Yesterday we loaned at Francis Coquelin to Charlton for a month. The only logical reason for such a short term loan as that it is to get him match fit for January, when he will be sold. This got me thinking (yes, dangerous I know).
Five years ago I want to one of the best games of my life. It was the FA Youth Cup Quarter-Final between Arsenal and Spurs at White Hart Lane. It was the 1st time I had been to the Lane to watch Arsenal, and what an evening.
Like most, I got a text half way through the day from a mate, “Mate, Arsenal Spurs tonight, White Hart Lane, £5, pay on the door”. I was in like a shot. Reports were that there were 5,000 of us in the ground that day. At the beginning of the match, there was no Old Bill about. By the final whistle, it was as if every Met officer had been called in. They had clearly been caught out.
Arsenal won 3-1 thank to two late goals. The star of the show was one of the youngest on the pitch. A 17 year old central midfielder who ran the game. Jack Wilshere.
Whilst Tottenham’s boy wonder, John Bostock, who was 2 weeks younger than Wilshere, struggled and looked out of his depth, Wilshere led his side, out shining Henri Lansbury in the middle. On a side note, Aaron Ramsey was young enough to play in the game. Wilshere at this point had already become Arsenal’s youngest-ever league debutante.
Interestingly, playing upfront for Spurs that day was Ryan Mason. I only discovered that whilst researching this piece. He did not impress.
That 2009 side was one of the best I have seen. They went on to destroy Liverpool 6-2 on aggregate in the final, topped their Premier Academy League by 25 points and won the double. They were awesome. Power, pace and guile.
Anyway, why did the loaning of Francis Coquelin make me think of this game? Well he was also 17 at the time and, as part of an all conquering Arsenal side, looked a talent. He was even our corner taker! A team so good, but with Coquelin’s imminent departure, there is only one man from that squad who is still with the club. Jack Wilshere.
So what happened to the rest?
James Shea – Goalkeeper
With Wojciech Szczesny having broken both of his arms, Islington born James Shea was in goal. Despite being 6 2, the 18 year old failed to command his area. An 8 day loan spell at Southampton was followed by a loan spell at Dagenham & Redbridge. He made the bench for a Champions League game in 2012, but by the end of that season, was released.
After spells at non-league Needham Market and Harrow Borough, Shea has fought his way back into league football and is now 1st choice stopper at AFC Wimbledon.
Craig Eastmond – Full back
The 2008/09 squad was filled with versatility. Eastmond, Tom Cruise, Coquelin & Luke Ayling all performed that year at both full back and central midfield. Big Jay Emmanuel-Thomas could play anywhere.
Eastmond ended up playing 10 times for the Arsenal 1st team, although the last of these appearances came 2 years before he was sold.
A couple of loan spells at Millwall and Wycombe lead him to Colchester on loan, where he later secured a permanent deal. Last season he made 42 appearances for the U’s, and he has clearly found his level.
His other highlights include being name check in a Chipmunk song and being arrested for indecent exposure.
Tom Cruise – Full back
Another versatile player, he played once for Arsenal in a Champions League match. A headlines delight, red tops throughout the country must have been kicking themselves when he joined Torquay in 2012, after a loan spell with Carlisle.
Kyle Bartley – Centre back
I remember the excitement when we signed barley 16 year old Kyle Bartley from Bolton. By 19, he was Arsenal reserve team captain. A big career was expected of him, but knee injuries have held back his career.
Loans to Sheffield United and Glasgow Rangers, he ended up at Swansea. A good performance against Arsenal in the 2013 FA Cup led many to question why we had let him go. Many not realising that despite joining Swansea 6 months earlier, he had not yet played a league match.
That game against Arsenal has proved to be his career highlight. He has played just 4 times in the league in over 2 seasons, interspersed with a loan spell at Birmingham. We have certainly not been proved wrong by letting him go.
He played just once for Arsenal.
Luke Ayling – Centre back
Always looked out of place in this side. As if he was just making up the numbers. And so it proved. The closest he got to playing for Arsenal was being on the bench for a dead rubber Champions League match against Olympiacos in 2009 – a 1-0 defeat which also saw youngsters Bartley, Cruise, Gilbert, Wilshere, Merida, Mannone, Eastmond, Coquelin, Randall & Sunu included in the squad.
Ayling failed to get on the pitch in that game, and was to leave at the end of the season. He spent 4 years at Yeovil Town, helping them into the Championship, before dropping back down to League One this summer to play for Bristol City in League One.
Henri Lansbury – Midfielder
So much promise as a youngster. So much was expected of him. Unfortunately, he was neither good enough, or had the right attitude to make it at Arsenal.
The signing of Aaron Ramsey, 2 months Lansbury’s junior, and the development of Jack Wilshere, nearly 2 years younger, restricted Lansbury’s playing time. His Arsenal highlight came when he scored against Spurs in a League Cup third round game at 18. What was expected to be a progressive loan move to Norwich City shortly after perhaps ended his Arsenal career.
Reports of him acting up at Norwich, liking a drink too much and being a general ‘diva’ were followed with him being caught driving his Audi A5 at 110mph. Owning a £40,000 car at just 19. Maybe that was the problem…
He seems to have got his act together as he has grown up. A successful loan move to West Ham was followed with him joining Nottingham Forest on a permanent deal, where he is now a key member of the team. A return to the Premier League is surely not too far away for the man who captained England to the 2009 UEFA U19 European Championship Final.
In his time at Arsenal, he played 8 senior games.
Emmanuel Frimpong – Midfielder
More interested in being a hip hop star and selling Dench t-shirts than breaking through into the Arsenal first team squad on a regular basis. He is the poster boy of failure for this generation.
In 2011/12, he seemed to have made his break through, playing 14 times at Arsenal. His career was about to explode, quickly becoming a fan favourite after clashing with Samir Nasri.
Unfortunately for Frimpong, this spat with Nasri was the cause of his downfall. He quickly became more known for his twitter feed and behaviour than his performances on the pitch.
After his break through season, he only played twice more for Arsenal, both League Cup matches. Loan deals at Wolves, Charlton & Fulham were equally as unimpressive, before he ended up signing a short term deal with Barnsley, were he promptly got sent off on his debut.
Frimpong’s contract was not renewed with Barnsley and after 4 months he found himself clubless. A string of unsuccessful trials led him to join FC Ufa in the Russian Premier League. No, I haven’t heard of them either.
If he had have concentrated on his football career rather than appearing on rap tracks with Lethal Bizzle, he might still be at Arsenal, especially considering our current problems with the centre of midfield.
Francis Coquelin – Midfielder
The man who inspired me to research this. Whilst still on Arsenal’s books, time is ticking for the Frenchman. 44 appearances for Arsenal, after Jack Wilshere, he is the second most successfully player of this generation. But he has proved himself to be not quite good enough.
A good loan deal for Lorient and his ability to perform in a number of positions is what has kept him around. He has, at times, always looked at being on the verge of breaking through, but never quite good enough.
Alongside his loan back to France, he has also spent a season in Germany for SC Frieberg. A loan to Charlton will put him in the shop window, and I am sure we will see him back in the Premier League at some point. Just not for Arsenal.
Jack Wilshere – Midfielder
He has done OK.
Giles Sunu – Striker
The young Frenchman could play on the wing and upfront. One of many young Frenchman to have come through our doors and be labelled the next Henry, his career at Arsenal was hampered by injury. He has since returned to France and become a squad member at Lorient, a short loan spell at Derby sandwiched between.
Played twice for Arsenal, we will probably never see him back in England.
Sanchez Watt – Striker
He certainly did not have the billy big bollocks that many of his colleague had. Arsene Wenger once said he was involved in the first team squad because “he works hard for the team”. Sadly, he did not have the talent.
Five loan spells at Southend, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Crawley and Colchester led him to joining the later permanently. He has over 100 first team games to his name, 3 of which were at Arsenal.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas – Striker
Alongside Wilshere, Lansbury & Frimpong, he looked a star in the game against Spurs. I remember coming away from the game thinking I had seen the next Patrick Vieira.
Whilst he often played upfront, his size, , skills and ability seemed more suitable to central midfield. He was the captain of this generation. The cool kid. The one they all gravitated too.
Sadly, like so many more from this generation, his youth career was his highlight. After loan spells at Blackpool, Doncaster and Cardiff, it looked like he had found himself at Ipswich. After 2 years in Suffolk, he was sold to Bristol City. His lack of work rate and poor attitude leading to his departure.
At the time Ipswich Town boss Mick McCarthy spoke of his ‘scary potential’. Like Frimpong, his poor attitude has got in the way of having a top flight career. He played just 5 times for Arsenal.
The 2008/09 had a lot of potential. Whilst it is clear that Jack Wilshere has been a success, the rest have struggled. They remind me a bit of when Alan Curbishley spoke about his Baby Bentley Boys. Here was a group of young lads, who had a lot of talent, but have all struggled. They got a bit too much money too quick, became a bit too bling, bling, more interested in hanging around with the North London hip-hop scene that was breaking at the time than concentrating on making it at Arsenal.
Even Jack Wilshere has had his problems, and I am sure that club would have dumped him by now were he not so talented.
Francis Coquelin is the last of that group to be cast aside. Hopefully the club have learnt how to turn talented youngsters in first team players, as the Class of 2009 is littered with massive underachievemers.