When Arsenal made the move to Emirates Stadium from Highbury in 2006, it was anticipated that the club’s Academy would play a key role in providing players who could grace the new ground for years to come.
It hasn’t exactly transpired like that, however, as, despite the fact that Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny all progressed through the system to become first-team regulars, the production line has slowed a little in recent seasons, with less players being promoted despite the overall quality of the squad arguably being less than in preceding campaigns.
The perception of the quality of the players being brought through hasn’t exactly been helped by results this season, particularly at U18 level, where, having endured three changes of management already this campaign, the youngsters have struggled for consistency and been on the receiving end of some hefty defeats, not least the 6-1 loss to Aston Villa last month.
Yesterday’s hard-fought NextGen Series victory over holders Inter Milan, however, may well restore a modicum of pride to the youth set-up, particularly given the way that Terry Burton’s side coped with an extremely difficult pitch to prevail against a highly-competitive outfit. Arsenal will now be confident of progressing even further in this competition, but their next opponents, CSKA Moscow certainly cannot be taken lightly having qualified out of a group containing Ajax and Chelsea, even if the Gunners will have home advantage.
The key difference between this side and the one that exited the FA Youth Cup to Everton recently appears to be the extra sprinkling of experience added by the likes of Nico Yennaris, who scored the decisive goal yesterday, and Martin Angha, who has featured for the first-team in the Champions League this season. Arsenal’s defence as a whole was rather impressive yesterday, with even the maligned centre-back pairing of Elton Monteiro and Sead Hajrovic turning in commendable performances, even if the attacking trident of Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom and Zak Ansah received little in the way of service.
Attention will now turn back to the U21 and U18 leagues, where Arsenal have a plethora of fixtures to fulfil before the end of next month, starting with Southampton’s visit to Underhill on Monday evening as Steve Gatting’s second-string continue to seek their first victory of the Elite Group.