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Arsene’s Youth Project – Part I – The Defence

The departure of Alex Song and Robin van Persie has all but signalled the end of Arsene Wenger’s much promised, yet unfortunately unproductive Youth Project.

In his time at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has gone on to build three teams. The first was the one which he acquired in the late 90’s, led by Tony Adams and spearheaded by Dennis Bergkamp. It was one with long serving Arsenal players in Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, Ian Wright, Ray Parlour and Steve Bould, a couple of whom would go one to play till the unbeaten season.

Arsene’s second great team was at the start of the decade, and they went on to be one of the most devastating forces in the Premier League. As the baton was passed from Adams to Vieira, there was a bunch of extremely talented continental talent, in Henry, Pires, Ljungberg, Wiltord, matched with Brazilian flair, in Gilberto and Edu, English solidity in Campbell and Cole, and among the best in African football, in Toure and Lauren.

Alas, that side was not to last long, as Patrick Vieira departed for Juventus, and Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Fredrik Ljungberg and Thierry Henry all followed suit in the next 2 years.

Arsene then set about building his third team, and he had to do it from scratch. With Arsenal moving stadiums, there were massive financial implications, which meant the club had to bank on a rising crop of young, raw but talented footballers. The master who ran Arsenal’s show, or the one who Wenger wanted to run was his Spanish prodigy, Cesc Fabregas.

Arsenal had a scourge of other young talents, in van Persie, Adebayor, Nasri, many of whom I will mention later. Arsene envisioned this team to grow together and win together, and though they were close on a couple of occasions, a series of bad luck, injuries, 7 trophyless seasons, and most of all, betrayal has all but ended up in branding the youth project as a failure.

Players came, promised much, but went on to seek greener pastures. Here’s a look at the players who were part of Arsene’s youth project, what they have achieved since they left and where they are now. The first part consists of the goalkeepers and defenders who were part of this project.



Manuel Almunia (2004-2012)

Currently – Watford

A complete unknown when he was signed, and much ridiculed in his time at the club, Manuel Almunia made 175 appearances for Arsenal. While he did have some good games, his costly errors and at times, appalling keeping, meant he was out of favour after a space of 3 seasons. After more time on the bench, and then dropping further to 3rd choice goalkeeper, he was loaned to West Ham before moving to Watford permanently at the end of the 2011/2012 season. Though not exactly a youngster, per se, he was considered as the natural successor to Jens Lehmann.


Kolo Toure (2002-2009)

Currently – Manchester City

Kolo Toure came in for a bargain from Ivorian giants ASEC Mimosas, and quickly established himself as Arsenal’s premier centre-back. His maverick committed defending style quickly made him into a fan favorite, and one of the best defender’s in the league. He effectively partnered Sol Campbell, in the historic unbeaten season, and he was still just 23. However, problems started with the arrival of William Gallas. The duo never got on, and one had to leave. Toure moved to big spending Manchester City for £16 million, leaving behind what you can term as ‘unfinished business’. At City, he was a regular in his first season, but has now almost fallen out of contention, and even failed a drug test last year.

Trophies won since leaving (2) – FA Cup 2011, Premier League 2011-2012

Justin Hoyte (2002-2008)

Currently – Middlesbrough

Justin Hoyte was a promising right back bought through Arsenal’s youth systems, and made 68 appearances for Gunners. Lack of first team chances, meant he decided to move to Middlesbrough in 2006, with whom he was relegated in 2009. He remains as their first choice right back.

Gael Clichy (2003-2011)

Currently – Manchester City

At just 18 years, and 10 months, Gael Clichy became the youngest player to win the Premier League, in 2004. Scouted from France, he was an immensely talented left-back, and backup for Ashley Cole in his early Arsenal career. With Cole leaving for Chelsea in 2006, Clichy became first choice, and proved to be one of the most consistent and steady left-backs in the league. There were of course, odd moments of uncertainty, like conceding a last minute goal against Birmingham in 2008. He decided to move on when the big bucks from Manchester City came calling, for £7 million in 2011. He has had to fight with Serbian left-back Aleksandr Kolarov for a starting berth, but managed to make 33 appearances, as City won their first league title in 44 years.

Trophies won since leaving (1) – Premier League 2011-2012

Phillipe Senderos (2004-2008)

Currently – Fulham

Swiss centre-back Phillipe Senderos came to the spotlight after a series of fantastic performances over the course of the trying 2005-2006 season, when Arsenal went to the final of the Champions League, keeping a record number of clean sheets on the way. Tough, uncompromising and one who wouldn’t take nonsense, he was a defender in every word. However, inconsistency and a spate of errors would follow, and he was soon loaned to Italian giants AC Milan, and then Everton, before he moved permanently across London to Fulham, where he has further fallen down the pecking order.

Emmanuel Eboue (2005-2011)

Currently – Galatasaray 

Eboue arrived from Beveren in 2005, and quickly made an impact on the first team, owing to an unlucky spate of injuries during the 2005-2006 season. He was one quarter of Arsenal’s famous makeshift defence, which set a European record in 2005-2006. He was pacy, clever, strong and tenacious. Despite that comparison with Garrincha (yes, it happened), he never really proved himself as a reliable defender. There were flashes of brilliance, but there were moments of mediocrity in equal measure. He was even booed off once in a league game against Wigan, but showed great mental strength to bounce back. He left as a cult hero, one who entertained and frustrated at the same time, in 2011, to Turkish giants Galatasaray, where he has been the target of racist groups.

Trophies won since leaving (1) – Turkish League 2011-2012

Armand Traore (2006-2011)

Currently – Queen’s Park Rangers

Left back Armand Traore almost followed the footsteps of Gael Clichy. Plucked from France, he was another in Arsenal’s production line of left-backs. He showed huge promise, in his first season, when Arsenal’s youngsters went all the way to the League Cup final, eventually losing to Chelsea 2-1. Traore, unhappy at playing second fiddle to Clichy, moved on loan to Portsmouth and Juventus, before sealing a permanent switch to fellow London side QPR in 2011.


Ryan Garry came through Arsenal’s youth ranks and spent 6 years at the club, 4 of which were injury prone. His only claim to fame is he played the full first game of Arsenal’s record breaking unbeaten run. At just 28, he retired from football and now works as a coach at Bournemouth.

Kerrea Gilbert was a bright young right-back who came through the Arsenal youth systems, and was touted as a successor to Lauren. He had a reasonable run in the hard 2005-2006 season, but found the going hard and eventually found himself at loan with a host of lower league clubs including Cardiff City, Southend United, Leicester City, Peterborough United, before moving to Yeovil permanently in 2011. He now plies his trade with Irish champions Shamrock Rovers.

Abu Ogogo looked to be making inroads at the youth level with Arsenal, but apart from being on the bench a few times, never made it into the first team. He left n 2008 and plays at Dagenham and Redbridge now.

James Dunne, like Kieran Gibbs and Abu Ogogo came from Wimbledon’s academy in 2004. He left in 2009, without having managed to break into the first team. Moved to Exeter City and now is at Stevenage.

Mathew Connolly came from Arsenal’s youth systems and broke into the first team squad in a League Cup game in 2006 Having found it hard to make further inroads into the team, he has since turned out for Bournemouth and Colchester on loan, before moving to QPR permanently in 2008. He was a mainstay in the Hoops’ successful promotion campaign, but again dropped a level to play for Reading on loan. Presently part of Cardiff City’s new Malaysian revolution.

Gavin Hoyte, younger brother of Justin Hoyte, was another promising prospect, at right back who could also play centrally. After a handful of appearances, he was forced to loop through England’s lower divisions, appearing for Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Lincoln, and Wimbledon (all on loan), before being released and joining League Two side Dagenham and Redbridge permanently this summer.

Paul Rodgers was a versatile defender, who came through Arsenal’s youth systems, but like the ones mentioned above, has since played in the lower leagues with Northampton Town and Newport County.

Luke Ayling is another produce from Arsenal’s academy, and left in 2010, for Yeovil Town.

Cedric Evina spent 9 years with Arsenal’s youth teams, and one season as a proffessional, but didn’t make it into the first team. Primarily a left back, he now plays for Charlton Athletic.

Havard Nordtveit was scouted from Norwegian side Haugesund, and bought to North London aged just 16. Despite having a good time with the Reserves, he moved on loan to Salamanca, Lillestrom and Nurnberg on loan. He moved permanently to Borussia Monchengladbach last summer.

Thomas Cruise (not the dude from Mission Impossible) came to everyone’s attention when he started a dead rubber Champions League tie in 2009 against Olympiakos. However, he was released in 2011, and now plays for Torquay United in League Two.

Kyle Bartley, in his early days, was compared to Rio Ferdinand, for his strong build and robust defensive style. However, he wasn’t able to make any impact on the first team. Played for Sheffield United and Glasgow Rangers over a period of 3 years, before moving permanently to Swansea this summer.

Pedro Botelho joined Arsenal as a 18 year old in 2007. Able to play anywhere on the left and even in central midfield, he wasn’t able to obtain a work permit, which meant he was loaned to Spanish side Salamance for 2 seasons. He has since played for other Spanish clubs like Celta Vigo, Cartagena, Rayo Vallocano and Levante. He returned to Brazil, with Atletico Paranaense this summer.



Vito Mannone (2005-)

Italian shot stopper Vito Mannone was signed from Italian side Atalanta in 2005, and displayed very early he had the credentials to be a top notch goalkeeper. Due to the competition for places, he has played for Barnsley and Hull City on loan. He remains 3rd choice goalkeeper at the club.

Lukasz Fabianski (2007-)

Aged 22, Fabianski signed for Arsenal in 2007, and was already regarded a hot property in Polish football. Highly regarded on the training ground, and even claimed to having the ability to pull off miraculous saves by fellow players, he hasn’t really shown that in the matches. Is second choice goalkeeper at the club.


Johan Djourou (2004-)

Djourou is one of the last surviving members of the Youth Project, having arrived as a teenager from second division Swiss club Etoile. At one point, his pairing with compatriot Phillipe Senderos was being considered as a bright defensive prospect for Arsenal. Things clearly haven’t worked out that way though. While Senderos moved on, Djourou has had to contend being usually 3rd choice or 4th choice centre-back at the club, behind the pecking order of players such as Toure, Gallas, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Mertesacker etc. Despite some shaky performances, many consider him a great choice to have as 4th choice defender, with over 160 Arsenal appearances and 33 international caps for Switzerland.

Kieran Gibbs (2007-)

Gibbs came to Arsenal at a very early age, and was groomed by the club into being the like-for-like replacement for players such as Ashley Cole and Clichy. After sporadic appearances in cup competitions, and a spate of unlucky injuries, he has now established himself as first choice left back. Blessed with good speed, and stamina defensive qualities, at just 22, he is expected to be Arsenal’s left back for many years to come.



Wojciech Szczesny (2009-)

Bought in from Legia Warsaw, aged just 16, and has gone on to establish himself as the number one goalie at the club. Arrogant, brash, confident and talented, Szczesny has big boots to fill as his father was a former Polish international goalkeeper as well.

Damian Martinez (2011-)

Argentine goalkeeper Damian Martinez joined the Gunners last summer and has been touted as a future Argentine international. All of 19, he is first choice goalkeeper for the Reserves.

James Shea (2010-)

Shea is an Islington born and bred, now second choice Reserve goalkeeper.


Nico Yennaris (2011-)

A versatile defender, who can play in midfield as well, Yennaris is a bright young player, who came to the spotlight last season, with some strong displays. He spent time on loan at Notts County to gain valuable experience.

Ignasi Miquel (2011-)

Spanish defender Ignasi Miquel was a protege of Barcelona’s famous youth academy, and was recruited in 2011, after some good displays for Spanish youth teams. Owing to Arsenal’s injury crisis last season, Miquel managed to make a few appearances, at left-back, and has shown plenty of promise.

Carl Jenkinson (2011-)

Finnish-English right back Carl Jenkinson signed for the Gunners from Charlton, despite appearing for the Addicks only a few times. However, over the course of the year, he has shown immense maturity and promise to show he could be here to stay. A good crosser of the ball, with good stamina, he is also a life long Arsenal fan.

Daniel Boateng (2010-)

Boateng rose through the Arsenal ranks since joining as a 10 year old in 2003. He made his first appearance for the first team last season.

NOTE – I have included only players :

i) who were very young when they joined the club. (18-22) I have not included Ashley Cole, because he effectively left when the Youth Project kicked off.

ii) Also not included are Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, who were 24, 24 and 26 respectively when they joined.

So, do you think Arsenal have been right in letting the above players go? I always love having opinions. So, do share yours. Also take part in the following poll.

Jai Arsenal 🙂


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About supreetkini

I would like to introduce myself starting with my favourite quote "I don't know whether life is sh*t cos Arsenal is sh*t or the other way round" - Nick Hornby, author, Fever Pitch. Since I started supporting Arsenal, every mood of mine, every bit of my behavior is a reflection of Arsenal's form! Well, that's enough a description to tell you how much I love the Gunners! :D I have my own Arsenal blog,

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