A nice provocative question to start off your week. But one of those that whilst it felt to me as provocative when I wrote the headline first thing this morning, the more and more I re-read and think about it, the more it feels obvious.
Arsenal most certainly do have a development problem.
That kind of feels like a silly statement to make at first given that we’ve seen two very impressive performances from Maitland-Niles and perhaps we’re witnessing a breakthrough moment for the youngster. But it’s his rise that has prompted me to question whether we have issues with developing players into world class talent.
I think we have no problem with finding good young players who have ability and potential, but ask yourself: “when was the last time somebody truly fulfilled their potential at Arsenal?
Let’s go back chronologically and please, forgive me if I miss one or two but it’s early and my Christmas brain is starting to form, but let’s start with the most recent breakthrough:
Alex Iwobi. Burst on to the scene having played a few FA Cup games in the earlier rounds, as well as one or two League Cup games, then looked like a breathe of fresh air. Yet here we are a couple of years on and we have a player who struggles for form, confidence, as well as end product in the final third.
Why? Why have we not worked on improving him in areas of his game that sees him develop into a wonder star? Will he ever get there? I’m really not so sure at the moment. After all, he’s seemed to be going backwards for over a year now. Did Arsène over play him? Is he being given coaching to improve or just being told to be himself?
Hector Bellerin. Such an amazing talent that we dumped a French international for a youngster. But for at least 2017 as a whole he’s looked leggy, doesn’t seem to get in to as many good positions as he did two years ago, plus his defensive deficiencies have become all the more obvious.
Why? Is it because he’s been over played? A lack of any real competition to keep him on his toes?
Possibly. But with no other option at right back that the manager wants to consider, Hector will keep being run into the ground, before probably getting the hump and jumping ship somewhere.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ok he was developed at Southampton, but Arsène invested a lot of minutes in him at an early age. He looked like such a talent and at times had been unplayable. But for whatever reason he decided he was stagnating at Arsenal and needed to move on for the benefit of his own development.
Jack Wilshere. The big one. The supposed heir apparent to Cesc and injuries aside – a familiar reasoning for Arsenal fans everywhere – perhaps we could have seen it. But his promise has been curtailed and now many are questioning whether we’ll ever see the 2008 Jack Wilshere vintage.
Why? Again, that familiar phrase of being overplayed feels like one consequence, but also his style probably affected his injury problems, with his dangling legs and drawing of opposition players on to him. It all feels like it contributes but ultimately, it’s yet another player that has never hit the ‘world class’ potential we thought we all saw.
Theo Walcott. Again, not initially developed at Arsenal, but has spent most of his career at the club and one or two seasons apart has never really evolved into the elite star that we wondered whether he would be at 17.
Why? Why haven’t we been able to take raw talent and develop it to the next level? Who was the last person who – to put a topical Star Wars spin on it – fulfilled their destiny at the club?
Ashley Cole perhaps? And when was that? 2002?
So we’re talking 15 years of bringing players through, giving them a chance, seeing them perform well initially, but ultimately never make that elite step up.
And that must also contribute towards our failings to compete for the big prizes as a club. Especially if you’re not dropping £200million on ready-made players each summer. It puts a heck of a lot of pressure and expectation on decent players being better than they could probably ever be.
We as fans don’t help but it’s hard to not get excited at the potential of somebody who has what feels like a long and successful career ahead of them at 18, having broken on to the scene, and I’m just as bad as everyone else in my expectation. Every time a young player makes it into the first team I’m always thinking “brilliant. If they’re this good now, they’ll be three times as good in three years, then we’ll have a decade of the best player in that position”. Yet how often does that happen?
Rarely for any club I suppose. When you’re dealing with human beings nothing is ever that clear-cut.
But what is clear is that any youth policy that has been in place hasn’t met the supposed lofty ambitions of the club; certainly for Arsenal fans the expectations have been nowhere near for a youth policy.
Big Per’s got a big job on his hands. That’s for sure. But it’s not just him. The manager, the older players, as well as the youngsters themselves, all need to be able to step it up if we’re once again going to get people fulfilling their potential.
Catch you tomorrow.