The final installment in the series is here, and today we will be taking a look at the forwards of Arsene Wenger’s youth project.
THE ORIGINAL YOUTH PROJECT
Jeremie Aliadiere (2001-2007)
Currently - Lorient
Aliadiere is one of the most highly rated players, at Arsenal, who unfortunately never even fulfilled half his potential. Bought in from France’s famed Clairefontaine academy, aged just 16, he spent 8 years at Arsenal, 2 of which were on loan elsewhere, and managed just above 50 appearances and 9 goals. He spent time on loan at Celtic, where he rarely played; West Ham, where he was perenially injured; and Wolves, where he managed little game time. Arsenal ended his misery and moved him on to Middlesbrough, and he would return to the Emirates and score a league goal, but that was as good as it got. 12 goals and 85 games later, Boro released him. He returned to Arsenal briefly to regain fitness, and on the suggestion of Arsene Wenger, returned to France with Lorient.
Jose Antonio Reyes (2004-2007)
Currently - Sevilla
Reyes was one of the biggest arrivals in North London for quite some time, when he arrived for £10.5 million, as a starry 21 year old from Sevilla. He had pace, great control and an amazing shot. He had become a crowd favorite within months of his arrival, and he had forged an understanding already with Thierry Henry. His second season started in blistering fashion, but form and confidence slowly waned. Rumors of him being homesick began to percolate, and he was even quoted in Spanish media as not being happy at Arsenal. He did get the FA Cup winner’s medal, despite being sent off in the final. A year later, he was a peripheral in the squad, featuring prominently only in the Champions League run to the final. After being involved in a racism row, where the Spanish coach Luis Aragones tried to motivate Reyes by telling him he is better than Thierry Henry, whom he referred degradingly as ‘black shit’, he was loaned to Real Madrid, with Julio Baptista coming this way. He won the league with Real, scoring twice in the final game of the season, which was pivotal in the winning the league title. He moved permanently to Atletico, Real’s cross town rivals. However, he didn’t score a single goal all season, prompting them to sell him to Benfica. He regained his touch and form and returned to Atletico, and helped them win the Europa League twice. After falling further behind in the pecking order, he moved back to where he started, Sevilla.
Trophies won since leaving (6) – La Liga 2006-2007, Intertoto Cup 2007, Portugese League Cup 2008-2009, Europa League 2009-2010, UEFA Super Cup 2010, Europa League 2011-2012
Robin van Persie (2004-2012)
Currently - Manchester United
Ah, where do I start off with? The injuries, the ill-discipline, that one miraculous season or betrayal? Robin van Persie will always be an enigma to most Arsenal fans. He arrived from Feyenoord in 2004, and was touted as the replacement for legend Dennis Bergkamp. And, there were plenty of signs early on. An Arsenal fan as a child, he scored 10 goals in his first season at the club, 2 of which came in the FA Cup semi-final. Injuries would mar his next 3 seasons, but when he was fit, he was always a threat. 33 goals over 3 years, was replaced with 20 in the 2008-2009 campaign, including some memorable goals against Chelsea and Liverpool. Other goals worth remembering are a flying volley against Charlton and an equalizer against Manchester United. Injury worries came back and he managed only 19 games the following season. He would only come back strong at the end of the 2010/2011 season, when he managed 22 goals in 33 games, including a near impossible goal against Barcelona. The coming season, was when Robin really burst to life. With Fabregas and Nasri sold, van Persie was made captain, and he repaid the faith with 37 goals all season, 30 of which came in the league, and helped the club secure 3rd spot. His importance to Arsenal was such, he started 37 out of 38 league games, and what’s more he won several games single handedly. Alas, that was that. In one of the most shocking moves of the transfer window, van Persie moved to eternal rivals Manchester United for £24 million, after revealing that he won’t be signing a new contract at Arsenal.
Emmanuel Adebayor (2005-2009)
Currently - Tottenham Hotspur
The lanky Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor arrived at Arsenal from Monaco, a complete unknown for as little as £3 million in January 2005. Erratic, rusty, and unpolished, when he arrived, he managed 4 goals in his first 6 months at the club. With Thierry Henry out injured for most of the next season, Adebayor’s role became more important. He shared goal scoring responsibilities with Robin van Persie and captain Gilberto Silva, ending with 12 of his own. The 2007-2008 season was when he really shined. Injury worries to van Persie meant Adebayor usually plied as the lone striker, and he repaid the faith with 30 goals, 24 in the league, as the club narrowly missed out on the league title. These included goals against Tottenham, Manchester United and AC Milan. Despite being linked with big money moves elsewhere, he decided to stay. He scored 16 goals and assisted a further 7, as Arsenal narrowly missed out on more silverware. Rumors of him being unsettled began to arise, and eventually, after a long saga, he made a £25 million switch to Manchester City. He became Public Enemy No. 1 of Arsenal fans, when in a league game, he stamped van Persie deliberately on the face, and celebrated a goal by running the entire length of the pitch, in front of travelling Arsenal fans. He never really settled at City, and was loaned to Real Madrid in January 2010, scoring 8 goals in the process. He further became a hate figure to Arsenal fans, when he joined Tottenham on loan. His 18 goals and 12 assists weren’t enough to help Sp*rs finish above Arsenal and end up playing in the Champions League. He signed a permanent deal in the summer.
Trophies won since leaving (1) – Copa del Rey 2010-2011
Nillas Bendtner (2004-)
Currently - Juventus (loan)
The self proclaimed greatest striker to have ever walked the face of the earth, Niklas Bendtner arrived at Arsenal aged just 17. Impressing in the reserves, he moved to Birmingham City on loan, and was one of their main players, scoring 13 and assisting 9, in one season in the Championship. He was offered a new contract, and he duly signed. He would score the fastest goal any sub would ever score, when he headed in against Sp*rs, 1.8 seconds after coming on. He did have disciplinary issues though, when he had an on pitch fight with Adebayor. He scored several vital late goals for Arsenal, against Aston Villa, Dynamo Kiev, Bolton, Hull City etc. He was infamously pictured outside a night club, with his pants down, after a loss to Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final. He scored a total of 27 goals during 2008 to 2010. While this included strikes against Barcelona, Porto, Tottenham et al, they also included howlers of games against Roma, Liverpool and Barca again. A season later, and he was off to Sunderland for a year’s loan. He managed 8 goals in an injury marred season. After revealing to media, he did not have a future at the club, he moved to Italian champions Juventus on a year’s loan. (Apologies for the constant usage of the term ‘he’!)
Eduardo da Silva (2007-2010)
Currently - Shakhtar Donetsk
Brazilian born Croatian international is another player, whom many Arsenal fans can ponder what could have been. Having signed from Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb in 2007, he was tipped to replace the mercurial Thierry Henry. Naturally gifted, he made most of his opportunities in the cups. He even managed an audacious goal at Eastlands against Manchester City. But then, tragedy struck. Read Martin Taylor. The Birmingham midfielder clattered into Eduardo during a league game, dislocating his ankle, in an horrendous incident, which wasn’t even shown on TV later. He missed a year’s action because of this. On his return, he scored twice against Cardiff City in an FA Cup game, and played sporadically till the end of the season. The following season was a struggle, though. Eduardo, clearly not the same managed only 7 goals all season, and was even dragged into a diving accusation in a Champions League qualifier against Celtic. He transferred to Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer of 2010.
Trophies won since leaving (4) – Ukraine Premier League 2010-2011, Ukraine Premier League 2011-2012, Ukraine FA Cup 2011-2012, Ukraine Super Cup 2012
Carlos Vela (2005-2012)
Currently - Real Soceidad
Mexican striker Carlos Vela joined Arsenal after he won the Golden Boot at the U-17 World Cup. Work permit issues meant he had to spend time on loan elsewhere. He moved to Salamanca, a second division Spanish club and then Osasuna the following season. On his return to Arsenal, he featured heavily in cup games, and his chipped goals were talked all around. On his first full match, he managed to score a hat-trick, against Sheffield United in the League Cup. Chances were limited though, and he moved to West Brom on loan in January 2010. He moved back to Spain, this time another loan move to Real Soceidad, and enjoyed a prolific season, scoring 12 and assisting 8. He made his move permanent in the summer for £6 million.
THE OTHERS WHO FAILED TO MAKE A MARK
Anthony Stokes joined Arsenal, aged just 15, and made his way up the ranks. He was loaned to Falkirk in the SPL, and proved to be a revelation, scoring 16 times in just 18 games. He moved to Sunderland, then under Roy Keane, but failed to make any sort of impact in his first season. He played on loan at Sheffield United and Crystal Palace the following season and then moved to Hibernian permanently. His form reignited and he netted 22 times in 40 league games, prompting Celtic to move for him. He has been a regular for the Scottish champions, scoring 40 goals over the last two seasons.
Trophies won since leaving (2) – Scottish Cup 2010-2011, Scottish Premier League 2011-2012
Arturo Lupoli at one time was hailed a young goalscoring machine. Well, he did managed a cartload of goals with Arsenal reserves, scoring over 25 goals in the 2004-2005 season with the reserves. He also managed a few goals in the Carling Cup over two seasons. He was loaned to Championship Derby County, scoring 7 goals in the league. He was released by Arsenal, and moved to Fiorentina, who quickly loaned him to Treviso. He then turned out for Norwich City and then Sheffield United, before moving to Ascoli on a partnership agreement. He now plays for Serie B club Grosseto.
Luke Freeman was a highly sought after youngster, but he chose Arsenal aged just 15. in 2008, when he moved from Gillingham, after becoming the youngest player ever to appear in an FA Cup tie. He had a good time with the Reserves over the next 2 years, scoring goals consistently, and was loaned to Yeovil Town, to get more playing time. He then moved to League One side Stevenage, and signed on a permanent basis during the close season.
Rhys Murphy came in from Wimbledon’s famous academy to Arsenal, aged just 14, and was a consistent goalscorer at Academy and Reserve level. He enjoyed loan spells at Brentford and Preston North End, before moving to Dutch Second Division side Telstar permanently during the summer.
Giles Sunu is one among many who has benefited from the partnership between Arsenal and Lorient. Having arrived in 2009, and impressing early on with the Reserves, he moved to Derby County on loan, and then to Lorient, before signing permanently with the French side.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was a versatile forward, and who could have done well at the club, if given some more time. Having signed professionally only in 2008, he made only 5 senior appearances in 2 years, before spending times on loan at Blackpool, Doncaster Rovers and Cardiff City. He then signed for Ipswich permanently last summer.
Jay Simpson is an Islington born and bred boy who came through Arsenal’s youth systems. He even has the distinction of being the first player to score a hattrick at the Emirates Stadium, when he netted one in an Youth Cup match in 2007. Loan spells at Millwall, West Brom and QPR followed. He enjoyed a good season at QPR, and moved to Hull City, but poor form again struck, and he is now at Millwall on loan.
Rui Fonte arrived in 2006 from Portugal’s famed Sporting Club de Portugal academy, and signed professional terms two year later. He made only 1 appearance, and was loaned to Crystal Palace on a short term. However, at the end of it, he was back at Sporting CP. Since, then has played for Vitoria Setubal and risen through the ranks at Espanyol, before signing for the latter on a permanent deal.
THE ONES THAT STAYED
Theo Walcott (2005-)
Walcott is now one of the squads most senior members in terms of years at the club. Having signed in January 2005, for £5 million, aged only 16, from Southampton, shunning interest from Chelsea and Manchester United, he was hailed as the next big thing in English football. He made his debut in the first game at the Emirates, to set up the first Arsenal goal at the new stadium, and scored his first Arsenal goal in the League Cup final, which Chelsea won 2-1. Walcott featured more the following season, and set up Emmanuel Adebayor in games against Liverpool and AC Milan in the Champions League, where his blistering pace blew away oppositions. He was handed the 14 shirt, worn previously by Thierry Henry, and was now a regular starter on the right wing. Though overall his season was average, he did score a couple of memorable goals against Fenerbahce and Villarreal in the Champions League. Injury marred his next campaign, but he enjoyed a fine 2010/11 season, netting 13 goals and assisting 9. He even drew praise from Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi, after a game against the Catalans, which Arsenal won 2-1. He had his most productive campaign last term, with 11 goals and 13 assists, yet was at the receiving end of frustrations’ of Arsenal fans, who feel he has barely shown improvement since his arrival. While the jury is still out on that, it is clear that Walcott wants to play centrally, and probably will shine, if it happens.
THE NEW BREED
Sanchez Watt (2009-)
A striker, who can ply as a winger, Sanchez Watt is one with huge potential. Having impressed for the Youth and Reserves sides, he has been on loan over the last 3 years at Southend United, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Crawley Town and could yet have a future with Arsenal.
Benik Afobe (2010-)
Highly rated Benik Afobe looks set to break into the first team at Arsenal in the coming seasons. A strongly built and pacy striker, he has impressed at all youth levels for the club, winning the Arsenal U-18 Player of the Season in 2010. He has spent time on loan at Huddersfield, Reading and more recently to Bolton, in the footsteps of Jack Wilshere and Ryo Miyaichi, before him.
Ryo Miyaichi (2010-)
Ryodinho was plucked from a high school tournament and offered a trial with Arsenal. Having impressed the boss, he was signed, but was unable to gain a work permit. He was loaned to Dutch side Feyenoord, where he impressed the Dutch media, who branded him as the Japanese Messi. He returned to Arsenal to appear twice in the League Cup, and was loaned to Bolton in January for the rest of the season. Owen Coyle spoke highly about the player, and wished to have him back on loan this season, but Arsenal chose to send him to Wigan, where he can compete at a Premier League level. Miyaichi surely has his best days ahead of him.
Wellington Silva (2011-)
Highly rated, Arsenal had applied for a ‘Special Talent’ work permit for Brazilian youngster Wellington Silva, signed from Fluminense, which was initially accepted and then rejected. A pacy and skillful forward, who can play as a winger, he has spent time on loan at Levante and Ponferradina.
Highly skillful Ivorian forward Gervinho was signed from Lille for £11 million last season, and has had a mixed first season. While there is no doubting his talent, there have been questions raised about his composure in front of goal. In Lille, he scored 36 goals and supplied 16 assists in 2 seasons, helping them to a league title, in 2011. So, while the talent is there, it will take some time to shine. He assisted 8 times last season, but the African Cup of Nations seemed to have taken its toll on the youngster.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (2011-)
By far, Arsenal’s hottest young prospects, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has had an eventful year since joining the club. Built, literally like an ox, but with the pace of a Ferrari, he is set to light the Premiership. Signed from Southampton last season for £12 million, he was thrown to the lions at the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford. But, his performances over the course of the season, especially against big teams like AC Milan and Manchester United have been impressive. He ended the campaign with 4 goals and 3 assists.
Joel Campbell (2011-)
Costa Rican international Joel Campbell has a plethora of Youtube videos devoted to him, but hopefully, we shall see the best of him next season, when he will be handed a work permit to play for Arsenal. Signed from Costa Rican giants Saprissa, he first came to the fore with his 6 goal tally in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in 2011. He spent a year on loan at Lorient, and is now at Betis, to gain further experience.
So, do you think Arsenal have been right in letting some players go? I always love having opinions. So, do share yours. Also take part in the following poll.
If you missed it, here’s the first part of the series, covering goalkeepers, and defenders of the youth project!
And, here’s the part, covering the midfielders!
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