Emile Smith Rowe’s debut for England marked an opportune moment for Mikel Arteta to pay tribute to those who run Arsenal’s Hale End Academy.
Joining the club as a 10-year-old, the midfielder spent most of his teenage years being educated at the facility, which plays host to trainees between the age of 9-16, before making the jump to London Colney where the under-23s play their football.
While Smith Rowe’s path to the Gunners first team is not unusual – a source of pride for the club – his involvement at senior international level sees him join an upper echelon of recent graduates that includes, amongst others, Alex Iwobi, Kieran Gibbs, Hector Bellerin, Emi Martinez, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Wojciech Szczesny and Bukayo Saka.
Having played alongside some of the above names, Mikel Arteta is keenly aware of the importance of Hale End funnelling talent his way.
“I knew about it about because of my time here as a player,” he said ahead of Saturday’s trip with Liverpool.
“I had already seen some of the talent come through and I played with some of them.
“It’s part of our identity, to raise players. We have a great academy, we have coaches that deserves so much credit for the education that they are giving those players, and for how they have been coached.
“And then – like anybody – they need opportunities, they need game time to prove that they can do it at that level.”
While he wouldn’t compare Arsenal’s academy, which is managed by Per Mertesacker, to those run by other clubs, he doubled down on the club’s commitment to young homegrown players getting their chance to shine at the highest level.
“I cannot rate compared to others,” he said. “What I can say is that I’m really happy and proud, and that this is not stopping here. We have to continue to evolve it, to improve it, and to keep providing players, because it’s a huge boost for the club – and obviously it’s very beneficial for many aspects.
He also made clear that the club will always look to the academy before spending money in the transfer market.
“Always in our system,” he said. “Whether it’s a player, whether it’s a staff member, whether it’s in any (other) part of the club.
“If we need some recruitment, first of all we look inside: what do we have, can we promote them, do they have the qualities to do it. If we don’t (have it), then obviously we have to start the process outside of our club.”
Hale End first received Academy status in 1998 and became integral to the evolution of the club’s football philosophy under Arsene Wenger.
It underwent a multi-million pound revamp four years ago and now incorporates a number of full-size pitches, including an exhibition pitch with the same Desso surface and dimensions as Emirates Stadium, an indoor sports hall named after David Rocastle, changing rooms, a restaurant, classrooms, offices and a medical space.