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Opinion: Arsenal risk another transfer blunder as they overlook one of their biggest strengths

Arsenal haven’t got a lot right in recent years, but the one big positive for the Gunners right now is their academy.

19-year-old Bukayo Saka was probably their best player last season, and made a name for himself with some fine performances for England at Euro 2020 this summer, even if the competition ended on such a low note as he saw his penalty saved in the shoot-out defeat against Italy.

Still, there can surely be no debate about how much Saka has contributed to Arsenal, with the home-grown attacker contributing far more to the team in recent times than the hideously overpriced Nicolas Pepe.

MORE: Fans troll Arsenal star after noticing *this* during pre-season outing

The better Saka gets, the harder it is to understand why on earth Arsenal bothered with the signing of Willian last summer. The former Chelsea man arrived on a free but has still somehow managed to look a waste of money, scoring just one goal last season and now turning up for pre-season looking overweight and like a man who can no longer be bothered.

Saka euro 2020
Bukayo Saka has shone for Arsenal and England

The emergence of Emile Smith Rowe has also been hugely important for the Gunners, with the young playmaker instantly looking like an upgrade on Mesut Ozil when he broke into Mikel Arteta’s first-team midway through last season, and once again highlighting some strange decision-making in the Arsenal recruitment department as they brought in the underwhelming Martin Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid for the second half of the campaign.

“I have been extremely impressed with Emile Smith Rowe and the ease in which he’s made the step up into the first team,” Arsenal legend Michael Thomas recently told CaughtOffside.

“I’ve seen a lot of him at the academy and he has undeniably great talent. For me his vision, choice of pass along with his work rate are all exceptional.”

Emile Smith Rowe
Emile Smith Rowe looks a terrific prospect for Arsenal

There are now doubts about Joe Willock’s future at the Emirates Stadium as well, with the 21-year-old barely featuring for the club before leaving on loan to Newcastle last term and emerging as one of the most in-form players in the country with a stunning scoring run of seven consecutive games.

Thomas is also a big fan of Willock, and recently told CaughtOffside it could be a huge mistake to let him go.

“There is no way a player like Willock should be allowed to leave,” Thomas said. “He is Arsenal through and through and has proved what he can add – something that Arsenal were missing greatly last season – goals from midfield. If he is allowed to leave then it will be a big mistake.”

It seems pretty clear that many of Arsenal’s best finds are coming from their academy right now, while they continue to make a string of errors in the transfer market.

Unfortunately, Arteta doesn’t seem to be learning this lesson, with transfer rumours continuing to link AFC with a big summer of spending, while their home-grown players continue to look far from a first-team breakthrough, even if Smith Rowe and Saka will likely remain key players in the senior squad.

Joe Willock
Joe Willock shone on loan at Newcastle but hasn’t had many opportunities at Arsenal

Given how good these two have been, as well as Willock’s form on loan, it is puzzling that we’re not seeing more opportunities for the likes of Folarin Balogun, or even William Saliba, who is not from the academy but still an elite young talent who is once again going out on loan.

Chelsea have just won the Champions League in large part due to the success of academy stars like Mason Mount and Reece James, while Callum Hudson-Odoi and Billy Gilmour look like other exciting prospects coming through. At Manchester United, there has also been much money wasted on big-name flops while Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have been some of their best performers of recent years.

Arsenal are clearly under pressure to recruit the talent to get them back to competing for trophies again, but at the moment it looks like that talent is going unnoticed right under their noses.

More Stories Ainsley Maitland-Niles Bukayo Saka Emile Smith Rowe Folarin Balogun Joe Willock Mikel Arteta

4 Comments

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  1. lazy article just piling on a mythical problem. To charge Arsenal with not doing enough with academy players is truly absurd when Saka and ESR are such stellar lights. AMN, Nelson, Willock, Nketiah were all given repeated opportunity to prove their worth and failed. . Ballogun is now a first team squad member. Do you seriously think Arsenal are using the acadamy correctly if 6/7 players are 19 yo . Kids need experienced collegues. Pepe labled a disaster yet he had the most european goals and was clearly a leading light in the 2nd half of the season. Only Willian reference in this article holds up. Try to remember that since December Arsenal garnered the 3rd highest number of points and had the 3rd best defensive record. Try factual not clickbait journalism

    1. I’m sorry silent Satan, are you referring to the same Maitland Niles who was named man of the match for the only trophy Artetta has so far managed to win? Are you talking about the Maitland Niles was picked for england based on a string of man of the match performance’s only to be benched by the manager for no apparent reason? Oddegard scored a couple of goals and had a couple of assists but Artetta is willing to waste 30 to 40 million pounds on him and send Joe Willock out on loan. “Something fishy about that if you ask me” I want you to tell me if any other player in the league achieved what Joe Willock achieved at Newcastle last season. I want you to tell me if you can recall any other top manager of a top flight club who puts players out to grass after they have performed as often as this guy does

  2. What is it about Arteta and failure to sign players? Having Saka and Smith Rowe and still sign Willian with wages 10 times a total of those youngsters earn is surprising. You have to remind yourself he is advised by Edu. Is the club really lacking able people to see that?

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