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…?