You can count on one hand the number of players that have made it out of the academy and into the first team during Arsene Wenger’s 21-year tenure as Arsenal manager: Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Ashley Cole and Alex Iwobi. That is pretty grim reading for any youngsters hoping to catch Wenger’s eye and earn a promotion. Wenger has always given youth a chance, and youngsters that he signed as teenagers, including Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin and Aaron Ramsey, have gone on to establish themselves. But he has been a bit cagey about promoting from the youth team. That might need to change over the next year or two as heavy hitters like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are set to leave on free transfers, the likes of Santi Cazorla, Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny are in the twilight of their careers and the transfer war chest is not exactly bursting with cash. There is undoubtedly plenty of talent in the ranks, so here we analyse the leading contenders:
In December 2012 the Arsenal PR team arranged a picture of Wenger hovering benevolently above Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson as they signed new, long-term contracts with the club. Wenger had assembled some of the country’s most talented youngsters and said he was intent on building a British core that would drive Arsenal to great success. Fast forward five years and you would have to say it was a failed experiment, a far cry from pictures of Man Utd’s class of ’92, the Giggs-Beckham-Scholes-Butt-Nevilles axis that really did inspire their club to unparalleled success. But Arsenal do have one young Englishman in their ranks that could go on to become a Gunners great. It is early days, but Nelson has impressed with a string of magnificent performances for Arsenal’s under-23 side and the England under-19s. He has banged in five goals in just 270 minutes of play for the under-23s, a goal every 54 minutes, many of them screamers, and followed it up with a great goal on international duty against Germany. He also terrorised Man City in a pre-season friendly and big things are expected of the 17-year-old midfielder thanks to his superb ball control, finishing ability and versatility.
Midfielders with double-barrelled surnames were in danger of becoming ten a penny at The Emirates before the Ox left, but Reine-Adelaide gets the nod over Ainsley Maitland-Niles in this list as he is a year younger and looks to have greater potential. The Jeff is 19 years old but has on occasion played like a world-beater and could well follow in Iwobi’s footsteps if given the chance. His mazy, long-limbed runs through a congested midfield evoke memories of Patrick Vieira in his pomp, and he could bring more of a physical presence to the Gunners’ midfield in time. For those who are into their football bets Arsenal started the season at 10/1 and have now gone out to 25/1 on the back of poor results, largely down to an ineffectual midfield. There are few options available to Wenger at present in that position and he may have to promote from within. Reine-Adelaide is drawing admiring glances from AC Milan, so Wenger should give him some more first team football to keep him loyal.
Most of the exciting talents in the Arsenal youth team are forwards, but Sheaf is an exception to the rule. He has captained the team of late and has stamped his authority on games with a series of commanding performances. He has played at centre back, right back and as a holding midfielder, and this versatility could benefit Wenger, particularly if he persists with the three at the back formation he has recently championed. Gabriel has now left, along with the Ox, and Shkodran Mustafi is out of favour, while Per Mertesacker is on his last legs, so Arsenal need all the defensive options they can get. Along with Nelson and Reine-Adelaide, Sheaf has been named in Arsenal’s Europa League squad and could get some valuable experience on the continent.
Mavidivi is another talented and hardworking forward competing with the likes of Willock, Donyell Malen and Eddie Nketiah for the chance to break into the first team squad. He scored 17 goals in 31 games last season and has also regularly trained with the first teamers as Wenger has earmarked him as a player that is able to provide cover in event of an injury crisis. He will be hoping to kick on in the coming months and is in contention to make the squad for the EFL Cup.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and tipster. He is an Arsenal fan and expects big things of Reiss Nelson.