The future could in fact be very bright.
However, but Arsenal will have to navigate their way through a tricky present. Hale End has produced several successful products without whom, Arsenal may be in far more trouble.
Out of all of the memorable images from Arsenal’s FA Cup-winning victory over Chelsea, the one that sticks with me most is the picture of Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, and Bukayo Saka triumphantly holding England’s oldest cup trophy.
It serves as an eternal reminder of Hale End’s contribution to Arsenal Football Club. In a time of uncertainty and relative turmoil, Arsenal’s academy has provided a timely lifeline for the first team.
More from Pain in the Arsenal
Over the years Arsenal have become synonymous with bringing through youth players. Arsene Wenger famously gave young talents plenty of minutes after the move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere, and Theo Walcott were all given significant roles in Wenger’s set up.
Over time, however, youth prospects were mismanaged like Serge Gnabry and Jeff Renie-Adelaide, and a reliance on older players occurred. As power shifted from Wenger to Unai Emery, the club found itself once again under financial restraints due to a persistent lack of Champions League football.
Perhaps the best thing that happened during the Emery tenure was the development of academy prospects. With an incredibly lopsided first team, Emery often turned to youth prospects to plug holes. Bukayo Saka is the most notable of these players, with the 19-year-old making major contributions in the Europa League especially.
Freddie Ljungberg took the reigns from Emery and his relationship with the Hale End boys certainly posed a factor in his appointment. This philosophy of trusting youth has persisted and even evolved with new manager Mikel Arteta.
Under Arteta’s guidance, Saka has signed a long-term extension to his contract, Maitland-Niles has proven himself an accomplished defender and earned an England call-up, and Nketiah is steadily acclimatizing to life in the Premier League. Without the contributions of these three players, Arsenal surely wouldn’t have been able to salvage their season by securing silverware at the very death.
Willock and Nelson may not have made quite the impact that their peers have but the two have established themselves as reliable options for the manager as well. Both players fit into Arteta’s system and are clearly made in the mold that the Spaniard values. While some players brought into the fold in recent seasons have had their commitment and application questioned, the same can not be said about Nelson or Willock.
In the recent Carabao Cup victory over Leicester, Arsenal’s academy players answered the call.
It may not have been the most refined performance, bu the Gunners walked away with a valuable 2-0 victory at the King Power Stadium. Arteta is not in a position to rest on his laurels and will be hungry to win every competition possible. Knowing he had to rotate his squad, he still put out what he believed would be a strong side.
Half of the outfield players in the starting XI were Hale End boys and that is not an accomplishment to besmirch.
While fans can agree that Arsenal need to improve the squad and be brave in the transfer market, the club’s academy can not be overlooked. Hale End has provided Arsenal with an immediate lifeline during a time when the club sorely needed it.
Although Saka may garner the lion’s share of the headlines, all of Arsenal’s youth prospects deserve major praise. As the club marches forward, further developing the academy under Per Mertesacker will be absolutely crucial.