Arsenal eye up the next Bukayo Saka, the next Emile Smith-Rowe, the next Ashley Cole…


Look. I know that the sexier headlines focus on the Prem-proven, top-shelf signings like Rice or Havertz, but we have to walk and chew gum at the same time. Need I remind you that one of our best performers of the last season was a Hale End product, one Bukayo Saka, who set the Prem alight? The season before that, he was joined by Emile Smith-Rowe, another Hale End boy who was eviscerating and sluicing until a groin injury sidelined him. As enticing as it is to see us beating the likes of Man City and Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to sign top talent, we’d be remiss to overlook the yoots. Let’s talk.

The big news focuses on Ethan Nwaneri. The sixteen year old just committed his near-future to the club, signing scholarship forms and agreeing to a professional deal when he turns 16 in March 2024. The lad became the youngest player in Prem history by coming on against as a sub against Brentford back in September, aged just 15. He’s shown impressive technical ability, close control and clean finishing along with bursts of acceleration and a mind for reading the game well beyond his years. In keeping with Arteta’s desire for players who can play across a wide range of nominal positions, Nwaneri has played the #10 role, as a left-sided #8 (DM), and as a centre-forward, thriving in each of them.

Looking beyond him, the future looks bright enough that one might want to invest in and perhaps even wear shades. There’s Myles Lewis-Skelley, another wunderkind who is doing things that Jack Wilshere (another wunderkind in his own right) said “you can’t coach”. Lewis-Skelley shows an almost Cazorla-esque quickness on the ball, a deceptive acceleration and ability to manipulate the ball with either foot to navigate tight spaces. Like Nwaneri, he’s shown some positional adaptability, offering echoes of Zinchenko’s inverted left-back/midfield role. Beyond that, he’s shown some comfort, maybe even confidence, in the #6 role, similar to the role that Xhaka or Ramsey have played .

Then, there’s Amario Cozier-Duberry, a somewhat raw (but therefore very exciting) talent who reminds Wilshere of Saka. I’ll let Wilshere explain: “he reminds me of Bukayo Saka, plays in the same position as him, needs to get better with his decision-making like Bukayo did, but he’s definitely exciting. In some moments he’s unplayable. You give him the ball and he can make things happen. You can set up a team and have a game plan, but when you’ve got individuals like that you’ve got a chance.” Despite his youth, Arteta threw him on against Juventus in a club friendly back in December 2022. The kid impressed with his ability to keep possession but also take his man on to break into the box and cross.

These three are just the tip of the iceberg and, more importantly, a reminder that clubs can go beyond simply renting the best players on the market on five-year deals. Clubs can also identify young talents and train them up, building a culture and an ethos that money can’t buy. I’m not promising that any of these three will break into the first team. Who knows what the future holds for any of them? All I’m saying is that this club is looking beyond the here and now, looking to the future, looking to who will be the next Starboy, the next Jack-Jack, the next…?

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5 thoughts on “Arsenal eye up the next Bukayo Saka, the next Emile Smith-Rowe, the next Ashley Cole…

  1. Palladio43

    Great, we n, is eed not spend any more money on players now. All we need is to develop or purchase a Tardis (hopefully, you all know what that is). Then we go out 3 or more years into the future, grab these lads, bring them back to 2023, add them to the squad, and win everything for several years.
    The only concern, assuming our Tardis belongs and is operated by Dr Who, is if MU, City, Chelsea, or, worse yet, Spurs, buy or use the services or Tardis of The Master.

  2. consolsbob

    I hope that some of them, one of them, develop into a first team starter. Also that some of them become assets for sale. Very few ‘big’ clubs bring through more than a sprinkling of promising youngsters to their starting eleven. There have been so many hoped for ‘stars’ at Arsenal over the years. Where are they now? Not many playing in the EPL.

    Some clubs, addicted to bright shiny objects, prefer to spend ‘big’. Youth prospects become cash assets, destined to reach their playing maturity elsewhere, very often in the lower leagues. After all, the EPL is an elite league, there just isn’t room for all those young talents to find a spot. Most will always fall by the wayside. Teams take top and proven talent from all over the world.

    Arsenal have been quite exceptional in developing young players into starters in recent years. I suspect that that will not continue in the same way. We can hope for maybe one of those you mention coming through statistically.

    However, Chelsea, for all their failings, have made considerable money from their Academy by selling well when young stars find their way blocked internally. We can do the same.

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      Interesting that you mention Chelsea as an example (they have been quite good at this of late) as they’re the current destination of one of our own academy products: Omari Hutchinson. Sure, he moved on a free, but it highlights your point – not all academy players will play for their parent club. The sentimental side of me would love to see the first team chock-full of Hale End boys. There’s a lot of hype and expectation built up around the likes of Patino and Balogun, but for every Saka there’s a Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, for every Smith-Rowe there’s an Ainsley Maitland-Niles. For every one of those, there are dozens who never get a glimpse at first team action. Then, there are those who get a lot of action but get sold, occasionally at a decent fee – Gnabry, Willock, Martinez, Iwobi…

      By the way, I’m surprised at myself for leaving off Wilshere, whom I quoted in this post.

      It’s not often that a young player cuts the mustard, but it’s great to see it when it happens. Despite our new-found financial flexing, youth development is a symbolic but also vital link to an older, perhaps quainter way of building a squad.

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