Silly season is here….run, Gooners!
At a time when online media throw names around to win the click-bait war, in a quite ridiculous crescendo that saw the Arsenal linked to Alexandr Kororin, Troy Deeney, Javier Hernandez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in deals going from £3m up to £60m, I would like to concentrate on some transfers that have been completed already but went unnoticed.
Isaac Hayden and Serge Gnabry have seen their season-long loans cut short and are back at the Club, both being unable to secure a starting place at West Bromwich Albion and Hull City, respectively. With all due respect to Jake Livermore, David Meyler, James McClean and James Morrison, our two youngsters should have been able to at least push for a place, while they remained marginal figures at the Hawthorns and at the KC Stadium.
It is true that Tony Pulis’ setup is not exactly the ideal formation to make life easy for a technical winger like Serge Gnabry, however the young German – held in such high regard by everyone at the Arsenal – should have fought a bit more for his place, and should have at least planted some doubt under the manager’s cap. It didn’t happen, Serge Gnabry was nowhere near the starting XI at West Brom.
Same goes for Isaac Hayden, whose calmness, versatility and strength have been so remarkable that some calls were made for him to get a chance with the first team, alongside Laurent Koscielny or in midfield, before Francis Coquelin’s rise.
Could such a promising youth prospect not displace any of his teammates or at least get a decent run of games at Hull City FC? The Englishman started only three games for the Tigers and has a poor total of nine appearances for Steve Bruce’s side – a very underwhelming return.
We can blame the managers and the Clubs we’be gifted our precious, extraordinary youngsters but we should start thinking how good they actually are and – more in general – how fruitful our loans have been, in recent years.
How many players, who went out on loan and came back to claim a place in the team, can you name?
There is Jack Wilshere, whose spell at Bolton was hugely beneficial; there are Johan Djourou and Nicklas Bendtner, both farmed out at Birmingham and able to make over one hundred appearances for the Gunners; there is Wojciech Szczesny, who went out to Brentford and came back to dislodge Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski and there is Alex Song, who was loaned to Charlton and forced his way into the team once he returned.
Recently, Hector Bellerín took his chance after a very, very short spell at Watford but it’s yet to be a final product, this being his first full season as an Arsenal player.
I don’t consider Francis Coquelin as a success story because his rise looks more like an accident – a positive one – than a development plan; he had spells at Lorient, Freiburg and Charlton before being rushed back due to the usual injury crisis – in the middle of another loan – and taking his chance.
Same for Joel Campbell, who is far from being an established, valued member of the team; he’s showing that he could be a long-term solution but it’s far from being considered as a first-team regular.
Who else has “made it”?
Highly-rated youngsters like Kyle Bartley, Justin Hoyte, Arturo Lupoil, Henri Lansbury, Benik Afobe, Jay-Emmanuel Thomas and Carlos Vela all went out on loan – for an entire season, or more – but never lived up to expectations and ended up either sold or released.
Will it happen with Serge Gnabry, Jon Toral, Isaac Hayden, Emiliano Martinez and even Chuba Akpom?
No-one is safe, regardless of the talent at his disposal.
It’s true that young players need a bit of luck on top of the talent, attitude and physique required to play at top level, but we struggle to reap the rewards of years spent developing players – unless we keep them, instead of opt for a loan.
Cesc Fàbregas, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott were not farmed out – with the Welshman sent to Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City for fitness reasons, only – and yet became very important players for the Club, showing that loans are not always needed to gradually introduce youngsters to the highest-level football.
When I ask myself why our brightest talents cannot break into the team and there are only two answers I came up with, so far:
1. Our loan system is very untidy, we’re not paying enough attention to who will look after our talents and how.
2. Our players are not as good as the manager and the Club make us believe.
Both options are equally frightening, if I’m being honest.
In the first case, we’re just throwing them away and hoping that something will happen; in the second case, our youth system needs an intense rework and more focus from a Club once renowned for its brilliant academy.
If you are good enough, you are old enough, Arsène Wenger often said – and the high number of loans in recent years makes me think that none of our players are good enough.
Jeff Reine-Adelaïde? Alex Iwobi? Maybe…
Which countermeasures will the Club take to change this?