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Arsene Wenger and the generation of Arsenal's lost boys

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Arsene Wenger has always spoken of his disdain for the January transfer window, insisting that the players capable of improving Arsenal simply aren't available for the right price.

The statistics suggest the frugal Frenchman is right; Arsenal have broken their transfer record twice in January, forking out princely sums for Jose Antonio Reyes and Andrey Arshavin. Both turned out to be failures, wastes of money if you will. Wenger, with his fingers burnt, seemingly turned away from the mid-season madness.

From 2010-2014, Arsenal's total spend in the January window accumulated to £13.64 million. That was enough to place them tenth in the Premier League spending table. Last season, Arsenal entered the new year top of the table. With only an injured Kim Kallstrom arriving in that window, the brittle squad finished their season in fourth.

Wenger seems to have found a balance in 2015. Arsenal were in need of a centre-back and Gabriel Paulista seems set to sign imminently. They also required a forceful midfielder and the Arsenal boss opted for the raw talent of Krystian Bielik; one for the future, but a promising addition.

Neither are expected to turn Arsenal's season around, but they will help to bring a certain equilibrium between attack and defence ahead of a familiar fight for a top four spot. Arsenal fans are likely to be satisfied with the business. They demanded a commanding centre-back and they got one.

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But the additions of both Paulista and Bielik have been devastating for some of Arsenal's brightest young stars, who now look set for a future elsewhere as a result. They join a band of hopefuls who Wenger has shoved aside in favour of established stars.

Isaac Hayden, 19, who had been on the fringes of the first team this season and had shown enough ability to get Arsenal bloggers drooling over the prospect of another homemade England international, is one such starlet.

"I hope in the future we have a core of the English national team," Wenger was quoted as saying of Hayden last summer.

"What we have learned over the past two World Cups is that Spain won it with six players from Barcelona and this time Germany won it with six players from Bayern Munich - I hope England can win it with six players from Arsenal."

Those comments would have given youngsters in the Arsenal youth teams hope that chances were coming their way, but Wenger's next move was to buy Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck. That showed a lack of faith in his current crop of prospects, not least Hayden himself.

Injuries to Laurent Koscielny and Mathieu Debuchy elevated Hayden to the first team, but Wenger preferred Nacho Monreal at centre-back. A bad ankle injury struck the England youth international down in November and Arsenal fans are now unlikely to see him in first team action anytime soon, if ever.

It suggests Hayden was not good enough, but no footballer can sufficiently improve without playing first team football. Eventually he won't be good enough but through no fault of his own. Even the most determined and talented individual can be left behind when only training ground routines and under-21 matches are on offer.

Why was he not sent out on loan? One suspects it was so Wenger could call upon him in only the worst of injury crises. Some life for a teenager, who has dedicated his life to the game and now has little choice but to continue his seemingly hopeless pursuit.

His future almost certainly lies away from the top tier of the Premier League. The longer he stays at Arsenal, the lower down the ladder he will eventually fall. It is a fate another Gunners starlet looks set to avoid.

Striker struck down

Chuba Akpom looked desperate to impress when given 20 minutes against Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup. The Seagulls' defence was nowhere to be seen and Akpom saw a chance to show his pace, skill and ability in front of goal.

He looked dangerous but as raw as they come. You can't blame him for that; this was the first time he was given the chance to play more than 20 minutes of first team football since March 2014.

When Akpom was coming through the ranks, Wenger signed Yaya Sanogo on a free and this summer he brought Welbeck to the club. Was Akpom loaned out? Of course not. He was needed just in case the aforementioned pair joined Olivier Giroud in the treatment room.

As a result, the English striker, also 19, has lost another six months to youth team football even though he is good enough to score goals at Championship level. The takers would have been lining up. Now his contract has entered its final six month, there are already plenty knocking on the door.

Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Manchester City are just some of the names being linked with Akpom as well as Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal have reportedly offered him a three-year deal but why on Earth would he sign it? The Gunners may have paid for his development up until this point, but Wenger has let him down in an uncharacteristically ruthless pursuit of success.

Supercharged success

Maybe Wenger has earned the right to build a successful team at their expense. Realistically, he has already signed his last Arsenal contract and has just two and a half seasons to reinstate himself as a legendary figure.

The financial restrictions almost cost Wenger his legacy but now he can afford to blow £16 million on Welbeck on transfer deadline day and £11.3 million on a player with no international experience in the January window.

Investment is being made in the Arsenal academy, aimed at sealing their future in the days after Wenger's retirement. Andries Jonker became the head of the academy in the summer with the aim of reinvigorating how coaches develop players.

But the current crop, who should be close to harvest, have been caught between Wenger's pursuit of a glorious exit and Arsenal's restructuring of the youth academy. They are both too young to be considered part of Wenger's new dynasty and too old to benefit from the academy's rejuvenation.

They won't be the only ones either. Gedion Zelalem, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Stefan O'Connor and Dan Crowley will all reach the age where first team football should be available before Wenger retires. Now the Frenchman has more money than time, he will continue to spend it on established stars, forgetting this generation of promising talents.

A broken system

It is not just Arsenal who have let these young stars down. The lax work permit regulations that allowed the Gunners to chase Paulista so publicly and confidently were supposed to prevent all but the very best non EU players from taking up squad places that could otherwise be filled by an academy product.

But the Premier League is a global product watched on a global scale. English players are most favoured by English people but the millions watching in Asia don't care how many Johnny Locals are lining up for Manchester United against Sunderland. They want to see the best footballers play the best football.

While the national team suffers, the 20 Premier League teams reap huge financial rewards for their abandonment of responsibilities to their local community. Many of them now enjoy bigger followings outside of England than they do within it. Their priorities have changed.

Success is measured in trophies. If they can be won with local lads that's great. If not, don't worry yourself too much. Trophies lead to more money which in turn lead to more signings.

Arsenal fans now enjoy the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in their squad, mixed with as much English talent as Wenger could carry out of Southampton. Their Hale End academy is dormant and is unlikely to erupt with any meaningful talent until a manager with time on his side can take charge. The result is half a dozen talented youngsters waiting for a chance that will never come and a future at the top that will likely never materialise.

For Arsenal, that is a shame; for English football it is a travesty.

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Arsenal

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