“Identifying, recruiting, and developing young players is a key part of our strategy.”Raul Sanllehi
Those words were said by Head of Football at Arsenal, Raul Sanllehi. This has clearly been shown in recruitment, too. Matteo Guendouzi and William Saliba are a few examples of young players Arsenal have bought in recent transfer windows. In the house, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and Bukayo Saka are players from the academy who got significant playing time in the first team.
From these young talents, there are four of them that separate themselves from the rest and are highly rated in world football. Per Transfermarkt, a website that has transfer values on every player in world football, 3 of the top 16 highest valued U19 players in world football are Arsenal players. Head of this list: Norwegian superstar striker Erling Haaland. Those U19 Arsenal players are
- Gabriel Martinelli
- William Saliba
- Bukayo Saka.
In addition, Mateo Guendouzi is the third highest valued U21 center midfielder in world football. Guendouzi is behind Houssem Aouar, who is Manchester City-bound, and Fede Valverde, a first XI player at Real Madrid
The values of Guendouzi, Saliba, Saka, and Martinelli show how talented Arsenal’s young talent is. It is very important that these young talents have pathways into the XI. They are huge talents and need first-team minutes in important matches to reach their potential. Saliba should take a season to settle in cup matches, but the other three are ready for big first-team minutes. For that to happen, though, clear pathways into the XI must be created.
“I don’t want to kill our young players”Arsene Wenger
Words said by Arsene Wenger in response to a question about possible transfers in the Summer of 2008. Wenger has been criticized for his reluctance in the market, but that quote is correct.
When you have young talents, you have to make their pathways to playing time clear. Imagine Wenger bought a player to replace Viera instead of playing Fabregas. Imagine not giving Nasri his chance after Hleb left?
What would Van Persie and Adebayor have become after Henry left if Arsene bought an experienced striker? Another example is how after Fabregas left, that left a pathway for Wilshere and Ramsey. Arsene was stubborn but he was excellent with young players. Ramsey, Wilshere, Fabregas, Van Persie, and Adebayor were successes the years after experienced players in their position left because Arsene gave them their chance.
In comparison to the current day Arsenal, the likes of Guendouzi, Martinelli, and Saka should get there. Instead of buying Milot Rashica, Federico Chiesa or Memphis Depay to play (LW), play our 19-year-old talent, with a wand of a left foot and excellent 1v1 ability in Saka there.
The first iteration of project youth from 2007-2013 was frustrating but many forget Arsenal were in title races those years and were fixtures in the knockout stages of Champions League. The only issue with those teams was injury misfortune, bad goalkeeping (Almunia), and the need for a top experienced center back. Around that, was a fun, quality filled, young team that challenged often and made the top 4 every season.
The current Arsenal should build around this platform, but buy experienced talent in areas of need, such as defensive midfield and attacking midfield. With Arsenal’s budget, resources need to be used solely on positions of absolute need.
Everywhere else, trust those young players. Play them. Challenge them with experienced players who are quality but won’t block their pathway due to age, like Willian and David Luiz. If they play, they will frustrate and show their youth, but the benefits heavily outweigh the risks. So, Arsenal must give their special young talents their chance and pick up after their mistakes.
Written By: Derrick Never (@ArsenalVault)