Benik Afobe: He’s one of our own


Ever since this site’s inception in late 2007, the name of Benik Afobe has been a hot topic of discussion with regards to the club’s youth set-up. Now he is an Arsenal player no longer, having sealed a permanent move to Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers, but it is worth reflecting on the story of his development over the past few years.

Afobe representing the U16s alongside Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong

Afobe representing the U16s alongside Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong

Afobe’s name first came to prominence during the 2007/08 campaign when, despite technically being an U15 player, he scored an astonishing 40 goals for the U16 team. He was already being talked up as a potential superstar, which would later lead to Barcelona, of all clubs, attempting to sign him.

The hype wasn’t without foundation, either, as we quickly discovered when he transferred his goalscoring exploits onto the international stage, equalling Michael Owen’s record of four goals for the England U16 team.

Any concerns about whether he could step up to the Arsenal U18 team were quickly allayed when, still a schoolboy, he scored on his debut at that level with a dramatic header against Fulham. There followed an exemplary season in front of goal for the title winning youth team, whilst Afobe also featured fleetingly for the Reserves and in the successful FA Youth Cup campaign.

Afobe quickly progressed to professional terms at Arsenal

Afobe quickly progressed to professional terms at Arsenal

He took his talent to new heights in the 2009/10 season, firing a strong Arsenal U18s team to a second successive league championship, whilst also picking up a medal at international level too as part of the England U17 team that won the European Championships at that age group.

Afobe impressed in League One as a 17-year-old

 

Afobe’s talent was no longer a secret, with clubs queuing up to take the prodigious striker on loan. A temporary move to Huddersfield Town materialised and the youngster, who was just 17 at the start of the spell, proved he could cut in League One with some excellent performances.

Afobe featured for the first-team in pre-season 2011

 

By 2011 he seemed set for a breakthrough into the Arsenal first-team, but then came the first in what proved to be a series of injury setbacks that halted his progress. He featured in the Emirates Cup against New York Red Bulls, but spent much of the campaign on the sidelines, although he did return in time to enjoy a short spell at Reading, who earned promotion to the Premier League.

From there things began to hit something of a downward spiral for Afobe. A loan spell at Bolton Wanderers didn’t quite work out, whilst a stint at Millwall was cut short by a knee problem.

Afobe's loan move to Sheffield Wednesday wasn't too successful

Afobe’s loan move to Sheffield Wednesday wasn’t too successful

The signing of Yaya Sanogo looked to be something of a death knell for Afobe’s Arsenal career but the England youth international was still determined to make the breakthrough. He spent the majority of last season with Sheffield Wednesday without ever really setting the world alight, but it was this season, at MK Dons, where he was back to his clinical best, with his goals in the Capital One Cup victory over Manchester United a notable highlight.

Afobe's goalscoring exploits for MK Dons this season caught the eye

Afobe’s goalscoring exploits for MK Dons this season caught the eye

For all that, though, Afobe leaves Arsenal without a competitive appearance for the first-team to his name. That is merely a consequence of a quirk of fate than down to any fault on his part, but if he is to fulfil his dream of becoming a Premier League striker he will have to work his way up from the Championship first.

It was anticipated that Afobe would finally break the trend of Arsenal struggling to produce a competent centre-forward of their own, but hopes in that regard will now be pinned on Chuba Akpom, whose own future at the club is far from secure.

With regards to Afobe, though, some of the memories of his performances in an Arsenal shirt at youth level will be endearing, from the Academy League Play-Off Final success against Nottingham Forest in 2010 to the typically adroit finish in the U21 Premier League Cup against Chelsea last season.

What grates somewhat is that none of Afobe, Chuks Aneke or Nico Yennaris, who rose through the ranks together at Arsenal, were able to quite make the grade at the club, although all three look set for prolonged careers at a relatively high level.

There will be some who will question the decision to let Afobe leave, but now, off the back of some quite excellent performances for MK Dons, is the right time to let him depart. His association with Arsenal, which commenced as far back as 2001, is now over, but his situation will serve as a reminder to those currently in the Academy that even those considered to have enormous potential aren’t guaranteed to make it in the long term.

Benik Afobe’s Arsenal record

U21s- 25 appearances (7 goals)

U18s- 45 appearances (34 goals)

10 comments

  1. I’m curious to know how the decision to let a player leave is taken? I ask this because, Coquelin, who seemed to be destined to leave the club after his loan to Charlton, is now an important piece in the first team midfield. I seriously hope we did not make a mistake with Benik Afobe, although I want him to do well in the Championship.

    1. the key word there gunnerguy is seemed, Coq was sent to Charlton to get him match practice, to assume this meant he was to be dumped after it is to assume too much.

      Afobe will be 22 in a couple of weeks time and has never played above Championship level, and in fact at that level he only scored 4 goals in 40 games, imagine he belonged to a Championship club and we were set to sign him, very few would be happy about it at all. some would be in meltdown about it.

  2. Sad day for Gooners😦
    Personally I hope he proves management wrong and has a great career. He certainly deserves it. Good luck Benik and thanks for the memories.

  3. Still think he deserved a shot. Injuries may have hindered his last two years but no one his age could be expected to perform consistently under such conditions. I’m just going by highlights but don’t think there’s as much between him and akpom as most make out. I actually kind of favored Afobe actually. He seems more direct then either akpom or sanogo. Bit of a different option. Know akpom pacy/tricky too but Afobes first instinct always seemed to be to power force his way past the defense or run in behind. At the least he seemed more inclined to do so than the other two.

    Wish him the best regardless. Wont say hope we regret it but hope he does dam well even if It means we regret it.

  4. Sad to see him go. I wanted him to have a chance in the first team. But he has been playing a lot on loan and only this season has showed what is expected for a top talent. I hope he keeps his form and we can resign him one day within 2 years.

  5. Good luck to him and I hope he has a long and successful career.
    I also hope one day we will have the fans and media again who allowed young players the time to adapt to the first team without slaughtering them for any mistakes. Afobe would have had chances 20 years ago, but now it’s all about the arms race with Chelsea and City. Face it who here would put Afobe in ahead of Alexis, Giroud, or Welbeck ? We couldn’t risk the points loss.

    1. despite following Arsenal and seeing our current team… I am surprised to see the ignorance of some people.

      Chambers is 19 we bought him, played him and value him. You can say he is only playing because we have had injured players but the fact is he has been good on pitch and as a CB. Sanogo was bought in and got a few chances he just didnt took them but was ahead of Giroud for a few games.

      Afobe had chances on loan. If he would have been doing what he is doing right now we would have played him. Its not about the age, its about the performance. If you struggle in league 1 then you will in EPL too.

      Chambers, coq and chamberlain were all impressive in other clubs at young age. Even sanogo is in the national team.

      You should know this already. Playing Afobe doesn’t mean we have a high chance of losing points man. thats just ridiculous. But chances are he wouldn’t perform as good as we want our striker to do.

  6. “Former Arsenal man Afobe is the leading scorer in the top four divisions with 26 from 41 appearances for MK Dons and Wolves this season.” From BBC website today.
    Is it too early to say Arsenal made a mistake?

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