I’m very lucky, because I’ve had the opportunity to look at Arsenal’s academy where the England team train and their work is incredibly good. It’s a very important example for the other English academies. Arsenal’s academy is the perfect example of how young players should be brought along at all European clubs, – Fabio Capello in 2009
The Arsenal academy has been praised many times for the coaching ethic, playing philosophy and tactical consistency that is imposed from youth team to senior level. The Academy was set up professionally in 1998 and competed every year since then, the success it has achieved is commendable with 5 League titles and 2 FA Youth Cups. The structure of the Academy has been altered but now is consistent with how an elite club should run:
Arsenal’s academy is run as consistently as possible with the first team. Any long term tactical changes that the senior team experience, the reserve and youth teams will change accordingly. An example of this is the change in formation from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 with the first team, the benefit of not giving the coaches the freedom to devise their own formations is if a player(s) were to get promoted and play in the senior side, the tactical consistency will enable them to adjust and adapt quicker to the level of football.
Arsenal are usually quite consistent in the treat of each individual players, the ages in which they are promoted and when they are ready to make pre-season trips as well as first team appearances. However anyone who is familiar with the inner workings of academy/youth football will know the basic rule; not every player will make it. Arsenals academy system is no different, their teams are usually structured in a way in order to get the best out of the most promising talents. That rule is applied across every academy in the world. Every now and then, you get a crop of players where 4 or 5 will make it, however, these occurrences are rare. The difference between the Arsenal academy now and the one before is the production of better players due to young players being coached better at an earlier age. Due to rules changing to allow more contact time as well as a change in philosophy to encourage even more emphasis on possession, each player that is coming out of the Arsenal academy is already technically adept regardless of position. Around the ages of 17 is when judgement is made by Arsene to see whether the player is ready to make the step up from academy level to reserve team level, Jack Wilshere is a prime example of such a jump at a young age. Upon promotion is the player is able to cope with the increasing physical demands and continues to improve the technical and tactical aspect of his game, then consideration is taken on whether the player should be trained with the first team, usually it is at this stage where league cup appearances are made.
Arsenal’s production of talent is not only dependant on their own academy; the level of competition that they face is ever increasing by the growing culture in youth football. More and more academies are being revamped and producing better players, therefore the change in the reserve system to an age restricted under-21 league (with 3 players allowed to be over per match day) gives greater inspection to young talent that are competing against one another, a nice touch is that every now and again the team must play in the senior teams main stadium. This benefit of this is it gives the players the experience of playing in a big stadium as well as better pitch conditions; it also gives the fans a chance to see and cheer the stars of tomorrow. However the greatest inclusion to youth football is the NextGen Series. It is in simple terms the Champions League of youth football and allows the best academy teams to compete against one another. Arsene Wenger has said of the competition “I will watch every single game because I want to see what the other clubs have, what is going on, and if there is some evolution with the young players. People don’t realise that the most important thing is to keep in touch with the top level, and the top level in Europe is NextGen. It is the Champions League for youth and that is interesting. What is also interesting is that it contains some good information. France is good in youth-team work, Spain is very good in youth-team work – if you look at the trophies those two countries have won in the last 15 years you will be absolutely amazed. So for us to be confronted with those clubs who have a reputation of having good youth-team work, like Marseille or Athletic Bilbao, is fantastic.”
Among the current graduates there are a few who are tipped to become a success at Arsenal, players such as Akpom, Martinez, Olsson, Aneke, Eisfield and Gnabry are all involved in the current under 21 league. Should luck be on their side and work hard, they’ll join the current academy graduates in the first team: Sczcesney, Djourou, Gibbs, Coquelin, Frimpong and Wilshere.