Within a space of just a few days, the flame of the youth project flicked just briefly and then fizzled out. So sad! First it was crashing out to Saints in the Mickey Mouse Cup and then to Basel Juniours in the youth version of the CL. With that went the chance to watch our youngsters for another year. Eddie and some other regulars have often expressed the opinion that the youth project is not worth it, while GiE and Total have been discussing the loss to Saints. Perhaps it is time then to organise a full and proper funeral?
It looked very promising two years back when Andy Bonkers had joined in, when youth graduate Gnabry was knocking on the doors of the first team following from The Ox, while Sanogo, Akpom and Zelalem were waiting in the wings. Fast forward to the summer of 2016 and with substantial infrastructure investments and personnel changes in place, there was still considerable discontent. It was reported at one point that Bonkers was leaving, but this turned out to be a false rumour. Henry was under-18s coach but was told he could not continue both a coach and TV pundit, so he left. However, Freddie and Tony are still very much there.
On the progression side, there has been good excitement, with Iwobi and Holding breaking through with credit into the first team, with Reine-Adelaide and Maitland-Niles waiting their opportunities in the wings. All sounded good, except that the juniours then crashed out of two significant competitions within a week. In the UEFA Youth League they had to score at least twice and defeat Basel away. They put in a valiant effort and created several chances, but could only open the scoring around the 80th minute through Nketiah. They they went into all out attack and conceded a last moment goal from a counterattack. There were some significant gains from teh competition, with Mavididi, Nketiah and Keto being the top stars. Not a disgrace, but an exit nevertheless!
Which then brings us to the painful manner of the exit to Saints in the Mickey Mouse Cup. Yesterday, resident tactician-in-chief Gööner-In-Exile wrote: “I think it should also direct us back to the Southampton game where many of our squad players were questioned, amazing how different they look when surrounded by first team regulars … After that game there was a lot of hand wringing here and elsewhere about the quality of our reserves.” Which brings me to the question, if football is about playing one-two-three, and admittedly such Wengerball requires substantial understanding between the players, would we not have been better served by playing our juniours in the Mickey Mouse Cup against the Saints?
Well, we tried that in the past and then Wenger was criticised of disrespect. Damend if you do, damned if you dont! But, given the manner of our loss, would it not have been nice to see for ourselves what the likes of Willock, Bielik, Mavididi, Nketiah, Reine-Adelaide and Maitland-Niles can do as a team? A significant opportunity lost?