Two tickets to paradise

We’ve waited so long, waited so long
We’ve waited so long, waited so long
He scored… two goals in the Carabao
His first touch, went in somehow
He scored, two goals in the Carabao
He scored, two goals in the Carabao

Imagine being an 18 year old Arsenal academy player, born after the current manager took over the club, you grew up idolizing Thierry Henry as a 6 year old, you have been an Arsenal supporter all your life, you got an Arsenal academy berth after rivals Chelsea cut you, you scored 24 goals in 35 youth team appearances, which matched the 24 goals you had scored the season before, and the manager asks you to come on in the 85th minute of a League Cup tie, in which your team are down 1-0, and with your very first touch you score the equalizer. That might just be the stuff that dreams are made of.

It was a dreadful game from an Arsenal perspective and one that needed an injection of youthful vigor. In the late stages of the match, Arsenal supporters were near silent – a hush had fallen over the crowd as it resigned itself to a 1-0 loss to Norwich.

At one point Arsenal were lucky that makeshift center back Mo Elneny wasn’t sent off for a last man challenge, though on the balance it looked like a yellow card was the right call since Rob Holding was nearby. Arsenal also escaped a stonewall penalty when Matt Debuchy hauled down Husband in the box. Both refereeing errors prompted the Norwich manager to fume “I wondered why he could have all these decisions in favour of Arsenal. I am pretty sure the referee and linesman want to give their best and we have to accept these mistakes. To be honest it’s really annoying.”

Arsenal were barely hanging on against the swift counter attacking of Norwich. Time and again the Canaries were getting in behind Arsenal’s high back line, causing chaos and getting off good shots. Their game plan of pressing and harassing the Gunners was working, Wilshere and Giroud – who had just claimed the Puskas award for his scorpion kick goal the night before – couldn’t seem to conjure up the same magic that had saved the day against Red Star Belgrade just a week ago. And Theo Walcott, who has been with the club for ten years, couldn’t finish or find a final ball that would help his team to the win.

In that moment of silence, Arsene Wenger sent on Edward Nketiah. And with his very first touch he scored. Nketiah ran over to the corner flag, brushing his teammates off him so they couldn’t cover him up, and announced himself to the Arsenal faithful.

His goal took Arsenal into extra time and seemed to electrify the Arsenal attack. He scored a header to put Arsenal ahead, and it was one of those rare headers where a small guy just seems to want it more than the defenders. He seemed to hang in the air, almost seemed to stretch himself out, make himself taller, but however he managed to defy physics, he scored. The crowd started chanting “Eddie, Eddie”.

Wenger was full of praise, especially for the second goal: “I like especially the header he scored. He is not tall. He has a determined attitude. When the team needs you and you can deliver, that is a quality that you don’t know until you put the player on.”

Wenger seems to have found, or perhaps more accurately re-found, a love for the academy players. It was once a given that Arsenal had two teams: one for the League Cup and one for the rest of the matches but this season, Wenger is mixing things up more often.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been such a strong player for Arsenal that he has been used in all three competitions this season. His performances prompted Wenger to issue a warning “He can also play central midfield, but I must say that he’s close now to being a regular in the first team as well. I would be on my toes if I was a regular player in the Arsenal first team. His preferred position is central midfield and that’s where I believe he will end up.”

Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson are two players who have also managed to get on the team sheets pretty regularly this season and now Wenger has seen what young Nketiah can do, I have to wonder if he will be knocking on some doors looking to get in a starting lineup.

An injection of youth is exactly what Arsenal need this season. There is a dark cloud hanging over the club, what with Ozil, Wilshere, and Alexis all at the end of their contracts and rumors that Ozil has already said goodbye to his teammates, bragging that he’s off in January. The senior players are fantastic and when they are on form they can turn in performances like the 5-2 win over Everton. But Wenger may want to consider re-launching the youth project that he famously installed 10 years ago.

There are a lot of good reasons to move away from buying and playing established players: fans give young players more leeway to make mistakes, seeing young players score or make a great tackle feels more thrilling and gives the fans in the stadium more to cheer for, especially if they are academy products or players born in and around London.  And we don’t even have to mention the financial impact: young players are no longer bargains in world football. It’s smarter to develop an MBappe rather than buy one.

We don’t know if Wenger is planning another youth revolution at Arsenal but I do know that the one from 2007-2012 was full of fun football to watch and made for an exciting team to follow. And while that team fell short of winning trophies and broke a lot of hearts when it disbanded, this team full of expensive stars has also fallen short and is disbanding in an equally heartbreaking fashion. Given that, I’d rather Arsenal go with youth.

Wenger’s last word:

“I am impressed by that to think he was not even conceived when I was already here,” said Wenger. “Life gives a chance to young people. Hopefully he will make a long career at Arsenal football club.”



  1. Everybody’s talking ’bout
    Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
    This-ism, that-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m
    All we are saying is give youth a chance
    All we are saying is give youth a chance

    Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!Eddie!

  2. Great post and what’s not love to about this kid?
    In strange times it’s good to know that youth isn’t always wasted on the young.

    I really like that Eddie Money song (Eddie, Eddie, Eddie) but in my tribute to last night’s extraordinary end to the game, I’ll go for something not as alliterative with first names and kind of obvious as a choice but it works for me:

    “May your hands always be busy
    May you have a strong foundation
    When the winds of changes shift
    May your heart always be joyful
    May you stay forever young”

  3. Scattered thoughts on the perception of disappointment…

    Project Youth disappointment was always offset by expectation (and naturally, the one season that was above expectations, 07/08, I pretty much missed entirely in a haze of my own misery). It was a young team, with young players and obvious holes we couldn’t solve for one reason or another (except goalkeeper – did Almunia have top-notch blackmail material on someone important?)

    Disappointment under this current squad has importantly come right after Project Youth disappointment, so it’s easy to look at the entire thing as a single thread, making it hard to actually separate one feeling of disappointment from another – I essentially kept my expectations at the same level despite the signings of actual bonafide stars.

    I guess I’ve always worried about Arsenal’s capacity for imploding against the randomest opposition since we lost to Leeds at the tail end of 02/03, confirming the title was United’s. It sounds absurd to say it now, but we had THAT team then and yet I learned to adjust my expectations to not suffer that level of heartbreak again (this served me well when we got carved up by Inter at Highbury only months later).

    And yet…2011. 2010/2011 was supposed to be the culmination of Project Youth, the season it finally bore fruit. What happened instead was that a barely interested Man Utd team moonwalked to the title while we finished 4th in a 2-horse race, that Newcastle game, that Nou Camp game (featuring a daft backheel from Cesc to Iniesta and the ridiculous van Persie red card), getting beaten to nil at Old Trafford in the FA Cup with United playing a midfield held together by used chewing gum and rubber bands, our dire league form in the run-in, and of course, effing Birmingham. I’ve never known disappointment like that in nearly 2 decades supporting Arsenal.

    1. Oh, and from one Edward to another, I’m very pleased for Nketiah, and I hope he goes on to have a long and successful career, hopefully with us.

  4. Project Youth II should be inevitable. There is an undersupply of world talent and far better to be a Monaco pumping out the stars than United or PSG buying them.

    The same results will occur though unless there is change at the top.

    The failure of Project Youth I if I recall was largely blamed on our “lack of leadership” and mental toughness. In the hindsight of years this wasn’t because we failed to bring through the right type of characters, it was because the manager failed to build the right type of character in the players by preparing them for all possibilities (actual coaching) and holding them accountable for mistakes and poor performances. I like that we seem to have a talented group of youngsters, four or five look like future first teamers. But Wenger is the wrong manager to get the best out of them.

    1. Jack-a sobering thought after Tim’s double shot of optimism, and unfortunately one I totally agree with. Project Youth should have 2 aims: to develop youngsters into solid players that can contribute to the team, either by playing or being sold, and to contribute to team success as measured by league place and cup finishes. I believe AW could provide opportunities for players to develop, but I don’t think that development will contribute to team success. I also think his predilection for playing guys out of position could stall their progress.

      1. I’ve never understood the ‘out of position’ thing. Especially when talking about player development. What defines a player’s position? Genuine question.. I would guess their attributes. But similar attributes could be useful in different positions in different systems. Bergkamp said that playing in other positions made him appreciate and understand his role better.

        I think ultimately, it comes down to the player. Different managers have different styles of coaching, and some players might respond to one style better than others, but I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to it. It’s not an exact science.

  5. I’m sure the club gets criticized in some circles for letting Harry Kane go at a young age. Shite happens. We sure have had our share of misses in terms of the players we wanted to sign at a young age who wouldn’t come to us for one reason or another. We at least tried to get young players before they exploded on the scene.
    Then you have the curious case of Chelsea who have more players out on loan than any two teams’ rosters combined. Eddie was their player. Rhian Brewster who just powered the England U17 team into the WC final off the back of his second hat trick was a Chelsea player and is now with Liverpool. Oh and let’s not forget about Lukaku and DeBruyne and how they bought back Matic and Luiz. If I’m a Chelsea supporter, I’m sick to my stomach over the talent we’ve lost because of the mismanagement that’s gone on at that club.
    So in reply to Jack Acton, I wouldn’t be jumping on Wenger about what his youth projects have or have not done in the long run. It is also on the player to get their act together.

  6. A quick take on the last post about the Everton result and Tim’s interpretation thereof: You’re right, of course. This is a fundamentally flawed team because of its midfield and because of its fragile defensive confidence, and ultimately because it’s a team still cast in the idealistic mould of its living legend of a manager. I would say though that games like that are what we live for as supporters, they don’t come around that often. It’s OK to just enjoy good football from a not great football team sometimes, IMO. When there is too much cynicism, football stops being fun.

    I agree we have a good young generation coming up. Holding, Iwobi and Bellerin hardly count as “youth” anymore, but we have AMN, Nelson, Willock, Nketiah and Nwakali, and we have all kind of forgotten about “the Jeff” who is, curiously, neither playing in the cups or going out on loan. The idea in my view isn’t to try to do only youth or only big ticket transfers; the idea is to try to develop through the academy as much as possible and then plug gaps through the market.

  7. The youth project made sense when the club was building a new stadium and had no money. Circumstances are completely different today. There’s plenty of cash in the Premier League because of the lucrative TV rights. The problem with another youth project is: 1. Kroenke would see that as a great opportunity to pocket more dividends instead of spending in the transfer market to sign top players; 2. Other big clubs won’t care and will keep spending on top players, making the gap with Arsenal even bigger; 3. The idea behind moving to a new stadium was to contend. Another youth project would implicitly mean that the club is giving up on that ambition; 4. That would put too much pressure on those youngsters. I wouldn’t want to see them exposed to nasty chants after a poor performance like the one at Crystal Palace last season.

    1. When you say ‘even more dividends’ you do realise he’s never taken dividends. It’s ok if you don’t like him. There’s no reason to. But facts are facts.

      And before you bring them up, those 3m payments were not dividends. The club didn’t help by being cagey about them, but fans don’t make it easy for them to be open either. KSE were paid for services which were apparently to do with marketing and commercial expertise. Our revenues went up by quite a lot at the time.

      1. Are you naive enough to seriously believe that the 3m consulting fee is not a disguised dividend? Arsenal’s total revenues increased mostly because of the booming TV rights. I would urge you to check the Swiss Ramble’s blog for some detailed financial analysis.
        When you’re talking about KSE’s “marketing and commercial expertise”, do you realize that Arsenal’s commercial revenue is average or even mediocre compared to the other big English clubs? £107m for Arsenal last year compared to £268m for MU, £173m for City, £116m for Liverpool and £108m for Chelsea.
        In fact, the fans were so shocked that the club had to scrap that consulting fee last year. And I’m not even talking about the legal issues. Here’s a statement from the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust: “From Arsenal’s public statements at the 2015 AGM, and other disclosure, the payment appears to have been made: without a pre-existing contract or competitive tender for services without fully considering whether there was a conflict of interest; and potentially in breach of regulations.”

        1. Meh. The AST’s agenda is clear. .I seem to remember Arsenal saying something about why would they not use services which were readily available to them, which seems reasonable enough to me. What’s this talk of tenders and conflict of interest? Why would there be any conflict of interest if the same ownership group provides a service. And since when does Arsenal have to go through a tendering process for its business decisions? I wonder if that also applies to buying players and paying agents.

          It wasn’t just the TV revenues, the commercial revenue shot up at the time (as it was always going to because the long term deals with Nike and Emirates were up..but still..At the time our shirt deal was the largest in the country. If others have caught up it’s as much to do with timing as anything, and of course, City’s revenues are a farce.

          Either way, if the worst that can be said about Kroenke’s ownership is that twice Arsenal paid his company 3m as what can be contended to be a dividend, then I’m not sure that’s worth the anguish. Sure Arsenal stopped paying those fees after fan outrage. I think the Chairman seemed to indicate Kroenke decided to not charge because of the uproar. Congratulations I suppose. But if Kroenke really wanted, he could take much more money out of the club simply as salary or bonuses or whatever. He could also take dividends, just like Usmanov wanted (and pay not only himself, but Usmanov too from Arsenal’s money), and there’s not a thing we or the AST could do about it. So it seems far fetched to me that he’d ‘breach regulations’ for paying his company 3m. But I guess that’s naivety.

          Talking truth to power is good. But simply talking bad about someone in power has never seemed useful or constructive to me.

          1. “Talking truth to power is good. But simply talking bad about someone in power has never seemed useful or constructive to me.”
            The poor performances of Kroenke’s U.S. teams speak for themselves.

          2. I only follow the NBA (and not religiously) and all I can say is that the Denver Nuggets went from being terrible to actually being competitive and making the playoffs, after Kroenke took over. They’ve been on a downturn of late but that’s just the swings of the game in the US. Especially for a small market team.

            Now with the Rams moving back to LA, I reckon we’ll see them do much better, though maybe not as dramatically quickly as people seem to want.

            Kroenke apparently doesn’t put in a lot of money to chase glory. In the US, I guess I can understand why that’s frustrating. But in the context of European football and Arsenal, that’s how we operate and have operated throughout.

            As far as I can tell not being an Abramovich (who himself is reducing his bankrolling – see Conte complaining about the transfer market) , seems to be his biggest crime among his detractors, along with not sacking Arsene Wenger. Not sure how that makes him a terrible owner. I think he’s been a responsible owner because I like Arsenal’s model of self sustaining football business (and not just out of a moral sense. I don’t believe in free lunches)

    2. 1. Yes he takes money out of the club, or at least did once. But his overall goal, which I have stated several times, is the growth of the club. This will happen regardless of the team he fields because the League is in a phase of explosive growth. I would even go one step further: a team of English players at a top club would be insanely valuable – look at Tottenham.
      2. I was the one who wrote the article back in 2012 that Arsenal need to spend 100m pounds on the squad to just get level with the big spenders that was 5 years ago and I can say definitively that they have only widened the gap in that time. The gap is basically insurmountable unless we get an owner who is willing to spend a billion pounds on transfers. We are never going to compete with Man U and Manc or even Chelsea, much less PSG, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. Not financially anyway.
      3. Yep, and they got that entirely wrong. If the Premier League was like it was in 2001 when they started the stadium project, it would have been a good idea. Now, it’s additional revenue of what 20m pounds? Is a joke.
      4. Depends. Look again at Tottenham. Because these are British kids they have a lot less pressure. Also the fans are extremely forgiving young players, especially young British players. Look at Rob Holding. Holding isn’t good enough to be in this Arsenal team and yet if I say that people freak the fuck out “give him a chance” etc. Look at how much time Theo Walcott has had, Wilshere, Ramsey, Iwobi, etc. The players who get the blame are the expensive ones. The foreigners.

      1. 2. Kroenke isn’t the guy who’s going to spend like that, but even if he wanted to, there’s no way he’s going to put in his own money when 30% of any ‘reward’ is going to go to someone else. Until you have an outright owner I don’t think that happens.

        3. I don’t know man. I mean you’re right that it isn’t much more revenue, and yet Spurs are just spending 800m or so on redeveloping, and Chelsea and Liverpool have been looking to renovate or build new grounds for years. I think it raises the valuations of the clubs if nothing else, and probably brings in more commercial revenue.

      2. Of course, Arsenal can’t compete in the transfer market with Man United or City, but it doesn’t help to spend less than Spurs, who are making less money than Arsenal.
        I completely agree with Tottenham as a great model for Arsenal in terms of transfer activity and squad balance, although their payroll structure will probably implode under pressure from other clubs (i.e. the Rose saga). The big difference is that Arsenal’s youth project had a greater number of youngsters than Pochettino’s current squad. Spurs’ current blend of youngsters and seasoned players is more balanced. Also Pochettino has a more solid spine than Arsenal’s 2007-12 squad. Lloris, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Dembele, Eriksen are more reliable than Almunia, Gallas, Toure, Flamini and Rosicky.

  8. I’d like to see some youthful experiments to see if we can get the midfield balance right. Tough to experiment in that area, but we need the help there and the current starters and obvious choices don’t match up well.

    Alexis and Ozil are obvious starters — unless/until they take themselves out of the equation.

  9. I think we need to supplement our transfer activity with some academy products. One of the main reasons for the failure of the youth project was the lack of experienced heads when things went sour. We don’t have to do that now. We have good players in the academy and we have money in the bank. Let’s find a balance to use them both wisely.

    I am curious to see how we play if we switch to a 4-3-3 with AMN joining Ramsey and Xhaka in midfield. Even with 3 at the back, we always seem to have one of the central defenders playing further up anyway.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing more of Nketiah either. He looked good even on his misses. Just those little things like dropping the shoulder, step overs, beating a defender with his speed.. made such a difference in the game. I would say he has earned more game time. We are going to win our Europa League group. I can’t think of a better chance to give him more minutes.

  10. Our stated goal at this point (by Gazidis) is to have one academy player get into the first team every 2 years.

    A few years ago Wenger said that we aim to have 65% of our squad as homegrown.

    The club has made upgrades in the youth training facilities and of course there’s been major personnel upheaval in the last 3 years or so.

    Project Youth was a marketing spiel because we couldn’t afford any major transfers at the time (afford is a difficult word to agree on, but under our basis of operation I think that’s correct)

    But bringing through youngsters has always been one of the goals of the club and the manager. It is something that (most) fans appreciate and look forward to. But I don’t think we’re going to go all out youth again. Because we don’t need to. We have the money to bring in some Grade B+ or A- stars, and of course can aim to get players in before they hit the big time (Like we almost did with Mbappe)

    It’s good to see youth players being given a chance. Implicit in that is that they are good enough to be given a chance. This season, I think we’ve had 7 players make their first team debuts. Which isn’t the be all and end all of course, because it’s how they do going ahead, but it’s certainly a good sign.

  11. Good to see young players getting the experience that will be required…they are now in the mix at a young age. Nothing beats that . Experience will allow them to rise to the occasions.

  12. Weird game.

    Our second string team — which included internationals from the France and Egypt starting XI — looked on about the same level, quality-wise, as Norwich.

    For their goal, our centre-back, Elneny, was upfield in central midfield. I don’t know why Wenger plays him there, except perhaps to ensure that he gets game time. He wasn’t even on the bench for the Everton game. What’s the tactical logic? None to me, except that he wanted to assess both Jack and Coquelin, and three into two can’t go.

    Yet the single biggest moment of quality came from Nketiah. A smallish, slight lad, outjumping and outmuscling two big, thickset, traditional English centre halves for his headed goal. That was awesome. Giroud would be proud.

    Nketiah seems to have that good arrogance and self-belief that served his idol, Thierry, so well. Loved his goal celebrations.

    No one else on the Arsenal team really stood out.

  13. Why have Monaco and Dortmund had so much success with kids? Is it buying or coaching? I would argue that buying well is probably more important and that it’s often less about ‘buying’ than about enticing the player to sign. Salary plays a role, but well advised promising young players choose based on what will be best for their long term career. Yes quality coaching, matters, but the most important factor is the likelihood of getting first team playing time.

    Giving very young players time requires being able to tolerate their mistakes. I’m not sure that’s possible at Arsenal anymore. I don’t think the fans have the patience and I think the league is too competitive to get into the CL without having a team with mostly finished product.

    Would you sign up for four years of 5th to 12th place finishes for a 20% chance at developing home grown elite talent that wins the league?

    1. For Monaco, the key to their success is a mix of scouting and coaching. They have a great scouting network to sign young players. Mendy, Sidibe, Bakayoko, Mbappe, Lemar, Bernardo Silva learned their trade in the academy of other clubs. Then Jardim did a great job to develop them as top professionals. Also the French league is relatively weak compared to the Premier League, the Spanish Liga and the Bundesliga. There’s only one big club (PSG), so there’s more room for error.

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