Arsenal’s New Hale End Revolution Paying Dividends
Joe Willock to Bukayo Saka, Saka to Eddie Nketiah. That was the combination that provided Arsenal’s second goal against Bournemouth in the FA Cup Monday night, and a combination that will feel all too similar to members of last season’s U23s and Freddie Ljungberg. Before being promoted to the first-team staff, and eventually for a period, Head Coach, Ljungberg was in charge of the U23s who finished second in the Premier League 2 in the 18/19 season.
Bringing fast flowing football and introducing a maturity mostly found in senior players into their game, the Swede was key in the development of many of the Hale End (Arsenal’s famous Academy) finest. These players have played a key role in a season which has brought plenty of change and difficulty to Arsenal, and are rapidly becoming an integral part of this young Arsenal squad.
A vital component of any successful team is commitment. Each player must be 100% committed to the team, the manager’s philosophy and the task at hand. The Hale End kids have this in bucket-loads, and this can be seen especially in two current members of the first team.
Saka, an 18-year-old left-winger, broke into the first team in the Europa League last season. However, this season he has truly established his place, impressing in the League as well as the other competitions in a way in which a call up for Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad wouldn’t bring much shock.
Saka is a left-winger but has been played in left-back recently due to injuries to both Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac. To say he has been good there would simply be an understatement. Saka has been fantastic at left-back, offering dangerous attacking threat in Mikel Arteta’s system, but also offering a surprising solidity in defence. This really emphasises his drive and pure determination to succeed at Arsenal.
A similar story has taken place across the pitch, in right back. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has played in right back intermittently for nearly three years, with opportunities in his favoured position in the centre of midfield extremely rare. Many would have left, but again, the determination to succeed which seems to accompany the Hale End graduates prevailed.
Now there is a real possibility for Maitland-Niles to be given a chance in his natural position due to the resurgence of fellow Hale End graduate Hector Bellerin and the possible arrival of Portuguese defender Cedric Soares.
For most of the Arsenal academy players, playing for Arsenal has always been their dream, most are Arsenal fans. This is what separates them from other players, and why the Hale End graduates should be so important to this Arsenal squad. Like the fans who watch at home, or go to the Emirates on match-days, these players would do anything to see Arsenal win and will stop at nothing until they do.
A core of players who share this motivation in the dressing room is incredibly positive and naturally rubs off on the other players. An example of this is the young Brazilian, Martinelli, who seems to have taken on a new drive to bring success to Arsenal in recent weeks and who coincidently seems to have struck up a budding friendship with Bukayo Saka.
There is most definitely something to be said about putting faith in the youngsters as we’ve seen this season at Chelsea. Players such as Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, and Reece James have all impressed, and Arsenal have the tools to do the same. If Arteta can get the best out of the likes of Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Joe Willock and many more and keep that Arsenal strong core in the coming years, Arsenal will have a vital group of players at their disposal who will all be determined to return trophies to the Emirates stadium, whatever the cost.