Arsenal are enjoying a brilliant crop of young players breaking into their first team. In fact, this might be the greatest group in the club’s history.
Arsenal have always prided themselves on the development of young players. It was always a key tenet of Arsene Wenger’s managerial approach. He actively prioritised the progression and growth of young talent, believing it to be a part of his duty as the steward of the football club and of the young lives that were put in his hands.
When the Gunners looked for Wenger’s successor, a crucial aspect of the individual they targetted was their intention to use young players and to bleed them into the first team. Unai Emery certainly represented that, entrusting key roles to Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Matteo Guendouzi early in his tenure, and so does Emery’s successor, Mikel Arteta. And under Arteta, you could claim that Arsenal have their greatest crop of young players in their history.
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There are the Hale End graduates, of which an increasing number seem destined for first-team roles. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 22, is at the head of the queue, impressing massively under Arteta, while the likes of Bukayo Saka, 18, Eddie Nketiah, 20, Reiss Nelson, 20, Emile Smith Rowe, 19, and Joe Willock, 20, are all following close behind, each having made senior starts this season and impressing in them.
Including Hector Bellerin, 24, Arsenal have used seven academy graduates in the Premier League this season. Only Manchester United and Chelsea have used more this season. All seven still have a very real future at the club that could see them develop into starting players in the coming years.
Then there are those that were bought young and have developed — or are still developing — within the Arsenal system. Matteo Guendouzi, 20, and Gabriel Martinelli, 18, are the leading names here.
Guendouzi was a starting central midfielder for a top-six club at just 19. He has been called up to the French national team squad, the reigning World Champions, no less, and has already made 53 Premier League appearances — he is the 32nd youngest player in Premier League history to make 50 appearances.
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Martinelli, meanwhile, was hailed by Jurgen Klopp as a future superstar, is the club’s second-top scorer on the season, and has played a key role in the EFL Cup, Europa League, FA Cup and now Premier League and is seemingly set to be a mainstay in Arteta’s frontline. The 18-year-old Brazilian has been sensational this season, making 22 appearances in all competitions, scoring ten goals in the process.
It might be the greatest crop of young players in world football. That sounds like a hefty statement to make, and it is certainly one that I do not have the knowledge to support, but that is just how talented this current group of burgeoning stars is.
Arsenal have a special collection of developing stars. They are brilliant, brave, improving, and ready to take to the first team and more. They might just be the best in club history, and that really is saying something.