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Arsenal has a secret weapon for 2019/20: but will it be enough to make the top four?

By Tony Attwood

One thing is not a secret, nor even a point of discussion at Arsenal is that there is a lot of mumbling about the owner of the club and his apparent restriction on the transfer budget at a time when Arsenal have been making a profit.

In 2016/17 the club made a profit of £45m.  In 2017/18 that profit went up to £70m despite a drop in income because the club moved out of the Champions League into the Europa League.

We won’t get the figures for 2018/19 until next May but we can already note that irrespective of anything else they will have a £20m boost over the year before, because the previous year included the pay out of that amount to the departing members of the board and management.

So from Kroenke’s point of view things are going well at the club even though from the point of view of some fans things are going badly.   No longer can they claim that “Fourth is not a trophy” because the club is not making fourth, (although we were only one point off fourth spot last season).

But to redeem the slippage to fifth and sixth place, some fans want lots more signings, and they want them now.   But although there will be some signings (and there has already been one of course), unless Kroenke undertakes a wholly unexpected U-turn there  won’t be the wholesale turn around in expenditure that is being demanded.   There will probably be a re-investment of some of the profit of the previous season in new players, but also new signings will largely be paid for by reducing the wages bill through off-loading unwanted players.

So what can the manager do in such circumstances?

One approach that could work quite well (probably not well enough to win us the league, but well enough to get us back to the “not a trophy” position) would be to have faith in the younger players.   And I am specifically saying, “younger players” and not “youngsters” because in the list I present below, I am including a few older younger players (which I’ll explain as we go).

Now to do this would not be a huge change for Arsenal because the figures that are available show that Arsenal does tend to use younger players more than most clubs.

For example, in January this year the BBC presented a table of the number of minutes played in first team league games for the 2018/19 season, up to that point, by players who were under 21.  Here is the table they provided…

Team Minutes Team Minutes
Leicester City 8373 Fulham 1975
Arsenal 4467 Crystal Palace 1965
Everton 4455 Southampton 1671
West Ham Utd 4134 Newcastle Utd 1409
Tottenham H 4083 Manchester City 1107
Wolverhampton 3962 Brighton &HA 863
Huddersfield T 3089 Burnley 440
Liverpool 2553 Watford 296
Bournemouth 2400 Chelsea 151
Mancheaster Utd 2009 Cardiff City 0

Shortly after this Claude Puel at Leicester was sacked which suggests he had rather lost the plot in relying so utterly on younger players.   But the chart shows that Emery will use youngsters where he sees a chance – and indeed did it more than any other manager other than the eccentric Puel last sesaon.

But the table also shows us that there is no real link between using younger players and the position of a club in the league.   Last season’s top six are scattered around this table from Arsenal in second to Chelsea at one from the foot of the table.  Cardiff, who were relegated didn’t play youngsters at all, while Huddersfield who came bottom of the league were 7th in the youngsters table.

Such figures are not reported each year, and Untold doesn’t have the wherewithal to do the research from scratch, but in June 2017 Talksport did a similar table, this time for the whole of the 2016/17 season while defining youth as meaning “under 23”.   The top six teams in terms of minutes given over to under 23 players in the whole season were….

  • Sunderland 12,657
  • Tottenham 12089
  • Man U 10,774
  • Everton 10,367
  • Southampton 9908
  • Arsenal 9,089

Again no direct relation in all cases between league position and the number of minutes given to young players although Arsenal came 5th in the league and 6th in the under 23 table.

Hector Bellerin was the most frequently selected young player for Arsenal in that season,, while Chelsea were this time bottom of the table with 865 minutes.

Incidentally the Chelsea positon of being bottom of the “youngster minutes” table in each case is very interesting since they have a youth programme that we have commented on for years on this site and which has got Fifa rather exercised.  It involves, as you may recall, have far more young players on their books than any other team, with the vast majority of them being shipped out to clubs that are “friendly” to the Chelsea approach.  Whatever that approach is really about (and I have expressed my thoughts on the underlying reasons for it several times) it is not about bringing young players into the Chelsea team.

But the figures do confirm that in recent years Arsenal have been using young players more than most clubs.  Which is why it is worth considering who we will have avaialable for next season in the youth department.  Figures below only relate to appearances in league games

  • Eddie Nketiah.  Age 20.  5 games last season.
  • Mattéo Guendouzi.  Age 20.  33 games last season.
  • Maitland Niles.  Age 21.  16 games last season
  • Rob Holding.  Age 23.  10 games last season
  • Reiss Nelson.  Age 19.  19 games for Hoffenheim last season
  • Joe Willock.  Age 19.  2 games last season
  • Bukayo Saka.   Age 17.  1 game last season
  • Emiliano Martinez.  Age 26.  18 games last season with Reading (inclued as he is a goalkeeper and keepers tend to start playing for the first team later in life).
  • Charlie Gilmour.  Age 20.  No games yet.
  • Zech Medley.  Age 18.  No games yet.
  • Jordi Osei-Tutu. Age 19.  No games yet.
  • Emile Smith Rowe.  Age 18.  3 games with Leipzig last season

And of course we now have one more such player: Martinelli who has just been signed.

Obviously only a small number of these players will break through into the first team on a regular basis, but the list is somewhat bigger than the one we are normally looking at, at this time of year.

I’d suggest that three players are certain to have a major part to play in the new season: Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles and Holding.  And let’s remember that Holding cost us £2m. Guendouzi £7m and Maitland Niles nothing.  It isn’t all about more and more money.

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