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