In particular, Merida was likened to Cesc Fabregas, with some (ambitious) Arsenal fans believing that he would step up, and replace Fabregas if Cesc left for Barca. It was Merida who left the club though, for free, to become a substitute on the Atletico Madrid bench. Despite Merida ultimately not living up to expectations, other Arsenal youngsters have made the breakthrough recently. Aaron Ramsey was proving integral to Arsenal’s campaign last season, before a horrific injury, and enjoyed a successful loan spell at Nottingham Forest earlier this season, and captaining his country against England. Jack Wilshere has undergone a rapid rise to prominence, starring against the best club team in the world, as well as internationally. Theo Walcott had a spectacular start to the season, before a few injury niggles came in. Gael Clichy and Alexandre Song are both also graduates of Arsenal’s academy. There is a reason why the Arsenal academy is widely renowned worldwide.
The star at Arsenal has to be Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. JET, as he is known, has long been held in high regard, and first stole the limelight in 2009, as he captained and inspired Arsenal to a 6-2 aggregate victory over Liverpool’s highly rated academy (winners in 2006 and 2007). Emmanuel-Thomas has the engine, the pace, the power and the energy to become one of the best players in the world. He is versatile (he has played everywhere in midfield and attack), and aggressive in his play. He has been likened to his name sake Adebayor and fellow Africans Drogba and Essien. He seems to have settled up front, where his dribbling skills are extremely highly rated, even in a place like Arsenal. A fantastic solo goal against Everton, where he made a mockery of two defenders attests to this. Jay Emmanuel –Thomas has all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League, and will probably feature prominently in the next two seasons.
It is not particularly hard to improve on Arsenal’s current goalkeeping situation, and you would be hard-pressed to make a man look more desperate than Arsene Wenger did in begging 40 year old Jens Lehmann to return to the North London club (Lehmann consequently had a shocker in his first game back, conceding two cheap goals as Arsenal reserves went down 2-1, but it’s hardly surprising). Vito Mannone, who started a few games last season and Wojiech Szczesny who has started 8 premier league games this season have both been touted as future number 1s in the Arsenal line up. Mannone has yet to lose a game as an Arsenal player, which seems very encouraging, and Szczesny seems to have Wenger’s support currently. Both have all the goalkeeping skills to be successful in the Arsenal first team, but as with all Arsenal goalkeepers after David Seaman, it remains to be seen if they can hold it together mentally.
Armand Traore, currently out on loan at Juventus, and Kieran Gibbs both battle for the left back spot. Gibbs has been highlighted by pundits and fans alike as a potential England left back, and could easily stake a claim for the first team left back spot if Wenger decides Clichy’s inadequacy at the back is too much to compensate for his attacking skills. Traore can also play left wing, but he seems to have fallen out of favour at Arsenal. Given a run in the team due to injuries to Gibbs and Clichy, he had a mixed run of performances, and has been sent out on loan, to Portsmouth and Juventus, both season long. Traore probably won’t make the grade at Arsenal, but his pace and attacking instincts would make him a worthwhile acquisition elsewhere in the Premier League.
Other notable players in the academy include Craig Eastmond, who was handed his Arsenal debut away to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, Gilles Sunu scored the equaliser for France in their 2-1 win against Spain in the U-20 World Cup Final, and Ryo Myaichi whose blistering pace (he has been clocked running the 100m in 10.84 seconds) has made him a star on loan at Feyenoord. Arsenal’s youth system is alive and thriving, and they will see the rewards soon enough.