From The Left Wing: Growing Pains

AFCB writer Daniel Brookes on the satisfaction of watching young players develop…

This week, I have been mostly pondering a comment left on one of our Editor-in-Chief’s posts last week. The comment regarded Theo Walcott and was dropped by ‘James Robin’. It went as follows:

“If we have players that need development, why aren’t they sent on loan? Why do we have to suffer for their development needs? Our title rivals aren’t developing players on a large scale, they throw one or two maximum, we have many development projects.”

Being the pensive son-of-a-gun I am, I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering whether James has a point. It’s true that Arsenal is a club of young players and we’re perennially regarded as a young team with potential. It’s also true that this ‘potential’ often manifests itself as an excuse for not winning trophies in the eyes of many supporters and commentators. The ‘next year will be our time’ mentality that has since instilled itself in our minds has become a familiar excuse shield for some, a reason to lambast Wenger at every opportunity for others.

At first, I thought James did have a strong case. When browsing the Chelsea team sheet, there is very little room for newcomers or home grown potential. As the league leaders, Chelsea never really showcased a player that wasn’t already a household name or a renowned reputation. There were sparse appearances for Ross Turnbull (forced in through injury), Daniel Sturridge and Nemanja Matić, throughout the season, but they only managed 28 appearances in all competitions between them.

This is vastly at odds with Arsenal, who were routinely giving starting roles to players like Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey, Denilson, Vela, Fabianski and Gibbs. We could argue until we’re blue in the face about whether these players are deserved first-team players or not, but the fact is they are all definitely developing, they definitely get game time, and they’re hopefully nowhere near their peaks.

It is probably logical to assume that Chelsea boast such an array of talent thanks to their multimillion pounds worth of investment. They don’t need to rely on young, up and coming players and can plug any gap with a new signing. It’s the same story at Manchester City – we’re not going to see Michael Johnson get an extensive run of games this season, and not long ago he was one of the most promising young English players going around. Excess money signals the end of wafer-thin squads, and any obligation to youth players whatsoever. Even writing that sentence depresses me.

That’s really as far as the point goes. It is otherwise wrong to assume that Arsenal fans have an unfair burden placed on them in terms of suffering nurtured talent. Take a look at Manchester United who chased Chelsea down to the last and (like us!) were title challengers. They’ve given playing time to Darren Gibson, Macheda and Obertan, as well as Fabio and Rafael, and do Nani and Anderson count? Perhaps the only difference is that Fergie has paid eye-watering sums for some of these players.

Furthermore, look at the experience of the Manchester United team. It comes from a glut of players they nurtured through their youth ranks. Scholes and Giggs are still pulling the strings in midfield, whilst nobody was complaining then Beckham was being developed into a global superstar. The formula quite clearly works as their trophy haul over the last ten year suggests.

Looking at the issue another way, watching footballers develop – far from being an insufferable aspect of being a fan – is actually one of the reasons I enjoy football so much. I can say hands down that one of my favourite moments as a supporter came from watching Cesc Fabregas come-of-age during his 2006 Champions League run, particularly in the latter stages. It was somehow like watching the taste of freshly baked bread. I’ve had similar eyebrow raising moments upon seeing Abou Diaby shine like a rough diamond in the miasmatic French national team during the World Cup, or in watching our ‘reserve squad’ crack skulls in the league cup.

What I always find particularly frustrating is that our own fans equate our failure to win a trophy over the last five years with achieving nothing. That’s simply not the case. What the club has achieved with the players they have is something that should be lauded, and I don’t think in five or ten years time that I’d ever remember the sporadic FA Cup garnish on a particular season more than I’d revel in the fact that I’ve watched a player learn and then express his trade at our club to the point of worldwide acclaim. Who can honestly say that clubs like Aston Villa or Everton would be improved by signing players such as Nasri or Diaby? In my opinion, there’s is something special about the way we operate and we get the best out of these types of players.

Of course, an obvious criticism is that Arsenal fails to hang on to many of its nurtured talents, but it’s rare that any player who leaves us is successful elsewhere, and players are lured away from more successful clubs than ours. You can develop footballing talent so far, but you can’t instill the common sense which might have brought happier times to the careers of players such as Hleb, Flamini and Adebayor had they stayed.

In a game that now encompasses so many detestable aspects – cheating, diving, grinding out results, excessive wealth, ill-educated and mercenary players, I think that following a successful player’s development is one of the last true reasons to follow a football team.


Have your say on this week’s ‘From The Left Wing’ by leaving a comment.



  1. Hi mate, i read this blog all the time, and think its great. But one thing that i always think i that your title would look so much better if you had 3 players on the end???

    Anyway keep up the good work

  2. Good article. I think you’re right in that money has played a part in this situation but that it has many wonderful sides to it. Also i wouldn’t necessarily call “grinding out results” a detestable part of modern football. Winning showing character and grit against all the odds is surely part of all sport, and part of what we should admire no? Perhaps you were alluding to the cynical deployment of consistantly negative tactics when there is the choice to do otherwise. Even so, dissapointing and dull – yes, detestable?- a bit strong in my opinion. Great blog tho.

  3. @ AshGeo – I think grinding out results becomes a problem when it is a team’s first gameplan. Sure, nobody can criticise when an inferior team gets put under pressure and produces a great result via grinding, but when more than half the league are too scared to play football and start a season with their chief gameplan to grind, then it becomes a problem.

  4. Yes, then in that regard i agree with you. I just had England vs Australia rugby match (i think) in my head when we 2 men down, under immense pressure, with a scrum under our posts which was defended and the match won. Afterwards Martin Johnson was asked what was going through his mind during the scrum. “My spine i think…” was his reply… That’s grinding to be respected right there.

  5. Great article,. Bang on….
    Now get your wallet out and buy a bloody world class goalkeeper and another DM and we might event win the league. That’s the difference: Develop the team BUT compliment with established world class talent in the areas that rely on experience and maturity.

    The development is beautiful to watch but it MUST be supplimented with enough funds to make us competitive in areas where there are glaring inadequacies. I’m so bored watching us concede lame goals and subsequently competitions because we can’t be bothered to spend 15m on a decent keeper. Wenger needs to wake up and smell the coffee!

  6. To explain the ‘grinding out results’ comment, I think there’s nothing wrong with David Vs Goliath type encounters where the underdogs are hanging on by their fingertips, they’re often thrilling to watch in themselves, and I think a big part of the magic of the FA cup for example. My problem though is when a team becomes renowned for strongarm tactics and spanner-in-the-works type play. They will try and win by stopping the game. Basically a Big Sam team.

    Owen Coyle is currently doing an impressive job at Bolton as he’s trying to transform the team from a bunch of brawlers into one that tries to get the ball down and play it around on the ground a bit more. Pound for pound they have the same players as he inherited, but he’s trying something different. I couldn’t see a place for someone like Wilshire in a Sam Allardyce team.

  7. Andy i think you are right, but thee problem with Arsenal is that we develop players then sell them to other successful teams (read barcelona) instead of sticking with them, all we do therefore is to develop and sell a vicious cycle if you ask me

  8. jesse gooner
    look at the evidence. Freddie Bobby and Thierry all had their best years at Arsenal. Cashley Cole left because he was greedy, Paddy is a shell of the man he was at Arsenal, Hleb likes the icecream at Birmingham ffs, Flamini rarely plays these days, and Overmars, Petit, Wiltord have all dissapeared without trace. Anelka took years to finally prove he was half decent. I accept Gilberto was a mistake, but the rest? I think in every single case Arsenal got the better end of the deal. The “feeder” club bullshit does not match the reality.

  9. You are such a gem when giving your analysis and i also feel disgusted with the so many ungrateful fans calling for the head of Arsene just for failure to lift a trophy.
    I agree with you this team is a very big success and those very fans should prepare their apologies in advance this season.

  10. Arsenal makes it more interesting in the league i could say.They are full of youngsters and the team is performing beyond its potential,Thanks to Arsene Wenger.That’s makes everyone to expect if these young people can defeat the money backed and totally experienced teams .That’s why there is lot of attention for the players in Arsenal than any other team.That’s what keep us to watch the team again and again.When they really move out of the club like Hleb, Adebayor, Flamini they lose their flair and they start performing to their normal level.

  11. @ voley…gun they actually perform at a lesser level when they leave arsenal, i wonder why they never see it, but its coz some of them are after the money, case in point Adebayor, Flamini, Hleb.

  12. This is ridiculous.

    “What the club has achieved with the players they have is something that should be lauded”. Since when did Arsenal become a club for losers and excuses? We have won nothing, 0 with this project. I really don’t care about Diaby/Denilson/Song developing in front of our eyes, if they are not winning.

    You’ve been had, hoodwinked by Wenger, even the ‘kids’ Fergie buys like Anderson/Nani, they have solid seasons behind them so they can perform. Ramsey had no seasons behind him, he can’t help us win anything now, Denilson has been here 5 years and is not a top player, how much longer should we wait, another 5 years?

    Sport is there for winning, the best time to win is immediately. Get experienced winners not young losers.

  13. nice article mate.i think we can all go on n on about our team but i think we should all put our trust in wenger like we always did.

  14. Ronald H – you’re joking? Ramsey has just nailed down a first team place and was well on the way to becoming a superb mf (aged just 19) before he was cynically taken out of the game for a year. I hope he recovers to his previous level and beyond because he will certainly be one of the best MF in the PL in a season or two.

    Denilson is a good case in point too, he gets slaughtered on the web despite the fact he’s only 21. He improves every season and currently is about 5th choice mf when everyone’s fit. A very decent squad player to have who will only improve.

    Wenger mad a great point that if every PL club were owned by trillionaires, who spent ridiculous sums in every transfer window, 19 clubs would still lose every year.

    Arsenal do things differently, we don’t have the buying power or infrastructure to compete with Chelsea or Man City’s spending. If you don’t enjoy watching young players come through and take satisfaction in that achievement, esp when they win the PL (and the will in the next 2-3 seasons) then I suggest you don’t bother supporting Arsenal. That’s the way the club are going so get used to it.

    I’d also disagree with the point about us not supplementing the younger players with quality. Look at Arshavin, Vermaelen and Chamack for example.

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