It may be obvious, but until now I hadn’t quite understood the evolution of youth policy at Arsenal.
In recent years we have thrown a number of very young players straight into the first team – Saka, ESR, Martinelli (and to some extent with Nketiah). It’s been popular with fans who like to see their own Academy players come through. And that contributed significantly to us having the youngest ever premiership team last season. Generally speaking, with ups and downs, it was a success, especially with Saka. It was both pragmatically necessary because these players had the energy and enthusiasm that the “old guard” lacked, but also a risky but conscious investment in the future.
Moreover, over the past transfer windows, it has become clear that the age profile of the players Arteta and Edu have targeted and brought in are generally in the 20s. All of this is well documented.
But there was a big change that started with the Saliba saga. We were disappointed when a £27m youngster with huge potential wasn’t brought straight into the first team as had happened with Saka, ESR and Martinelli. But Arteta and Edu seem to have agreed that actually he’s not quite ready for the first team if we want to fight for the CL places. Balogun, Norton-Cuffy and Azeez were also loaned out last season despite considerable promises.
Last season, the Academy flourished with an impressive array of talent, particularly in midfield and attacking areas – Patino, Flores, Taylor-Hart, Salah-Eddine, Hutchinson, Biereth – and Sousa, Rekik , Awe and Walters in defense. Still, with Hutchinson leaving for Chelsea (allegedly because he wasn’t promised first-team football), and Flores and Rekik already on loan, it seems likely that no Academy player will be promoted directly into the first team this season.
The policy now seems to be to loan out all the best young players for a season or two to toughen them up and see who really reaches their potential (and who doesn’t). And to then integrate the best into the first team and sell the others. That’s why I think Marquinhos will be loaned out despite having as much talent as Martinelli when he was brought straight into the first team a few years ago. And that’s why we might have to wait and see how Patino, Flores, Norton-Cuffy and Rekik perform on loan before we see any of them in the first team.