Why Mikel Arteta's reluctance to give Arsenal's youth a chance is very problematic

• No clear pathway to the first-team?

• We risk losing talented youngsters

• Youth is part of Arsenal's culture, it needs to stay that way

Arsenal FC v RC Lens: Group B - UEFA Champions League 2023/24
Arsenal FC v RC Lens: Group B - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

Youth development has long been ingrained into Arsenal's culture, but Mikel Arteta's seeming reluctance to turn to the academy could prove very damaging for the club.

With Arsenal confirming their status as Champions League group winners with a game to play, many fans had hoped, and expected, to see opportunities handed to some of the club's youngsters but, as we saw against PSV Eindhoven, this desire did not come to fruition.

For many fans, this follows a trend of Arteta not giving academy prospects opportunities, and their complaints are entirely fair in my opinion.

Mikel's history of youth

Ethan Nwaneri, Gabriel Martinelli f
Ethan Nwaneri became the Premier League's youngest-ever player when he featured for Arsenal against Brentford / Alex Pantling/GettyImages

Since becoming the manager of Arsenal in 2019, Arteta has, in his defence, handed out numerous debuts to academy graduates.

Notably, these include Folarin Balogun, Charlie Patino, Miguel Azeez, Ben Cottrell, Charles Sagoe Jr and Ethan Nwaneri. But these players have gone on, in the months and years following their debuts, to make just 16 appearances between them.

And of these particular debutants, who all had an abundance of excitement associated with them, just four remain contracted to the club, with one of those four currently away on loan (Charlie Patino at Swansea City).

There are two ways to look at this: one is that Arteta has previously rushed players who were not ready into the first-team fold and has learned from those experiences, while the other is that he has generally mishandled their development and not given them enough opportunities following their debuts.

PSV: A wasted opportunity?

So to look back at the present day for a moment, this week's 'dead-rubber' Champions League game was the perfect chance to give minutes, and in some cases debuts, to a number of academy stars, like Lino Sousa, Reuell Walters and Nwaneri - who were all on the bench for the game.

Some may use the argument that young players should not be given too much too soon, but how long can you integrate somebody with the first team before their omission becomes demoralising?

Walters, for example, has now been an unused substitute for the first team five times this season, as well as nine times over the course of last season.

Instead of seeing him make a debut, Arteta instead opted to start Cedric Soares, whom the club desperately tried to rid themselves of in the summer, though no teams wanted to take the 32-year-old.

With absolutely no disrespect aimed at Cedric, we can surely all agree that in a game with no impact on our fate in the Champions League, giving one of our most exciting options a debut should be a priority over giving minutes to a veteran who almost certainly will not be at the club next season - and possibly not even after January!

Worrying knock-on effects

While, for the time being, the effects of not playing these players may seem like solely an annoyance of us fans, there could be far greater consequences in the not too distant future.

Over the summer, the club almost lost Nwaneri upon the expiry of his previous deal, with Man City and a host of other clubs keen to sign the youngster.

Luckily, after months of negotiations and discussions, the club were able to convince the 16-year-old that Arsenal was the perfect destination to continue his development - with a promise of a pathway to the first team.

We are now once again in a similar situation, with Walters' deal expiring next summer.

While negotiations to extend his contract are ongoing, seeing a clear pathway to the first team will likely be a key factor in his decision-making process and, at present, it would be understandable if he questioned this area.

The fact is that, while youth players are given such limited opportunities, we risk not only stunting their development, but also losing them altogether - as we have previously seen with the likes of Omari Hutchinson who left the club in favour of Chelsea.

In summary

To conclude, I am not asking for Arteta to play a squad of 16-year-olds against Manchester City in the league, but the occasional substitute appearance when a game is clearly won, or even more involvement in an 'easier' cup tie or dead-rubber European fixture should be an absolute must, as there is no real downside to it.

The Hale End Academy is as big a part of Arsenal as our stadium, manager or players, and its legacy will undoubtedly outlast any player or manager, as well as any fan, so it is time to stop ignoring such a vital part of our club's culture and give our young stars a bigger chance.