Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have completed loan moves to Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, respectively. The deadline day deals have once again brought up this season’s hot topic of Arsenal’s Hale End academy.
In what have been dire times for The Gunners, their youngsters have proved to be a shining light. Arsenal’s mid-season resurgence, sparked by a Boxing Day win against Chelsea, has been lead most notably by Bukayo Saka and, this season’s breakout performer, Emile Smith Rowe.
The 19 and 20-year-old creative players have contributed for a combined 12 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions- an impressive feat for such an inexperienced duo.
Former academy graduates
Along with the previously mentioned four players, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah round off the six that are currently in the first-team squad having come from the academy.
Before them, however, came the likes of Donyell Malen of PSV and Serge Gnabry of Bayern Munich, the latter of which has won a Champions League since his departure from North London.
Dating back even further, Arsenal’s academy has birthed club legends such as Tony Adams, Martin Keown, and Ray Parlour- all of whom played a crucial part in The Gunners’ success under Arsene Wenger.
The next generation
Ex-Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker is The Gunners’ current academy manager where he oversees proceedings at Hale End.
As highlighted, the club has a track record of producing top-quality talents and Mertesacker will hope he can continue to do so with young prodigies such as Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and Tyrece John-Jules looking to follow in the footsteps of those before them.
Since Wenger gifted debuts to the likes of Nelson and Willock in the 2016-17 season, Hale End’s youngsters have continued to be a main staple in domestic cup competitions, as well as the Europa League.
Wenger’s successors, Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta, have reiterated the club's faith in their academy products by also fielding predominantly academy-based Europa League teams.
Looking into the future
With Maitland-Niles the oldest of the bunch (23), Arsenal’s Hale End stars could prove to form the backbone of Arsenal’s squad for years to come- providing they remain at the club, that is.
There is arguably no team in the league that can boast six players of such caliber, from a similar age group of academy products, that rivals those of Arsenal’s.
Saka has been the standout performer of the lot so far, already cementing his spot in the starting eleven. Arsenal’s December Player of the Month is among the best youngsters in world football- backed up by his ninth-place finish in the 2020 Golden Boy award.
Smith Rowe has been a revelation also since his introduction at Chelsea on Boxing Day. Since then the 'Croydon De Bruyne' has played on four goals for his teammates in the Premier League, forming a deadly duo with Saka.
The others, meanwhile, are in need of some regular minutes to further their careers. Willock and Maitland-Niles’ loan deals are sure to see them take on a big role at their new clubs and will hopefully develop their game to the next level.
Nketiah is The Gunners’ joint fourth top goalscorer this season, often seen netting in the Europa League, and just the same needs more minutes.
Nelson burst onto the scene back in 2017 under Wenger, however, was still regularly tearing Premier League 2 defences apart, winning the August Player of the Month in the process.
Nelson was touted as Arsenal’s next big product and arguably has the highest ceiling of any player to come out of the academy in recent times. He impressed in the Bundesliga under Julian Naglesmann for Hoffenheim in 2018-19, scoring seven goals in his first 587 minutes of action.
He has since returned to North London where he has featured infrequently, due to minor injuries and lack of chances, but still possesses an abundance of potential which could see him be a marquee player for Arsenal for several years.