July 1st is a pivotal date in the footballing calendar. It signifies the passing of one season onto the next, with many players across the world coming to the end of their contracts at their current clubs, whilst others formally complete transfers elsewhere.
For Arsenal, tomorrow will be significant for two further reasons. Not only do the first batch of players, including the vast majority of the U21 and U18 squads, return to London Colney for pre-season training, but Andries Jonker will officially start work as the club’s new Academy manager.
The appointment of the Dutchman was announced in January, so the 51-year-old has had plenty of time to consider his first steps in his new position. Over the course of his time at the club, his main aim will be to improve the quality of players being developed at the club’s Hale End Academy and ensuring that a greater number of homegrown graduates make the journey into the first-team.
Jonker will also be hoping to oversee an upturn in fortunes in terms of results at youth level, particularly in the U18 league. Although Arsenal, perhaps more than most clubs, have long prioritised development over scorelines with regards to the Academy, some of the results suffered by the U18s in recent seasons have hardly been beneficial to the progress of the club’s youngsters.
The acquisitions of Mourgos Savvas and Elias Hatzitheodoridis from the club’s Elite Academy in Greece, demonstrate that the club is still keen to bring in talented youngsters from abroad, but, despite Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem being promoted to the senior side last Summer, the production line has slowed a little in recent years.
With success so important, and Arsene Wenger fielding fewer youngsters in cup competitions than he did previously, it is becoming increasingly difficult for players to make the breakthrough. Jonker’s task is to ensure that Arsenal have a group of players to supplement the first-team squad who possess the qualities and determination to achieve success. It certainly won’t be an easy task, but, with the long-serving trio of Liam Brady, David Court and Roy Massey all leaving their respective positions, his appointment represents the biggest overhaul of the Academy for some time.