Have We Now Seen the End of Arsene Wenger’s Youth Policy at Arsenal?

In what was probably the worst kept secret of this summer’s transfer activity, Santi Cazorla was eventually confirmed as an Arsenal player on Tuesday. A 27 year old with 48 La Liga goals, over 300 appearances for club and 45 for the most successful national side in the history of the game, he arrives in North London at what should be the peak of his career.

The Spaniard is joined by Lukas Podolski, a German forward with a similarly impressive record and 25-year-old Olivier Giroud who lead Montpellier to their first Ligue 1 title in the club’s history. Though Giroud is somewhat of a late bloomer, all three are established players at club level. Along with last summer’s late acquisitions of Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun and even Park Chu-Young, it seems Wenger is finally building a more experienced squad and abandoning his famous youth project of the late 2000s.

Indeed, if the rumours of Nuri Sahin’s arrival come to fruition then it’s hard to see where there is any space for any up-and-coming talents to fit into Wenger’s plans this season. Perma-loanee Henri Lansbury is on his last chance at Arsenal and other youngsters such as Emmanuel Frimpong and Craig Eastmond find themselves further down the pecking order. Even standout talents such as Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin will find it hard to get regular playing time, which surely shows Arsene has admitted defeat in his quest for a side from the academy who have grown up and played together since youth.

It seems odd that now is the time he has called time on his experiment. Projects at Borussia Dortmund and Montpellier are the most famous, but success can be found across European leagues in a policy of focusing on youth development. This shows that such a system can work, and when paired with Arsenal’s financial power, it surely should have been worth its weight in silverware over the years. However, Wenger seems to be reverting back to the system of buying players just before their prime that proved so successful around the turn of the century. In this period, the only academy product to burst through and be a regular starter was Ashley Cole.

Perhaps this was the way it was always meant to be. I personally think it was never Arsene’s plan to have a team full of youthful talent, but was a temporary measure to help ease the stress of a new stadium financially. He also imagined a world where this team would mature together, where the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Alexander Hleb would all hit their prime. However, each season these players have featured in long transfer sagas, moving, for better or for worse, to clubs who could offer a larger pay packet (apart from Cesc) and the promise of instant success.

This brings us back to today. Arsenal is still developing strong international level talent as they were before, as Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere will all look to feature heavily in the coming season. As the fruits of the youth project continue to ripen, Wenger is continually adding proven talent to mix into the squad. Today’s generation look more likely than any other to stay at the club, and these past two season’s acquisitions are perhaps just a stop gap of experience, allowing the talent to grow in the wings before taking centre stage.

This isn’t Wenger abandoning his dream. It’s merely him altering it to counter the unforeseen circumstances.

Follow Jord at @jmwillis01

10 thoughts on “Have We Now Seen the End of Arsene Wenger’s Youth Policy at Arsenal?”

  1. This is a really good piece and I think you’re spot on, especially your point about Wenger previously buying players just before their prime rather than so much at 16, 17 etc. I think maybe Wenger is moving towards a balance somewhere between both policies. I would say that a big weakness of the recent youth policy has been that too many talented but inexperienced players have been thrown in at the deep end together and most have been damaged by the strain of responsibility as well as the physical demands. It would be interesting to go back in time and blood the likes of Denilson, Vela, Ramsey etc in the late 90s team when there were stronger players (physically and mentally) throughout the team. I don’t think so many would have ended up being labelled as dead wood to be got rid of.

    1. Firstly, thankyou for reading it! Your point about Denilson, Vela, Ramsey et al is interesting too. They would probably be vastly different and improved players if they were having to be squad players until their mid twenties because of not being able to break into the midfield of Petit/Vieira and the like. Hopefully, we might be able to see this with the youngsters now who will have to wait longer to get their opportunities

  2. “…counter the unforeseen circumstances.” This is precise why Wenger should be held accountable for not accounting for the reality in yearly player turnover and living out his youth fantasy at the Club and Supporters expense. He has had too much unilateral decision making power without accountability to a Board that is emasculated. For this reason, the Board must be held accountable to the Shareholders and Supporters.

    1. I have to disagree with you. AW is the public face of AFC, therefore taking the blame/credit for what happens at the club. He has a boss, he can only work within the parameters which are set from above. He may or may not agree, until his memoirs, we will never know. He was largely instrumental in the design of the Emirates, this had to be payed for, as well as the Highbury development.
      Further since his arrival the club has had a top 3/4 consistency that we never had before, and built it into the top 10 richest clubs in world sport (Forbes). A model which even detractors have to admire. I have been a gunner for more years than I can remember, and I haven’t always agreed with him, but lets face it what do I know about running a club? Yes of course I want to win trophies, but not at the expense of running the club into bankruptcy. I can wait like I have waited before. No club in competitive league has a divine right to win, though it can be cyclical.

  3. Deep down, I don’t think he wants to abandon the policy, but because of too much pressure, and not winning for such a long time, he’s left himself with no choice.
    He knows deep within that youth policy is the way for long term success, but he never imagined the scenario where when his youth players mature and are ready to step up and win trophies, they would leave him. Of course he made money with them, but he is coming to realization that while the economic policy is great, his trophy cabinet year after year is not within the realms of a top premier league side. Fans are becoming increasing agitated while shareholders are happy. Fans are the most important share holder, and now he is realizing this fact.

    Let’s get one thing straight, his was not a 30 year Barcelona project as most people seems to think. But because of the fans wanting instant success and him having to line up the pockets of millionaires even more, he is finally coming to grasp that he has to win to save his job.

  4. I think the second leg against Milan showed everything that is right and wrong with Arsenal Football Club.

    They played a wonderful game of football, scoring three goals against a strong Milan team. The problem was they shipped four goals in the first leg and came up just short in the second leg.

    There is strong ability in this team but the issue is that over a 38 game season, Arsenal have not had a great year since the historic unbeaten season.

    When is the breakthrough? I’d imagine if that question stops being asked, then that would truly be worse than anything else.

  5. i agree, our youth system is only just starting to be consistent (when i mean youth i mean english talent) like Barcelona’s is. the biggest benefit this will have on the young players is it adds urgency and pressure on them to become what they want to be. it makes the carling cup and the early stages of the FA cup so relevant to them as apposed to most of them knowing they will be on the bench or in the starting cup squads., after all it may be their only chance to show what they can do. the one thing i have noticed about other clubs who have youth policies is that as a whole most of them seem humble to be training with players on another level to them. hopefully our younger bunch can be more mature and in a way savour the moment/ if they break into the first team consistently. one thing is for certain arsenal will one day have an english midfield with Wilshire and the immaculate talents of jack jebb not to mention Ramsey should improve this year.

  6. actually i wouldnt say its against wengers policy to sign older players, its just that many good ones are overpriced by people after them. he prefers to go after quality for the cheapest price.

    cazorla was probably the best midfielder not playing at barce or real madrid last season and is very good, came at a knockdown price due to malaga’s troubles. giroud scored very impressively for montpellier and came relatively cheap as well. same goes for podolski who is versatile playing as either winger, wide forward, striker or second striker and also came relatively cheap.

    wenger makes good intelligent signings, the acquisition of sahin is the same. he will spend money if he thinks their is value in the signings.

  7. Spot on. Hard to say why exactly Arsenal were such bit players in the transfer market (in terms of almost refusing to sign big name players) until recently. Maybe Arsene saw the error in his ways – maybe there really was a financial strain from moving stadiums.

    And also, had we not seen a total shift in the EPL with the rise of teams like Chelsea/Man City (do note that Arsenal have pretty much moved into the category of also rans ever since Abramovich took over at Chelsea, and the EPL became a 2 horse race between CFC and Utd.)

    Think of the sheer number of players that “had” to be sold – either because they wanted to leave, or because you simply can’t refuse 20mil+ for an aging Kolo Toure.

    Think of the class of many of the players Wenger would have brought to 1st team football with his youth policy -Cesc, Nasri, Adebayor, Clichy, Wilshere.

    If free spending clubs didn’t snatch up their assets, I think it’s safe to say Wenger would have won something with the youth policy .

    I remember watching them a few years ago – when they lead the league with the young guns and fizzled out – thinking, this team is going to be great for years to come. Then most of the quality in that side was sold off.

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