Youth + Wenger-Gems + Established Quality Players =
The All-Conquering Formula! (But we need to hold on to our players….).
We at the Academy, feel that Arsene could have given some of the kids a chance and maybe put them on the bench and given them a run-out, especially in games where you’re winning 3-0, but I also understand he has to get results and he’s super-cautious.
Liam Brady – Head of Youth Development at Arsenal (at some time back in 2003, maybe earlier).
Recently, I have been reading ‘The Glorious Game: Extra Time’, by Alex Fynn and Kevin Whitcher in order to relive the early years of Arsene Wenger once more. The above quote by Brady made me realise again how different Arsene’s approach had been regarding creating, building and choosing his squad as well as his first team, back in the first half of his managerial time at Arsenal.
Nowadays, Arsene gets regularly criticised for putting his faith far too much in young players, for not dumping underperforming youngsters (quickly enough), and for not buying enough experienced, top-quality players. But back then it was quite the opposite, as young talents where given very few opportunities to break through into the core squad:
“The immediate future was shaped not by the produce of the Academy, but the manager’s activity in the transfer market. On one level, this predilection for experience was perverse as Arsene Wenger had been instrumental in the development of the Academy.” Fynn, Whitcher.
There is a strong belief among fellow Gooners that Arsene’s decision to start building his teams for a large part with the outputs of the Youth Academy from the mid-Noughties, was born out of necessity. The build of the new stadium meant there was very little money available for Arsene to buy the calibre of players he was able to afford before, and so he was left with no other option than to reap the harvest of Liam Brady and co’s hard labour at the Youth Academy, in order to somehow compete with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and a few others, whilst the financial impact of building the new stadium was being smoothed out.
Although I believe there is a considerable amount of truth in that view, I am also convinced that Wenger always wanted to build his team bottom upwards: manned by the best outputs from the Youth Academy and build around a philosophy/style of football that is quintessentially Arsenal – a variant of total football, based on a Wengeresque interpretation.
Wenger wants to build something at the club with longevity, with strong roots: a system based around a philosophy that will remain the foundation for future successful teams, for decades or more to come – perhaps comparable with other former great Frenchmen like Louis XIV and Francois Mitterand who had a similar desire to leave something behind for perpetuity – in their cases, through great building schemes: ‘Les Grands Projets’ as Mitterand liked to call them.
The Youth Academy has produced some very fine outputs in the last decade or so. For good order, I must state that I consider any player who joined Arsenal before the age of 21 as a product of our Youth Academy/Policy, whether it is Wilshere who was at Arsenal from a very young age, or Walcott, Ramsey, the Ox, or even Van Persie, who all joined Arsenal at a later age. The key principle is that Arsenal is always looking for players who can (still) be moulded into players who will fit very well within the Arsenal system/philosophy of football and subsequently become top class players.
Whether Arsene had no other option than to build his recent teams around our best talents, or whether he would have done it anyway, what we can say is that Arsenal is now starting to see the benefits of investing in the Youth Academy/Policy.
Despite Arsenal having had to sell/let go, for various reasons, the likes of Adebayor, Flamini, Nasri, Clichy, Fabregas, etc recently – an unprecedented loss of talent by a English top club in such a short period of time – the current core team still shows a strong representation of Youth Academy/Policy outputs: Szczesny, Song, Theo, Van Persie, Wilshere are all first team players now, whilst the likes of Gibbs, Ramsey, Coquelin, Jenkinson, Miquel and the Ox played a considerable number of games in the first team already, and are likely to become regular first-team starters in due course.
And there is more talent in the pipeline!
On top of the successes of our Youth Academy/Policy comes Wenger’s ability to buy a rare, and yet very affordable, gem. The so-called Wenger-gems are one of the main reasons Arsenal has been so successful since the arrival of le Professeur. Even in recent times, Arsene has been able to add a number of gems: Koscielny, Sagna, Vermaelen, and Santos come to mind, and he will always be able to find them. That is not to say he never gets it wrong, but that goes for every manager.
For me, the combination of a qualitatively strong output of our Youth Acadamy/Policy and Arsene’s ability to find very good players that nobody else seems to detect, is already a strong formula for success in the near future.
It is absolutely paramount though that Arsenal hold on to their best players as much as possible, and recent comments by Gazidis to review the pay-structure/policy in order to accommodate a number of players on high/competitive salaries, would make a big difference imho.
On top of the two above mentioned pillars for sustained success, Arsene seems now able to buy a number of experienced, quality players who might not provide the club with a substantial future sales value, but do add real and immediate value to the team. There has been a change in policy since last summer as, with the exception of Arshavin, Arsene has not been buying established, fully matured (26+ years old), quality players, for years now. You could argue that he seldom or never bought such players in the first place.
But, we have all seen the difference Arteta, and to slightly lesser extent, Mertesacker have made to our team this season, and it seems Wenger will continue down this line, as per the purchase of Podolski a few months ago. It looks like Arsenal continue to be in the market for one or two more established-quality players this summer, and there is a good chance that we will be able to continue this policy for years to come.
So here you have it:
Youth + Wenger-Gems + Established Quality Players = The All-Conquering Formula.
It is also the only acceptable panacea against the deadly poison of petro-dollars being pumped limitlessly into the game by you know who.
It is very hard, and it takes a long time, to replicate what Arsenal have set up with our Youth Academy, and it is also very difficult for our competitors to find a manager who can find affordable, yet very talented gems, like Arsene does. This sets us apart and very soon we will be able to reap the rewards we all have been longing for.
Once this formula starts working properly, it will be very hard for our competitors to catch up with Arsenal again in a fair and proper way.
Manchester United will probably be there with us for the foreseeable future, although it remains to be seen how AF will be able to cope with a reduced budget and stiff competition. The likes of Chelsea and Man City will do everything to stay ahead of us through shameless and limitless financial doping, but Arsenal will be a force to reckon with as a result of its All-Conquering Formula coming to full fruition.
The biggest challenge Arsene and Gazidis face now is convincing the likes of Theo, Song and RvP that the future is blindingly bright at Arsenal, and to get them to sign new contracts.
Let’s see what will happen during this summer and beyond, but there is every reason to be very positive about both our immediate and long-term futures.
(With a big thanks to TMHT who, with his well-reasoned and never flailing belief in a bright future for Arsenal, has inspired me to write this post!).
And the truly great thing is that most, if not all, of the above players are likely to get better every year, and that so for the foreseeable future.