WTTGT Writer: Matt Mace
“You can’t win anything with kids”. Yes, we’ve all heard the line before and every so often Alan Hansen has had to eat his words. Because the truth is these “kids”, or teenagers as others would say, are the ones who keep the senior players on their toes, challenging them for places and providing a bit of unpredictability to the team.
Arsenal are definitely one of the better teams when it comes to blooding these youngsters, and when given playing time some deliver (Parlour, Rice, Brady, Ashley Cole, George, Rocastle, Keown, Radford, Merson and Szczęsny to name more than a few) and some that haven’t (David Bentley, Jay Simpson, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie who haven’t done too badly at other clubs to be fair).
Yet here is my list of the top 5 Arsenal players to have made their debut as a teen.
178 goals, 395 games say it all really. For a player who operated on the left side of a front three, Bastin had the ability to frighten full-backs and centre-backs alike. Combine his devilishly quick feet, a knack for goals and Herbert Chapman’s revolutionary tactics and you have the reason why he is so close to the heart of so many Arsenal fans. And all of this from someone who had only played 17 times for Exeter City as a 17 year-old.
Brought into a makeshift and aging defence, just 3 months after his 17th birthday, O’Leary went on to become the club’s all-time leading appearance holder after gracing the Arsenal shirt 722 times. Known as ‘Spider’ by the players and fans for the calmness in which he distributed the ball and surged forward up the pitch, O’Leary could easily help out the current Arsenal defence (improving though it is) as his playing style matches that of manager Arsene Wenger.
Mr. Arsenal was always going to make an appearance on this list. 10 major trophies, 14 odd years as captain and 669 appearances for the club is still modest in terms of what Adams gave to the club. In my opinion he was the greatest captain the club ever had. His performances on the pitch (especially that European run in 1994) led him to England captaincy, even if there were struggles off it. Wenger also encouraged Adams to be more expansive going forward to add to his already resolute defensive attributes, summarised perfectly by that goal on the final day of the 1997/98 season.
Despite leaving for Barcelona this year there is no doubt that Fabregas was one of the most influential footballers to grace the Gunner’s dressing room in recent years. He broke records for youngest player, youngest goalscorer, youngest goalscorer in the league and the 2nd youngest scorer in Champions League history with a strike against Rosenborg. He claimed his first (and unfortunately only) major title in 2005 with a penalty shootout win over Manchester United in the F.A Cup. Easily the most creative player in the league over the last few seasons, it was fitting to see him leave on good terms with the fans after making just over 300 appearances for the club.
This one is hard to judge, or at least it should be hard to judge if it wasn’t for how influential the young Englishman has been. He was still 16 when he appeared against Blackburn in the league (breaking Fabregas’ record. A loan spell at Bolton did Wilshere the world of good as in his first full season at Arsenal he took the league, and Europe by storm. He broke into the England side. He won the PFA Young Player of the Year Award last season, as well as standing equally with the likes of Iniesta and Xavi, in a performance that manager Arsene Wenger described as outstanding. Despite little over 50 appearances for the club, I have no doubt in saying that not only will Jack not only be (providing there is no horrible consequences from his injury) a future captain of the club, and probably country, but he will go down as one of the greatest players to ever play for Arsenal and even one of the greatest players in the world.
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