Young starlets ensure bright Arsenal future

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Over the years, Arsenal have made a name for themselves in the successful development of promising young talent, and under the tutelage of manager Arsene Wenger, who celebrated his 15th anniversary in north London earlier in 2011, the club has continued to churn out stars of the modern game.

With the New Year fast approaching, it's time to take stock and look back at how the year unfolded for the Gunners - and whilst it may be most vividly remembered for the 'so near, yet so far' scenarios, which include the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City, and the high-profile sales of two of the club's biggest stars - Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri - there is plenty of reason for optimism.

For 2011 is also a year that has seen the transition of a number of Arsenal's youth team players, who have gone on to establish themselves in Wenger's first-team.

Twelve months ago, Wojciech Szczesny had only just made his Barclays Premier League debut, but is now regarded as an integral part of the Gunners' senior side, and rated as one of the top goalkeepers in the country.

Meanwhile, midfield duo Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong have also made the successful step up - the former plied his trade in his native France last season, while 18-year-old Frimpong was sidelined through injury.

Only last week, all three of the aforementioned players lined up in Arsenal's first-team to face Aston Villa at Villa Park - a game that ended in a 2-1 victory, and continued the club's resurgence this season, to put them within touching distance of the top-four.

The players' development whilst attributed to Wenger, is also thanks to the hard work of the Frenchman's network of staff and coaches - including reserve team manager Neil Banfield and youth team coach Steve Bould, who spend endless hours working tirelessly at the club's London Colney training ground.

On site, there is a short stretch of hallway from the reserves' dressing room to that of the Arsenal first-team - a corridor that holds significant importance for the club's aspiring young stars.

"We always say to them it's the hardest 20 yards they'll ever have to walk," said Banfield, who revealed the hidden meaning behind a seemingly normal, 'run of the mill' corridor.

"Emmanuel has done exceptionally well, along with Jack [Wilshere], Kieran [Gibbs], Wojciech [Szczesny] and Johan [Djourou] - they've come through the club's youth development structure and done brilliantly," he reflected to

"When you get there you've done well, they know it and hopefully there will be some more following in their footsteps in the near future."

The development process is a continuous cycle, with wave after wave of young players coming into the club, seemingly with the footballing world at their feet. But at this point it is about separating the best from the rest - an unenviable task that Banfield and Bould are currently overseeing in north London.

Having reflected positively on the initial intake, and results that followed in 2011, the second-string coach sees no reason why 2012 should be any different.

"The changeover from one group to another has gone through seamlessly again and we're starting to see some young players making their debuts in the reserves," Banfield continued. "The future looks very promising for the young players at Arsenal football club.

"Obviously the manager is running the lot and I think you're seeing what he wants from his young players, how he wants them to play. It's a credit to how the club works and a testament to all the work that's gone in from the manager down."

However, like most things in modern-day football, there is little time to savour all the good work that has gone on beforehand, and the nostalgia of yester-year will quickly turn into a look ahead, and forecast of what is to follow in the future, and ultimately who will become Arsenal's stars of 2012.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is tipped for big things, and Spanish defender Ignasi Miquel is garnering an equally impressive reputation, but whoever the leading lights may be, Banfield is certain that the principles that are ingrained at the club will ensure continued success for the foreseeable future.

"The boss has always said since he came through the door, if you're good enough then it doesn't matter about age," he concluded. "That goes for wherever you come from, whoever you are - it doesn't matter because he will play you. He's been true to his word.

"I don't think people quite understand how high the level is though sometimes. We don't just try to produce a player who can survive in the Premier League, we're talking about players that can win it, win the Champions League and are going to make us quality."

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