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Monday, March 4, 2024

Arteta on young players + it’s time to move on from Thomas Partey


Good morning, let’s do a Saturday round-up for you, with some bits from the manager’s press conference yesterday.

Despite some injury news, the most interesting thing for me was when Mikel Arteta was questioned about the use of young players, and whether or not this was something he and the club were keen to do. His reply was quite telling, saying:

Yeah, we certainly want to do that. First of all, we need to produce those talents and then they have to earn it. Secondly, when we produce them, they have to be in the positions that we need fulfilling. Everything has to come together. We are working on that. We have a few prospects which are not far, but the reality is that we want more.

And when asked if he felt those players were available to him now, he replied:

Today? To give the opportunities and to play in the first team at the level that we’re required?

We are a bit short.

I really think the focus of this being a discussion about Mikel Arteta, and comparing what he does to other managers, misses the point. I know there were, perhaps, some opportunities to give one or two younger players a few scant minutes here and there throughout this season, but that’s not really the big issue here. I’d challenge anyone to name a single youth player at the club right now who should be given playing time for a team that has ambitions to win the Premier League and go as far as possible in the Champions League.

The bigger question for me, is what are we producing at Academy level, and are we doing as much as we can do prepare some of these players to properly challenge for a first team place? Citing the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe is great, but let’s not ignore context. They emerged at a time when the club was in a state of flux, where the expectations were lower, and there was greater opportunity to make that step up. Oh, and because they were very, very good players.

The fact that the level has raised over the last few years makes it more difficult to follow that pathway. Not impossible, but certainly more challenging, and it will mean that whoever makes it will likely have to be a Saka level player. I don’t think we have any of those right now, not in the generation that would ordinarily be closest to first team level. The 19/20 year olds might be good players, but are they good enough for this Arsenal team? It’s hard to see it, which is why the focus is currently on a 16 and 17 year old (Ethan Nwaneri, Myles Lewis-Skelly).

The one player who is right on the fringes, Reuell Walters, is – as I’ve said before – a bit unlucky in that ideally he’d have gone on loan this month, but the absences of Jurrien Timber and Takehiro Tomiyasu mean he’s needed as defensive cover. I don’t know if he’s good enough, he has never played a professional game, and sometimes the circumstances of a young player’s development work very much in their favour, and other times not.

In this case, Arsenal need him to not play more than they need him to get minutes somewhere else, if that makes sense. It sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but that’s what it is. And unfortunately for someone like Walters, that may have an impact on his development. Let’s hope not, but rather than playing 20 games against men between now and the end of the season, he’ll be on the bench a bit, then when players return, he’ll have to drop down again to play against kids with no possibility of a loan because the windows are closed. So it goes.

Just finally on this, as the Miguel Azeez situation demonstrated, the step-up from youth football to the top level of the club game is one that very few players can actually make. You might go years and years without a player coming through your Academy who can make the grade, and I think we’re in one of those spells right now, so we’re going to have to bide our time a bit. Whether it’s Nwaneri, or Lewis-Skelly, or just as likely someone whose name isn’t a well known at the moment, we’ll have to just wait see.

The other thing this morning is a ‘setback’ for Thomas Partey. Having returned to training last week, he’s injured again with Arteta saying:

Thomas, unfortunately, had a little setback a few days ago so he’s not going to be available to be in the squad. Whether it’s a matter of days or weeks we will see, but he had a little thing.

I’m not a doctor but he felt something again in a very similar area and he wasn’t able to train the last few days. It’s a big concern.

I would have been very happy to see Partey moved on this summer, but despite some vague interest, there was never a solid bid from anywhere for Arsenal to consider. I imagine that this summer will be even more challenging to sell him, despite the fact he’ll just have a year on his contract and will, nominally, be cheaper than last year. When a player has been injured all season, potential suitors will be put off by that. Either way, I hope we just cut our losses, take whatever we can get, and invest in a midfielder who is both good and available.

We’ve already taken the first big step to a post-Partey world with the arrival of Declan Rice, and while I have some sympathy with the idea that nobody expected him to be sidelined for quite this long, he has been missing or sub-par too often at key moments in our seasons, and is now a deeply unreliable figure within this squad. To count on him in any way for next season would be verging on foolish, so let’s hope we can go our separate ways in the summer, get his big wages off the books, and find someone who can stay fit.

Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. More tomorrow as we prepare for Liverpool, and we do have a preview podcast on Patreon for you right now.

Have a great Saturday folks.

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