By Editor Wayne Veysey| Former Evening Standard, Press Association and Goal chief correspondent with 17 years experience of breaking big stories, including exclusives like this
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Arsenal will pursue an “aggressive” recruitment policy for their youth set-up this summer in a dramatic bid to catch up with the top English academies, Football Insider sources understand.
Chiefs at the Gunners’ Hale End base recognise they have fallen behind the top academies in England, which are widely considered to be those at Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham.
Results for the older Arsenal age groups have been mixed, the quality of coaching has declined and, critically, the quality of players being produced are not at the level of rival clubs.
Academy chief Andries Jonker arrived in the summer of 2014 with a big reputation after spells at Bayern Munich, Barcelona and the Dutch FA but the club’s youth sides are being questioned both inside and outside of the club.
“The regular contact we have from kids and parents is that they don’t like the approach,” an academy source told Football Insider. “Arsenal’s youth teams are nowhere near as strong as they used to be.
“The quality of the individual is not as good. Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City, in particular, have far stronger players.”
First-team manager Arsene Wenger offered an unusually scathing assessment of the club’s youngsters in the wake of Arsenal’s 3-0 League Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in October.
Glen Kamara, Alex Iwobi and Ismael Bennacer were among those making their debuts and Wenger said: ‘The occasion was too much for the young players. They were not ready to play at this level, none of them. Two of the goals were from set-pieces. We were very naive. We had a lot of the ball but we didn’t make a lot. We were too short in midfield.”
Iwobi has subsequently made some more first-team appearances but the academy that produced Jack Wilshere, Ashley Cole, Kieran Gibbs as well as overseas stars Cesc Fabregas, Wojciech Szczesny, Nicklas Bendtner and Hector Bellerin has lost its way according to those who know it well.
Former Academy boss Liam Brady, who quit in 2014 after a 25-year association with the club, has returned in a a part-time capacity to provide some guidance, while Shaun O’Connor is heading up recruitment for the younger age groups in his second spell at the club.
“The plan is to pursue a more aggressive recruitment policy,” the source explained to Football Insider. “We are not just up against Chelsea and Spurs in the south-east, we’re also up against Man City, who are intent on hoovering up all the best young talent and have the resources to do so.
“The problem is that the Tottenham academy has become very successful at producing first-team players and Chelsea’s provides a pathway to play professionally. Everyone knows Man City can pay the most money. We know we are going to have to spend to compete.”
As exclusively revealed by Football Insider on Monday, Arsenal failed with a deadline-day bid to sign Fulham youngster Ryan Sessegnon with Serge Gnabry going on loan in part-exchange.