twenties.
Surely they will be on low wages and all it takes is one to step up or a few to be sold down to league 1 or the championship and we’re even.

A Different George

Didn’t Spurs get one from us who turned out pretty good? Dives and gets a lot of penalties, yes, but does score a fair bit.

Le Cannonier

The difference is at that The Arsenal Dinzeyi will actually win trophies

Artetetet Artetetet tetetet

Per seems like a really good bloke who wants the best for all the youngsters at the club, so hopefully we won’t have the problems that Chelsea have had keeping theirs happy. Young players know they have a chance of developing at Arsenal and possibly getting in the first team under Arteta. Fingers crossed some make it.


Yes, that’s true. Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches below their first team squad – just too many quality youngsters within the club and on loan. This is because they’ve been hoovering up a lot of the best youngsters from all over the place for several years now. The happy medium is to have just enough quality “bubbling under” so that problems like that don’t arise. Arsenal has been guilty of letting some youngsters go too soon without giving them a fair chance – often at a great cost to the club. That looks like a thing of the past… Read more »

Eternal Titi Berg Pat Nostalgia

People give all credits to Per but Llungberg was the guy who made a big impact on Saka, ESR, Willock, Nelson and Nketiah.


Luckily Ljungberg is still very much involved at that level. He’s got the assistant coach position but I belive he works a lot more with the youth than the experienced players. Which in my books is fine. I think he’s a great coach for the youngsters.

Parisian Weetabix

this aged rapidly

Artetetet Artetetet tetetet

That’s what I was going to say?


Still involved now.
Unfortunately, he’s left the club to pursue a career in management.
It’s good for him though as he deserves a shot at a top job.


Aged like milk

Diaby's Left Peg

Isn’t academy recruitment headed up by the Talent ID guy? Like I don’t think Per’s job is to find youngsters more look after those we’ve already got

Naked Cygan

In Per we trust.


Used to say that about someone else at Arsenal. Who was that now …?

Sean Mukiza

Great article Jeorge. Exciting season ahead! Time will tell if the new strategy pays off!


Knowing Per is an insightful pro, he knows what he is doing. There is a clear plan in place, and he has taken all the technical aspects of coaching into mind. I am just glad that he is there, some of the interviews he made after his last game can shed some light on some of the thought processes.


You dont seem very optimistic, having raw qualities seems like an understatement. All youngsters are like that should be a general understanding, there’s an analytics led approach to these signing and I expect first team recruitment to follow similar approach in coming years where needed, regardless of success rate a new approach is always a breath of fresh air and should be backed by the club and fans too. So far all looks good


Buy, develop, sell, especially with Brexit coming, young talent will be sold at a premium especially if home grown.
I like the strategy and the deliberate approach in the signings.
All decisions and choices are risks, may or may not pay off but at least there seems to be some planning in place

Eternal Titi Berg Pat Nostalgia

We need to aim at developing top top top players. The money you save or make on them is in the range of 50M in the end. Small clubs should take care of small clubs rejects. It doesn’t look like we target a specific player and think:are you mad letting him go? We just get two or three of them just in case they surprisingly develop.


Unfortunately we’re just not that sort of club. When was the last time we developed a top top top player? I can’t think of any top top top players we’ve developed in over a decade. We had a very good scouting network, but have been failing to snap up the top top talents for more than a decade. Many that we have signed have either not developed as expected or have left for other clubs. It’s worth trying a different approach that is more about relative value that is the reality given our current position and the competitiveness of the… Read more »

Eternal Titi Berg Pat Nostalgia

Maybe we should do more of the final development. We handed 72M to Lille and are ready to give them around 50M again for Gabriel. All they did is the last 2 or 3 years of development. Monaco did same and sold a lot of top talents. They misjudged the team they gave to Henry that was full of untalented young players. But in 2 years they may sell big again.

Drogheda Gunner

Where are you getting 50mil from the sum is around 25 along way from 50.


Big Frugal German


Being frugal and looking for bargains isn’t always a profitable approach. It looks great if you land a success story but I would feel better about this if it was more diverse and included one or two high profile recruits. If we are hoping to find the new Fabregas then we’ll have to pay for at least some.


This a strategy worth trying out. If we end up finding some hidden gems that can make it to the first team great. If we don’t and we end up selling them for a decent fee then that’s good enough as it will help bring in much needed funds. There will always be players (from the academy and the senior team) that leave for many reasons: because they want more first team opportunities, to play in a different position, because they feel like they’re not developing enough, because they want more money etc. Some will go on to do very… Read more »


Get lots and lots of youngsters then loan them out to good developmental clubs.


It is hard to predict who will go on to be the real deal. Makes sense to widen the pool.


Just saying Arsenal did not feel Harry Kane was worth keeping either.

Or that Gnabry was worth fighting for.

or (to lesser extent) the Jeff, or Malen….

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