Are Arsenal ignoring their youth stars?

Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith 16 Nov 2021 18:45 CET 4 min read
Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah

With Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka arguably Arsenal's two most influential players, it would appear foolish to suggest that the Gunners' Hale End academy graduates aren't getting a chance, but dig a little deeper and that might be the case.

Now, both Smith Rowe and Saka have become fully-fledged England internationals under Mikel Arteta's coaching, and the club have also fielded the nine youngest starting XI's in the Premier League this season, so youth certainly isn't something missing from Arsenal's team.

In fact, a little bit of experience wouldn't go amiss right now to help guide the younger players and set an example.

Either way, Arsenal's youthful exuberance has helped arrest their slide down the table, and a top four finish now seems on the cards.

Smith Rowe, in particular, has come on leaps and bounds recently, and almost everything good that Arsenal do seems to come through him.

Deployed off the left, he's able to cut inside onto his stronger right foot and find pockets of space to execute the neat and tidy passes that have become somewhat of his trademark.

The creative hub of Arsenal's forward line, Smith Rowe has added goals to his game this campaign, while Saka is as reliable as ever off the flank.

However, while those two have accelerated into first-team stardom, a few other academy graduates can't say the same.

Folarin Balogun, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and now Eddie Nketiah have all expressed a desire to leave the club in the past 12 months.

Last season, Balogun felt he deserved more chances in the first-team, and subsequently held off signing a new deal, before eventually giving in, but he is still open to a move elsewhere.

Maitland-Niles publicly expressed his desire to leave on Instagram over the summer, saying: "All I wanna do is go where I’m wanted and where I’m gonna play," while Nketiah has joined the list of Hale End's academy stars potentially wanting to leave.

His contract expires next summer, and the early indications are that neither player nor the club are desperate for it to be renewed.

So, although Smith Rowe and Saka are obvious exceptions, are Arsenal doing enough to keep their youth stars happy?

Arteta impressed by Smith-Rowe’s response to Odegaard signing

Lack of minutes

Game time is the most valuable commodity for a football player. They all want to feature as much as possible, but so far this season, Balogun, Maitland-Niles and Nketiah simply haven't played enough to satisfy them.

If the club want them to stay, then it's something they'll have to fix.

Of course, squad rotation is key, and Balogun in particular faces a struggle to get in ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Nketiah, who should be ahead of him in the pecking order given their relative age and experience, but they all need more action.

Balogun's start in the Premier League opener against Brentford is his only league appearance this season to date, Maitland-Niles has only just come into the team due to injuries to Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey and has amassed just two league starts this term, while Nketiah is yet to play a single Premier League minute in the 2021/22 season.

All three aren't regulars, and that will have to change.

Can Arsenal do more?

Simply put, yes. They can do more, but it involves trusting young players even if it's risky. Arsenal aren't likely to seriously challenge for a trophy this season, so it's the perfect chance to blood the likes of Balogun in.

Nketiah has perhaps had his chance in the first-team, and Maitland-Niles is a seasoned professional now, but Balogun deserves a shot.

With a stellar record in youth football, including 19 goals in just over 30 games over the past two years, he would add something different to Arsenal's forward line, especially given the age profile of both Aubameyang and Lacazette.

Smith Rowe is now one of the first names on Arsenal's team sheet, but before December 2020, he wasn't given a chance in the first-team. The same could be said for these youngsters, who need an opportunity before they can explode into stars.

Arsenal have one of the best academies in England, and unlike many, they do blood these into the first-team, but there's certainly an argument to be had that says more can be done to help.