Yesterday was another difficult day for the Arsenal youth set-up, with seven young players being let go, five of whom were long-serving Hale End products.
They will all now attempt to re-build their respective careers elsewhere with one player, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, having already secured a two-year deal with Swindon Town.
Such culls of academy players have become commonplace in recent years, but the most striking thing about this year’s discarded list is that none of the young players included made a competitive appearance for the Arsenal first-team, with Semi Ajayi the only one who came close to doing so.
Jack Jebb, Josh Vickers and Austin Lipman all experienced loan spells with varying degrees of success, but they, along with the two remaining second-year scholars, Renny Smith and Elliot Wright, were let go without having got anywhere near the senior set-up.
That emphasises just how difficult it is for youngsters to make it at the highest level, but, even though there was a sense of inevitability about some of the departures, it is always chastening when players who have grown up at the club are informed that they are no longer needed.
Jebb, with his superb free-kick taking abilities and precise passing, should have no shortage of suitors. Injuries, and the presence of several hugely promising central-midfielders, hampered his progress at Arsenal, but he already has some experience of competitive football with Stevenage and may well return to League Two next season.
Vickers, meanwhile, has done very well on loan at Concord Rangers and Canvey Island in recent years and seems ready to play at a higher level. However, it can be difficult for young goalkeepers to make the breakthrough at high profile clubs unless they are an exceptional talent, with a lot of managers in the lower leagues preferring to field experienced shot-stoppers. Vickers may well have to follow the path of fellow academy graduate James Shea, who worked his way back up from non-league football before being signed by League Two side AFC Wimbledon.
Lipman had two separate loan spells with Boreham Wood and, like Vickers, may find himself playing for a non-league club next season. The hard-working striker will be seeking to prove that he is capable of playing in higher divisions.
Smith, as previously documented, may head to Italy with Carpi, although he has also received offers from several other sides. Wright has yet to play U21 football and may look to gain experience at that level with another academy.
The Arsenal U21 set-up won’t be too heavily affected by the aforementioned departures, with many of the players in question not having featured regularly at that level in the second half of the campaign.
With Vickers out of the picture, Ryan Huddart will look to compete with fellow goalkeepers Matt Macey and Deyan Iliev, whilst Ormonde-Ottewill’s departure could open the door for Marc Bola to establish himself as the first-choice left-back for the second-string.
Lipman had already been overtaken by Stephy Mavididi in the striking pecking order, with the latter set to sign his first professional contract at some point in the next twelve months. Ajayi lost his place in the U21 team to Stefan O’Connor and Jebb found his chances limited due to the presence of Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley.
Some of the decisions that were revealed yesterday were rather surprising, but that is the harsh nature of football and will serve as a warning to the current academy youngsters that it is all too easy to go from being the next big thing to being no longer needed.