On the 2nd of December, 2008, Arsenal lost a game 2-0 in the North-Western English county of Lancashire. In a season with far more ostentatious slip-ups (excuse the pun), this may seem a fairly innocuous event. However, it is one of great importance, as when Kevin MacDonald put two past us to knock us out of the Carling Cup; he underlined something that many of us have failed to perceive.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a major advocate of the youth policy of the club, it is the only way forward without angering the red monster of debt. However, there is one small flaw in this policy that we tend to overlook. Until we got to the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup, our performances in the same were looked at as amazing because of the fact that this was our youth that was producing these results. When we did get to the QF, Burnley promptly brought us back to reality by beating us at our own game. We may have been horrendously wasteful in front of goal but there could be no denying that they passed the ball around almost as well as our kids had done throughout the cup run.
Obviously, these kids weren’t ready for the big-time, but they had made it seem so and produced a pretty amazing run, scoring 9 and conceding just 2, both in the defeat. What did this mean? At a Carling Cup stage, our Youth was not ready yet, but almost. However, we praised the performance of this team, talking about how we dominated games supposedly superior teams such as Sheffield and Wigan (compared to our youth, that is). We praised the skills of Ramsey and Wilshere and envisioned what they would be like half a decade from now. Unfortunately the fact remained: We were not ready, and words like “almost” were unimportant details.
Obviously, we don’t look at the cup run this way, as the Carling Cup is not big on our agenda. But the Champions League is. The Premier League definitely is. And we slipped up in a similar fashion there as well. We were almost there, but not quite. I have no doubt Alex Song can become a DM of the calibre of a Michael Essien or a Javier Mascherano in a few years time, but he isn’t one yet, and we still had to play him when the big games came calling. Similarly for Kieran Gibbs, Samir Nasri, Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner, they weren’t ready yet, but they had to compete as though they were. And once again, we couldn’t win anything, despite showing so much promise. And this is where I personally think we are going wrong.
Take Alex Song (I have nothing against the bloke; it’s just for purposes of an example). Of late, he put in performances that were top class, and even before that, he was exceptional for a 21 year old. However this isn’t a U-21 Premier League, he is going to be up against the Gerrards, Carricks, Lampards and Cahills who are all at their peak. So while his progress is encouraging, he (and several others that I mentioned before) needs to be judged without taking into account his age. Because, we are always going to field a young team, the question lies in whether they can take on the best despite their age. And if they can’t, they have to receive a bit more flak from Mr. Wenger. We can talk about keeping players and allowing the whole team to mature before winning, but the truth is we have only 2 years to show that our policy works. Otherwise Wenger will be gone, and in will have come somebody else, who, desperate to win something for increasingly angrier fans, will scrap the youth policy completely. And that’s why “nearly” is not good enough, we need to tell our younger first-teamers to get tough or get dropped.