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The Importance of Keeping Nelson, Smith-Rowe and Other Arsenal Youngsters At Arsenal

Drew Thompson

by: Drew Thompson

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Well…given today’s events it almost seems a futile gesture to write about anything other than Thomas Teye Partey.

The capture of the transformational Ghanaian midfielder will – hopefully – do wonders for us both on and off the pitch. A player of unquestionable world class talent that will elevate us to another level.

But in the excitement surrounding a necessary action on the part of Edu, Mikel Arteta, and the rest of the Arsenal backroom staff, bigger questions are still left unanswered. Chief amongst them, what’s to become of some of the clubs younger players that are in and around the periphery of first-team involvement.

In the case of Bukayo Saka – and in Gabriel Martinelli in some respects – Arsenal have two young players who have found their footing in the first-team. But there are a handful of others who we can perhaps speculate about their current pathways at the club.

Reiss Nelson excelled at youth level for club and country. There was never a doubt in anyones mind if he had the drive or potential to be a successful footballer at the highest level. But it’s not come off yet for the boy from Elephant and Castle.

Despite an impressive start to his loan spell in Sinsheim under Julian Nagelsmann’s guidance at Hoffenheim, Nelson was met with a myriad of obstacles that left many wanting to see more from him. He returned to us still raw, even if he was slightly more experienced in first-team matters. Since then, he’s failed to truly crack into the team, though not through any fault of his own.

Though his development has perhaps stagnated a little, the need for Arsenal to improve in short order has led to a handful of attacking signings that have offered even more competition to the English international. The acquisitions of Nicolas Pepe, Willian, and to some extent Gabriel Martinelli improves the club in its depth of talent, but increase the competition for places. Especially with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang featuring out wide.

Emile Smith Rowe, much like Nelson, is another young talent with a bright spark and potential in abundance. Serious interest from German upstarts RB Leipzig during his loan spell in Saxony was proof-positive of his growing ability, but a serious injury curtailed any serious involvement.

But it was his season-long loan to Championship-side Huddersfield last term that had the clubs former Head of Football Operations David Webb to go on record saying he felt Smith Rowe was ready for more.

The question moving into this awkward summer window for the two in question was whether or not Edu and Arteta would sort out loan deals for the pair of academy products. As deadline day has come to an end, all that is left is the October 16th cutoff point for Premier League clubs to deal with EFL clubs. However, is that truly what Arteta wants for two of his most potential-laden players? I have my doubts.

We as a fanbase have done nothing but postulate what our former midfield general wants for us as he took up his post on the touchline. In truth, we still are. Debates about if we will stick with three-at-the-back, will Auba shift centrally, is there a place for Mesut Ozil in the team; no one knows.  However, we can at least postulate, and how we are handling our talented youth is becoming more evident by the day.

Think back to when Arteta was working under Pep at City; how the blue half of Manchester handled the development of Phil Foden is showing striking similarities to how the likes of Nelson and Smith Rowe are being handled at London Colney.

Rather than subject Foden to a series of loans where too many variables where outside of their control, the now full England international was kept at the club where all variables could be controlled. Not only was he learning on a daily basis from the likes of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, and Bernardo Silva, but Pep and his staff maintained control of his education, ensuring that his development fell in line specifically with the needs of Manchester City.

This should come as no surprise, either. Both Pep and Arteta were products of La Masia; an academy specifically tailored to fit the needs of Barcelona.

Loans – though a useful tool to gauge the level of current ability a player has – can always be incredibly detrimental to how a player develops when stacked up against the needs of the parent club. For this reason, many of the best academies in Europe belong to clubs who are so heavily influenced in their ethos that constantly loaning young players out on multiple ventures is not a common practice.

Olympique Lyonnais, Paris Saint-Germain, AZ Alkmaar, Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Dynamo Zagreb, Sporting CP, SL Benfica, and a handful of others more often than not adopt a minimalist approach regarding loaning out their best and brightest at youth level, and instead, opt to develop them in-house until they reach the age where they really should be ready for first-team duties.

It was this direction that has allowed Foden to flourish the way he has, to the point now that he is a regular in the City XI. Could this be how Arteta intends to handle Nelson and Smith Rowe? We’ve already seen the meteoric rise of Bukayo Saka by putting him through this process; started by Unai Emery, to his credit.

We also saw Eddie Nketiah called-back from a loan that would not be beneficial to him at the time. Due to that, we’ve already seen a sharp increase in his development by going with this different direction.

For Nelson and Smith Rowe, the refinement must come within. Interference from pointless loan spells at clubs so far removed from our tactical, technical, and development ethos should be seen as a path void of logic. Putting faith in managers that may not be as good at handling young players as Arteta has proven himself to be must be avoided.. This is vital beyond measure.

Part of our summer business also included the capture of two youth internationals in Omar Rekik (brother of Karim Rekik), and Nikolaj Duus Moller; two highly touted prospects from the Netherlands and Sweden. It would not be surprising if we see them subjected to similar handling moving forward.

This is yet another refit the club has gone through since the new set-up has been established. Arteta is not the only one that has had a hand in it either, with Edu and Per Mertesacker playing a large role in the revamping process as Technical Director and Academy Manager respectively.

Part of trusting the process was understanding the need for the club to do things differently once more. Though results have not always been what we have hoped, we certainly have seen improvements in all areas of operation, both on and off the pitch. If this is anything to go by, we not only remain in good hands, but it won’t be before long that we reap the benefits of our patience.

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