“Relegation” adds to lengthy list of tasks facing Jonker


Andries Jonker was already aware that he would be faced with some considerable challenges upon assuming the position of the club’s new Head of Youth Development this Summer, but a concerning sequence of results for the U21 team this season has increased the pressure on the Dutchman.

A run of just two victories in 12 matches since Christmas has condemned the Arsenal U21s to the second-tier of the U21 Premier League next season, meaning that they will miss out on facing elite clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Instead, their likely list of opponents for 2014/15 is rather less glamorous, with Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, Reading, Stoke City, Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers all, as it stands, poised to join the young Gunners in the second division.

There is an argument that being placed in the second tier could actually be beneficial to the youngsters as it may finally lead to results improving a little, but, when you are not facing the best teams on a regular basis, it is hardly ideal for development. That is a problem that will have to be dealt with, and it is hoped that Arsenal will be restored to the top division as soon as possible.

Development always takes precedence over results at youth level, but this season in particular, serious questions have been raised about whether the alarming run of results at both U21 and U18 levels are having a negative effect on the players. The U18s, for example, have lost 13 of their 29 games this season.

Arsenal did enjoy lengthy, if ultimately unsuccessful runs in the FA Youth Cup, the UEFA Youth League and the U21 Premier League Cup this season, but the number of positive performances this campaign have been far outweighed by the negative ones. There are numerous mitigating factors, including players sent out on loan, a lack of options at times following the mass cull last Summer and, most worryingly, problems regarding coaching.

It seemed somewhat astounding that Jonker elected to retain the services of both Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman for next season when both coaches have not exactly given the best account of themselves this campaign.

The core problem, however, is that Arsenal haven’t produced a homegrown academy graduate since Jack Wilshere, with many players struggling to even reach the fringes of the first-team. Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem, the talented young Germans, are part of the senior squad, but Arsenal are not producing top level players with any sort of regularity at present.

It is true that only one or two players maximum will make the grade from each age group, but drastic changes are required. The quality of players emerging from Hale End is steadily improving, with the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Tafari Moore and Alex Iwobi all inspiring confidence, but the overall situation regarding the academy remains rather negative.

It is Jonker’s responsibility to address these problems. It certainly won’t be a simple task.

19 comments

  1. I think this is the best thing that could have happened to the 21s. They need a kick up the arse and this is the wake up call to say that it’s just plain sailing. Laraman has GOT to go, he is the worst thing and in my opinion the main reason for the results this year. Why would the players go out and work for someone they have little/no respect for? A new coach needs to assess his squad from a fresh perspective and realise that someone, somewhere is getting it wrong. Zalelem and Crowley need to be brought back to earth and realise they haven’t made it yet and someone needs to give the players something to fight for. This will be a good thing for Arsenal.

    1. Unless you actually have some insider knowledge, what you’re saying is a bit much. True,the results don’t reflect well on the coaches, but they also, sadly, don’t reflect well on the players.

      It could be true that they’re not getting the best from the group, but it could also be true that the results are a fair reflection of what we have. (for obvious reasons, I hope not) How could you know which it is without having any knowledge of what goes on at the club?

      The biggest mitigating factor for these coaches is another unknown, to us : what influence comes from above? My suspicion is that the coaches have no choice when it comes to selecting certain players. That would make things very tricky for a coach- if there was even one player you were being told to start as much as possible, let alone if there’s a number you have to play.

      Uncertainty is never more of a bitch than when things aren’t going well, but, like I said, unless you have insider knowledge, it’s pretty difficult to figure out who deserves what blame for the under-performing, in this and recent years.

      My hopes are for fresh ideas this Summer, that the new crop are good, and that the realisation will finally hit home at all levels within the club that English football demands being equal to the physical stuff, especially in midfield, before good technique can win you matches. Don’t want to abandon our ‘way’, but it seems to need some serious revisions.

      At the moment you can’t imagine us going after anyone who’s strong and combative but not particularly skillful, while time after time we’d go for someone with good technique who is neither strong nor combative.

      Over time, that will result in defensively vulnerable sides, and, supposing these imbalanced vulnerable teams aren’t resulting in a great attack either, it seems a recipe for being right where we currently are, losing more than we win.

      1. without having any knowledge on this, i suspect you might be right. correct me if im wrong Jeorge but hasnt Zelalem mostly underpeformed in youth level this year? sounds possible that he kept starting so many matches due to Wenger’s request. if true it not only harms the team but in my opinion could make players (e.g. Zelalem) take their place for granted.
        Also, i cant compare to other teams, but seems that most of our loan moves are unsuccessful, which when happens so often should in my opinion be blames on those who chose the loan and not the players. most of our loanees are sitting on the bench every week and have no chance of progressing.

      2. I’ll be honest with you, I am very aware of the way the club runs and although I am commenting on here as a fan, I do see a different side of the story to a lot of the people here.

        This means I’m aware of the way that direction is passed down to coaches, and whether this is right or wrong it always means the same things:
        1. They will never EVER play 2 up top, regardless of the score.
        2. They will pick players recently signed over proven players from the youth system because they need to make them worth the money they paid
        3. The staff don’t care if they win or lose, which then rubs off on the players and the results are there for us all to see.

        I say Laraman out because both the 18s & 21s need someone to relay them and give them a reason to want it again. Laraman is not that man. The current crop of 2nd Year pros (Akpom, Jebb, BOO, Lipman, Vickers) had Laraman at U15 level and even then he didn’t seem to have any sort of personal touch to his game. He’s just an arsenal robot and no team, no matter what age can be motivated to do well by someone that blatently doesn’t care as much as them.

      3. Sheesh. If that’s how it is, it’s pretty depressing.

        Such an approach could only be justified if we had a Barca-like track record of producing top quality for the first team.

        Has to be noted,though, if directives from above are that inflexible, it absolves the coaches from some of the blame.

        If it’s your own team, it’s surely unwise to be too rigid; if you’re effectively imposing it on another manager, it’s flat out dumb : very bad for his own morale, as it will induce a feeling of powerlessness in him (sees a potential change, but can’t make it), and bad for the players,too- the limitations and the powerlessness will transmit to them.

        Would be strange to say the least though if the coaches didn’t care. It would be incredibly idiotic to persist with someone who didn’t, and I’ve no reason to believe idiots are in charge (also, a minor note, but he didn’t half look crestfallen, noticeably a lot more disappointed than I’ve ever seen him look before, in the little 1-min interview after the highlights of Chelsea game).

        I don’t like to really stick the boot in unless I have true evidence that it’s deserved; but if you do, obviously it makes sense for you to be extremely critical.

    2. I don’t agree it will be good for the players to be punished and brought down to earth. Poorish results last year didn’t inspire them to do better. Exactly the opposite.

      These aren’t lazy, arrogant 35-year-old millionaires who are happy to take the wages while sitting on the bench for the rest of their careers. They are just kids who want to learn and have successful careers. At fifteen you can’t do everything for yourself; you need help from your coaches. That’s what an academy is supposed to provide.

      Seems much more likely the fault lies with the coaching. Maybe the tactics have also been poor, and it is this, not lack of effort, that explains why talented kids like Zelalem, Toral and Bellerin (not noted for laziness) find themselves relegated. It must horrible to lose game after game, and maybe the low morale in our academy is why some kids are defecting to United, Liverpool, West Ham, etc., where the results are better, the competition fiercer and the atmosphere more hopeful and encouraging.

      I can’t believe Jonker is leaving Laraman and Gatting in place. I mean, what first-team manager who turns talented players into relegation fodder keeps his job? Maybe it’s just temporary, till the end of the season, and by September he’ll have found someone to turn things around? The sooner the better. Being cast out of the elite league into the crap one, along with the likes of Bolton and Stoke, isn’t going to help us one bit.

      1. we’ve seen a concerning lack of winning mentality in the first team this season (no team, let alone one in arsenal’s quality, loses 6-0, 6-3, 5-1 and 3-0 because of their quality) and i doubt losing so often at youth level can do any good to young players. the last thing we need in the first team is more of these mental problems.

  2. I think laraman will go and a new man will take over the u21s with gatting as his assistant, similarly to an arsenal man ampadu assisting the u18s.

    Hopefully the first team will also make some changes, some new fresh coaching ideas are a must. If that means wenger moving upstairs and banfield and born moving on then so be it.

    Finally, the medical team needs a shake up. If we had managed to get Walcott chamberlain diaby Ramsey wilshire ozil cazorla rosicky and podolski just a bit more I am sure we would still be in the hunt for 3 trophies not just 1.

      1. Yeah, like United decided Moyes will be in charge for 5 years, Burton was to take over from Brady, etc, etc.

        Even our own First Team Mangerial position isn’t decided yet and even if it was, what if wenger stayed then lost the first 10 games next season?

        I will have a bet with anyone that Gatting and Laraman will not be starting the season in tandem as u21 coaches

  3. seems to me Jonker didnt want to make changes in all positions in 1 summer. after all youth development is all about knowing the players.

    1. Makes sense: do the major changes at the lowest levels first i.e. for incoming players of the youngest age, then as that crop of players progress, you can make changes to the coaches that they rise up to meet.

  4. Just going through the U21 team Bellerin, Hayden, Ajyai, Toral, Olsson, Akpom, Eisfeld all need to go out on loan next season.

    U21s next season – Macey; Moore, Pleggy, O’Connor, BOO; Kamara, Zelalem; Iwobi, Crowley, Miatland-Niles; Lipman.

    FA Youth Cup Side – Huddart; Moore, Pleggy, O’Connor, Wright/Bola; Smith, Zelalem; Maitland-Niles, Crowley, Willock; Hinds.

    1. I think wellington will be in the u21s next season and I am certain that many more will go out on loan than the 7 you named, especially if we are playing 2nd rate reserve sides. I am not sure that Olsson, lipman and toral will even still be in contract? unless I missed that they signed new ones?

      in view of the “relegation” I can see arsenal using this to their advantage, by sending more under 21s out on loans, more under 19s the chance to play u21s and more u16/17s the chance to play u18s.

      It will give the younger players a real carrot, by earning promotion and then stability of playing together when the u21s return to the top grade.

    2. sadly it seems that those in charge have a hard time picking the right loans. most of our players on loan rarely play.

  5. I attended the recent Youth Cup semi final and was hugely disappointed at the quality shown by the Arsenal youngsters. There seemed to be a complete lack of shape and team spirit. The match was very much men against boys with the Chelsea players bigger, stronger and above all more organised and determined.
    Why the new academy head coach would keep on the people responsible for this state of affairs baffles me.
    Surely Arsene Wenger should expect some return in terms of young players pushing for places in the first team squad is expected in the light of how much money is spent.

    1. Organization and determination, yes the coaches responsible for. But the Chelsea players being bigger and stronger we all know is a clear result of Wenger’s recruiting policy – and that you cannot blame the Arsenal coaches for.

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