Arsenal’s youth success continues
By Jonny Payne.
Arsenal Under-18s moved a step closer to defending their Premier Academy League crown at the weekend with a 4-2 drubbing of Cardiff City. The win has extended Arsenal’s unbeaten run in the league to 12 games and they now lead second placed Chelsea by 11 points with a game in hand.
Led by former Arsenal defender Steve Bould, the youth team famously won the double last season and although they suffered disappointment in the FA Youth Cup earlier this time around, they have excelled in their group of the Academy League.
With seven matches remaining, Arsenal look set to go into the playoffs with the other three group winners. As the tables stand at the moment that would set up a meeting with Leicester City, with Everton and Sunderland also progressing to the playoff stage.
Arsenal beat Tottenham Under-18s by a Rhys Murphy goal to nil in the playoff final last season and a number of that side have gone on to play regularly this term.
The linchpin of that team was Jack Wilshere who was promoted to the first team squad after impressing for the under-18s and again for the first team in pre-season. The 18 year-old has now gone on loan to Bolton Wanderers and has been performing well, scoring once in seven appearances.
Other members of the double-winning team to have made an impact this season include Jay-Emmanuel Thomas who has impressed on loan at Blackpool and Doncaster, while Henri Lansbury has played most of the season in Watford’s first team. Sanchez Watt, who has played a handful of games for Arsneal’s first team, has also spent time on loan at Southend while Rhys Murphy has been at Brentford and Gilles Sunu at Derby.
Of the current crop there are a number of players who look destined for first team action in the near future, either on loan or in the Carling Cup side.
Benik Afobe’s goal against Cardiff has taken his tally to 12 goals in 21 matches. The strong and quick striker, who was top scorer for the Under-16s last season, has an enviable goalscoring record at youth level and the 17 year-old has recently been tied down to a long-term contract after rumours of interest from Barcelona. Comfortable playing the lead striking role and with a true goalscoring instinct, Afobe has similarities to former Gunner Andy Cole or current England international Carlton Cole.
The England under-17 international has interestingly been left out of the statistics section of Arsenal’s website, despite having played most of the season for the under-18s, which could suggest that he is so highly rated that Arsenal do not want the world to know his potential just yet.
Leading the scoring charts is Luke Freeman. The former Gillingham player took a little while to settle in after his move from Kent, but he seems to have found his feet this season with some impressive performances scoring 15 times in 21 starts for the youth and reserve teams. A cross between Craig Bellamy and Michael Owen, his tireless running and cool finishing bodes well for the future.
After scoring on his debut for the second-string, Neil Banfield the reserve team coach told Arsenal’s website:
Luke is progressing nicely. He’s got the enthusiasm, a good attitude and he’s giving himself the best chance…I think Luke was well aware [when he arrived at Arsenal] that he was one for the future and has to work on his game. He has applied himself really well.
Chuks Aneke, a midfield powerhouse and similar in play to Abou Diaby, is another one expected to make the grade at Arsenal. The England Under-17 adds an extra dimension to the young Gunners attack and he has weighed in with 15 goals this season.
There have also been impressive displays from creative midfielders Conor Henderson and Oguzhan Ozyakup, while defenders Nico Yennaris and Sam Byles have also been in good form.
There has even been a glimpse further down the line with the likes of 15 year-old Zak Ansah and 16 year-old Martin Angha stepping up from the Under-16s in recent weeks after doing enough to earn the call-up from Steve Bould.
With the majority of Arsenal’s first team squad in their early twenties and many more out on loan, there may well be a backlog of talent come the summer in what is quickly becoming an embarrassment of riches.
Arsene Wenger’s youth policy is now really beginning to shine through and in response to criticism of the Frenchman for his reliance on foreign talent, the majority of the top players coming through the academy are English, not that it matters too much to most Gooners.
With the first team challenging for honours and the youth team following their lead, the future continues to look very bright for the Gunners.
Will any of these players make the step up to Arsenal’s first team in the next few years? Have your say below.
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