There’s no disputing that former manager, Arsene Wenger changed Arsenal from top to bottom including the Arsenal youth system.
The revolution that came with him in 1996 bought a new style and a more professional football culture. Out went the pints, the pies and the late nights. In came a strict training regime, special diets, drinks and a host of performance statistics which would monitor speed, the amount of distance covered by individual players and various other data for consideration.
Aside from that, Wenger had an ambition to create an academy of talent that Arsenal could call upon if cash was in short supply or in the event of spiraling transfer fees.
There had arguably never been so much emphasis on Arsenal youth development since the mid 80’s but it’s taken years to see the results. Sadly, Wenger is no longer in post to see the fruits of all that labour but that could be a blessing in disguise.
Wenger was without question a great manager for the Gunners, even if the decline was obvious in the second part of his career, but he was often reluctant to bring young players through to the first team.
He tended to add players from outside the club because perhaps he saw youth as too much of a risk for the big prizes. He tended to use the League Cup and FA Cup to blood new talent but that didn’t necessarily increase their chances of a first team slot in the premiership.
There were a few among the Arsenal youth that made the grade but Wenger chose to resist the temptation to allow the majority, the experience of top flight football.
It was clear that they were a risk worth taking in the lesser competitions, but Wenger had decided that the Premiership and Champions League were his priority and effectively put out young teams when he perceived that it didn’t matter, with little experience of playing together.
Wenger continued with this ploy for years but it was a mentality that would have to change because of the lack of success.
Some say that he mishandled both younger and older players and that under his rule, a number of players never reached their full potential such as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Callum Chambers and Carl Jenkinson.
That particular argument could include a host of other familiar names and it was rumoured that his focus was exclusively on his established first team players.
It’s also said that he didn’t even talk to certain players unless there was a genuine need.
How much of that is true is subject to speculation but it’s fair to assume that the likes of many of the current Arsenal youth academy may not have been given their opportunities had the Frenchman still been present.
Others will say that Wenger did offer opportunities but only to players that he was convinced could deliver such as Wilshere, Fabregas, Cole, Clichy, Gibbs, Holding, Bellerin and Iwobi but he was there 22 years.
It would appear that in the space of three months of his appointment, Unai Emery looked at the academy and decided that it wasn’t just there as a tool to sell players on, it had to deliver for the future of the club.
Maitland-Niles, Smith Rowe and Alex Iwobi are flying the flag for the academy along with Reiss Nelson for Hoffenheim and next season, it’s highly likely that we may see the rapid introduction and more use of Arsenal youth.
Had Wenger continued, we may well have seen a continuation of his insistence of using experience at the expense of talented prospects because of the demands of success.
It’s a pressure that is evident in Premier League football and it has certainly contributed to the lack of homegrown talent in this country for years, but things in a global sense are improving for a number of reasons.
Young players are choosing to go abroad to play rather than become frustrated and almost obsolete in the reserves. Transfer restrictions and limited cash flows are pushing the advancement of younger players and at an international level, Gareth Southgate has instigated his own revolution.
It no longer matters if, you are unable to hold down a regular place in your club’s first team, as long as you are equipped with the right desire, attitude and talent.
Even the German’s are going in the direction carved out by Southgate’s England. One good aspect of this move, is that perhaps established stars have to now look over their shoulders and perform to their capabilities, rather than sitting on their laurels filling up their bank accounts for the minimum of effort.