Arsenal’s youngsters are quite rightly being lauded as the best in the country- but there were times this season when it looked as if they were not going to get their hands on one trophy, let alone two.
The Gunners required dramatic comebacks to overturn Aston Villa, Tottenham ans Manchester City in the earlier rounds of the FA Youth Cup before reaching the final and needed a solitary strike from Rhys Murphy to overcome to Spurs in the Premier Academy League Final.
The likes of Jack Wilshere, Sanchez Watt, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Kyle Bartley and Emmanuel Frimpong will take all the plaudits, but spare a thought for the likes of Craig Eastmond, Luke Ayling and Thomas Cruise who have progressed so much this campaign.
In the league, Arsenal used no fewer than 34 players, including 17 schoolboys, with the likes of Zak Ansah, Jernade Meade and Nigel Neita in particular making telling contributions in the latter stages of the campaign. The league was won by a mammoth 25 points but Bould is refusing to be complacent and admits that the hard work is still to come:
“I don’t think any of us should be judged by winning The FA Youth Cup, what we should be judged is by how many kids we can get through to the first team, the Academy has got a fantastic record of that. Now we want to see these kids get into our first team. That’s the next result for us.”
Getting players into the first-team is, of course, the ultimate aim and it can prove a tricky task. Just look at the last times Arsenal won the FA Youth Cup at the turn of the century in 2000 and 2001 and you will see that none of those players are in the current first-team squad at Emirates and very few ply their trade in the Premier League.
But now it is a different kettle of fish altogether. The Arsenal Academy has continued to grow and we are now seeing the benefits of the work put in at Hale End. The scouting network is second to none and whilst we once got the likes of the hapless Itonga brothers, foreign imports are now purused over thoroughly before an offer is even considered. The likes of Gilles Sunu, Oguzhan Ozyakup and Ignasi Miquel, all recent recruits are a testament to this.
We have already seen Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs break into the first-team squad but now it is time for more to follow. The next step for most of these lads is to go on loan and then attempt to break into the Carling Cup squad. Some might never be heard of again, but I have a strong feeling that the core of this side will go on to become Premier League players, even if it is not at Arsenal.
There is a big step up to the first-team and that is what going on loan is all about. Henri Lansbury has experienced it this year and now he is ready for a proper crack at it. Loan spells can work reversely of course and the temporary club may offer a substantial amount to tie that player up on a permanent basis, a la Anthony Stokes, but, then again, not everyone can make it.
Ironically, most of the Arsenal Acadmies biggest successes didn’t win the FA Youth Cup, the likes of Tony Adams and David Rocastle spring to mind, but these boys will want to prove the exception to that rule.
Whatever happens it will be interesting to look back in, say, 10 or 15 years time and analyse how far these boys have come from a historic night at Anfield.