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Young guns helping Arsenal fire

Young guns helping Arsenal fire

FOOTBALL: Alan Hansen once famously derided Alex Ferguson’s decision to trust in youth at Manchester United before the class of ’92 went onto achieve greatness at Old Trafford.

FootballPremier-League
By Ben Tirebuck

Saturday 1 January 2022, 11:45AM


Bukayo Saka wheels away to celebrate after scoring the opening goal against Norwich last Sunday (Dec 26). Photo: AFP

Bukayo Saka wheels away to celebrate after scoring the opening goal against Norwich last Sunday (Dec 26). Photo: AFP

Nobody at the Emirates Stadium is getting too carried away yet but there is evidence there could very well be a similar youth revolution occurring at Arsenal.

Last Sunday’s (Dec 26) comfortable 5-0 victory against Norwich was the Gunners’ fourth Premier League win in a row which saw them, at time of press, in fourth place in the table and going into the daunting contest with leaders Manchester City in confident mood later today (Jan 1).

The results are testiment to manager Mikel Arteta’s convictions in his man-management skills, team’s identity and willingness to trust in youth which is clearly paying dividends.

Arsenal have had the youngest average starting XI in the English top flight so far this term at 24 years. Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who has regularly belied his young age with some exceptionally mature performances this season, is only 23, while ahead of him in defense Gabriel and Ben White are both aged 24 and Takehiro Tomiyasu is 23.

In midfield, 23-year-old Martin Odegaard is finally showing the form that saw him transfered to Real Madrid as a 15-year-old and next to him is Albert Sambi Lokonga, 22, who has already been compared to Vincent Kompany.

Two academy products, Bukayo Saka, 20, and Emile Smith Rowe, 21, have arguably been the Gunners best outfield players this term, something not lost on the manager who himself came through the famed La Masia academy at Barcelona.

“I was living at La Masia – it was a bedroom of eight,” Arteta told The Guardian recently.

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“I had Pepe Reina, Víctor Valdés, Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol… What I learned was that internally there was competition: we were all at the same age and wanted to be first-team players but could not all get there. But what I learned as well was within that competition you understand that you have to look after each other. That was a big, big lesson in that period for me.

“Some of them are still my best friends because it is tough and you go through important, key moments in your career and it stays for life. Those relationships are unbreakable.”

Smith-Rowe’s rise has been unexpected yet smooth although Saka endured a testing time after his penalty miss saw England lose the Euro 2020 final against Italy and a torrent of unpalatable racial abuse come his way.

“What I see is a young boy with incredible enthusiasm and passion for this club,” Arteta said in reference to Saka. “I see it in others too. They are really willing to bring success and they are dealing with a lot of difficult situations in a great way.”

So much so that the absence of captain and senior talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, frozen out by the uncompromising Arteta after a series of disciplinary issues, has not been felt in recent weeks.

Brazilian striker Gabriel Martinelli, 20, has stepped in, performed brilliantly and suggested he has a definite future in the role, whether Aubameyang is welcomed back into the fold or not.

Arteta has confirmed he plans to strengthen during the January transfer window but for now is clearly delighted that his young guns are continuing to shine and fire the Gunners up the table.

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