The Arsenal academy has polished countless gems over the years. One only has to look to the meteoric rise of Buyako Saka and, more recently, Emile Smith Rowe to see the importance of academy products in becoming valuable starters. Yet the difficulty of bringing through young players in a club as big as Arsenal lies in the unavailability of much-needed minutes.
Players need minutes to develop and get a feel for the big stage. Teams and managers, however, need to get results in order to keep their jobs. Giving young players minutes while getting results is a difficult balancing act that few managers can crack.
Arsenal have recently been getting this balance right and their recent strategy seems to be paying off. It’s got to the point where Arsenal are no longer relying on their ‘young’ players, but indeed their ‘best’ players.
There are numerous Under-23 players getting valuable minutes in the lower tiers of English football. The likes of Zech Medley, Matt Smith and Tyreece John-Jules are all developing their trade. Furthermore, the latter two are doing a fine job at Swindon (now Charlton) and Doncaster respectively.
Arsenal youth earning minutes vital for Gunners moving forward
We see the value of minutes in the first team as well. Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have all had roles of varying importance over past seasons. All are still young(ish) and even if they move away from the club permanently, their experience will only increase their transfer fees. Maitland-Niles is now an English international. Eddie Nketiah is the top scorer for the England Under-23s. Joe Willock has shone brightly in the Europa League.
The importance of minutes cannot be overstated and Arsenal have often found it difficult to use loan moves to their advantage.
This inefficiency in bridging the academy to the first team or in moving them on has led to players slipping through the cracks. Serge Gnabry was moved on far too early simply because he did not have enough minutes to show his quality.
Recently, however, Arsenal has shown the willingness to learn from past mistakes: Willock and Maitland-Niles joining Premier League sides were smart and necessary actions. The former made a winning and goalscoring debut while the latter played the full 90 against Tottenham on Sunday.
While still enjoying the fruits of recent labor, it’s exciting to imagine what the next wave of youth players to come through.