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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


While Fans Argue About Money and Wenger, What Happened To Arsenal’s Bright Young Players

Written by on February 26, 2013 | 4 Comments »
Posted in Arsenal

The League Cup (presently known as the Capitol One Cup) has been a source of bitter disappointment for Arsenal over the last two years. In 2011 they lost in the final to Birmingham City who scored in the final minute and this season they lost on a penalty kick decider to League Two side Bradford City. (Bradford made it all the way to the final only to lose 5-0 to Swansea on Sunday.)

It doesn’t seem so long-ago that the League Cup was a regular showcase for young Arsenal talent. The conventional wisdom held that the Arsenal future was bright…. to read more please click on the link.

4 responses to “While Fans Argue About Money and Wenger, What Happened To Arsenal’s Bright Young Players”

  1. Alberta Gooner says:


    An interesting exercise. A few points by way of response.

    I cannot argue with any of the past sales. The players were either not good enough to stay at the club or, in the case of Cesc and Song, agitated for a move to the best club in the world at the time for appropriate fees. There’s some tiresome arguments about whether Wenger should have replaced them but that’s a different topic.

    It would be interesting to compare Arsenal’s track record with other clubs in their bracket (which I would define as Champions League regulars in the biggest Europe leagues) in terms of developing players into first-team regulars. I suspect you’d see the same percentages even at clubs hailed for their development, including Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona. The difference is those clubs are not competing in leagues against clubs who’ve inflated both wages and transfer fees for proven talent in their markets after petro-fuelled sugar daddies buying up skint competitors.

    Which sort of leads to my second point, which is the missing context of why Arsenal decided to go this route, which includes building a new stadium so they could better compete against the Chelseas and Mancester Citys along with established powers such as Manchester United. The fact Wenger was able to keep them in the Champions League by spending next to nothing compared to his rivals in the league table over the past eight years is nothing short of remarkable and, for me, ranks as one of his great achievements.

    None of this is meant to take away from your exhaustive reasearch, which is appreciated as opposed to the cliched and bigoted drivel grunted out by most of Wenger’s critics in the press and in the blogosphere. There are names of once-promising starlets that I had forgotten and it was interesting to see where some of them wound up.

    In any case, I agree the percentages for success have not been great. Of those sold on, only Fabregas and Song can be considered successes, both in terms of what they did at the club and the fees they fetched from Barcelona.

    Of the players on the books and out on loan, I’m fearful injuries have derailed Frimpong’s development of what was great potential. Djourou, Bendtner and Denilson are, I’m afraid, lost causes and have been hawked around the world unsuccessfully by the club.

    Of the players listed on the cusp, Wenger really rates Gnabry and it’s easy to see why after I went over to watch the Schalke 04 game at the Emirates in October. The kid made a cameo and looks very promising. Of the rest of them, the only other names mooted by regular watchers of the reserves and youth games at Underhill are Miquel and Eisfeld (who has gaudy stats but tends to disappear in games — not a good sign).

    Of those in the first team, the jury remains out on Coquelin, where Wenger’s actions speak louder than words. With the sale of Song, he’d seem to be one of the few natural options for one of the two deeper pivot roles in midfield but he hasn’t really been given opportunities and that’s telling. Though also unproven, the Ox is in a slightly different category given his age but the potential is clearly there. Szczesny has also regressed this year but it’s a little early to write him off just yet. Rambo, Walcott and Gibbs all have made strides this season and can be judged as qualified successes, at the very least. Wilshere joins Cesc and Song in the “real deal” category.

    So where does that leave us? Probably behind Bayern, Dortmund and Barca – who’ve been at it one hell of a lot longer and playing by different rules until recently (in terms of the “catchment” area clubs were confined to in England) – but well ahead of most teams in our bracket (Champions League regulars in big European leagues) in terms of youth development.

    As FFP kicks in, it will be interesting to see how clubs who’ve tried to buy quick fixes at the expense of developing youth will fare in the long run.

    Thanks again for another interesting read.

  2. AG – all good points.

  3. John Bladen says:

    I’d echo a good deal of what AG says, Bobby.

    The fact is that very few of even the most highly prized academy players play regularly for first team PL clubs.

    Perhaps Arsenal (and to a certain extent Wenger) are victims of their own early success… they made much of their record of developing young players in the 1990s.

    They did do that, of course. But they also benefitted greatly from the unbelievable return they got from the (youth/young) purchases made with the proceeds of the Anelka sale (Viera, Henry & Petit(?) among them), and had good luck with the players they kept as well.

    That was a gold rush moment for Arsenal: the kind of thing that might come along once in a generation (or less). United and many other clubs have had hot/cold spells in development (and purchases) as well, of course. As W.E. Deming said, ‘variation is part of any process’. Even the best players, managers, refs etc have clanger moments. it happens across all sports (Glen Sather looked like a genius when he had the four best players in the game on his team… not so much afterwards…)

    And sometimes players surprise you… there is a reason Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round by the Patriots, for example… and it isn’t that everyone else forgot about him. He never once appeared to be destined for greatness while at Michigan… and recalls his teammates actually laughing at him when he turned up for his first training camp.

    Regarding departures/lingerers…
    Obviously you never want to see legitimate $30m+ players sold, but often there really is no option. Also, let’s not forget United sold Ronaldo, and no-one accuses them of ‘settling for second tier’ status.

    Of those who’ve headed out that we’d like back, apart from Fabregas and Song (who was good but not great IMO), I think Lansbury didn’t really get a long enough look (though as I recall, he’s only out on long term loan?). If they did transfer him permanently, I don’t believe he got enough of a chance. That’s not to say I think he’s a definite future star, but he did have potential and was still very young when he moved.

    As AG says, as far as the ones who’ve stayed too long, the usual suspects. If they hadn’t had the defensive changes experienced over the last few years, I doubt that Sagna would still be around. Jenkinson is coming along nicely (though he’s often been thrown in at the deep end, he’s survived it at least) and could be a fine player in a couple of years. Koscielny and Vermaelen have not been successful (in the case of the latter, much to my surprise… I really thought he’d be a big help).

    There are just too many purchases presently on the first team who look like either emergency or second choice signings. As I’ve often said, rather than criticizing Wenger for failing to get a certain $$$$ player, I’m more concerned about who he has bought with whatever he was given to spend.

    In my view, who he’s “settled for” is a better reflection of his skill as a manager than who he couldn’t afford.

  4. John Bladen says:

    Of course, it’s always possible there will be wholesale change at Arsenal…

    After reading Burt’s column, I have to say it sounds like something a sport journalist (or Arsenal fan) might have dreamed up himself… far too many illogical financial statements included in the discussion. Still, given the number of clubs that actually have been purchased for illogical sums by oil wealth elites…. I guess it’s not impossible.

    Hard to imagine Kroenke selling out, though.

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