Is there a clear path to the Arsenal first team for academy players?

  • Mikel Arteta has been limited in giving academy stars real chances during his time as Arsenal manager

Ethan Nwaneri is arguably the biggest name Mikel Arteta has given a debut
Ethan Nwaneri is arguably the biggest name Mikel Arteta has given a debut / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages
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Since becoming Arsenal manager in 2019, Mikel Arteta has shown that he has a heavy reliance on young players with the prospect of building a team that will play together for years to come.

He has made great use of academy players such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, the latter of whom played a key role in Arteta keeping his job at the end of 2020.

When Omari Hutchinson left the club for Chelsea in 2022, a clearer path to first-team football with the Blues was reported as his rationale. Many laughed at this at the time, but in the nearly two years since, this has begun to make more sense.

A limited number of the youngsters Mikel Arteta have come through the ranks during the Spaniard's time at the club despite early promise. So, it asks whether there is a clear path to the first team for the club's academy players.


Academy players under Mikel Arteta so far

Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta has given six academy players their competitive debuts / MB Media/GettyImages

In his four and a bit years as Arsenal manager, Arteta has handed out competitive debuts to six academy players. Folarin Balogun was the first academy graduate to make his debut under the Spaniard and was closely followed by Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell. Charlie Patino, Ethan Nwaneri and Charles Sagoe Jr. have also made their senior debuts under Arteta.

Since making their first appearances, Balogun, Azeez and Cottrell have all left the club permanently having had minimal chances to make a mark in this Arsenal team. There seems to be a danger that this could also happen with arguably the Gunners' most promising youngster, Charlie Patino. He has spent the last two seasons out on loan and was reported to have wanted a permanent move away last summer.

While Patino ended up only leaving the club on a straight loan to Swansea City, he will most likely demand first team football when he returns this summer. As has been shown with other youngsters returning from loan spells, this will be no guarantee.

Arteta gave Ethan Nwaneri his competitive debut in September 2022 during a 3-0 win at Brentford. At just 15 years and 181 days old, Nwaneri became the youngest player in Premier League history. Handing such a chance to a player as young as Nwaneri does show that Arteta has faith in his youngsters and is willing to give them a run about.

Nwaneri signed a scholarship deal in June 2023 and will continue on a professional contract once he turns 17. This came amid interest from clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, so the youngster clearly sees himself having a genuine chance with the Gunners. He made his second Premier League appearance in a 6-0 win away to West Ham United in February 2024.

The latest debutant under Arteta was Sagoe Jr. in a 1-0 Carabao Cup win over Brentford in September 2023. The winger started the game and played 68 minutes before being subbed off for Gabriel Jesus. Similar to Nwaneri, Sagoe Jr.'s debut for the club shows that Mikel Arteta is willing to give his youngsters a chance in the team, it's just a question of whether he will give them a consistent run of chances. Sagoe Jr. left the club in January on a loan move to Swansea City until the end of the season.

Several other academy stars have been in and around the first team, in both training and matchday squads. Some of these have appeared in non-competitive matches and others have been loaned out to lower league sides to gain experience.


Is there a clear path for Arsenal's academy stars?

Swansea City v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship
Charlie Patino will be hoping for a chance in the first team when he returns from loan / Athena Pictures/GettyImages

Like most other Premier League managers, Mikel Arteta's method with academy players seems to be having them involved with the first team and allowing them to gain experience through loan moves. The problem for the Arsenal academy, though, is that this hasn't seemed to be that successful so far.

Balogun had two loan moves, at Middlesbrough and Reims respectively, and was still sold on rather than given a chance with the club. Azeez was once regarded as one of the greatest prospects to come out of Hale End but also failed to stake a claim at the club after a series of failed loan moves.

It remains to be seen whether other stars such as Patino and Nwaneri have genuine futures at the club but fans would be forgiven for assuming they don't. Obviously, experience is necessary to be playing for Arteta's ambitious Gunners, but if the manager wants his academy stars to have a serious chance at the club, he should consider giving them more first-team appearances.

Going by past examples, there is not a definite clear path to the first team for Arsenal's academy players but the potential for one is there. If Mikel Arteta looks back on the trust he instilled in players such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, the path will become a lot clearer for the Hale End stars.


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