Out of Emmanuel Petit’s comments last week about Arsenal “needing experience over youth” there is actually a debate to be had.
As I outlined in a blog over the weekend, Petit’s viewpoint on how Arsenal operate in the transfer market is living in the past.
Since 2012, Arsenal have moved away from mainly buying young players. The list of incoming transfers speaks for itself:
Obviously during that time we have signed some youngsters – the likes of Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos – but on the whole, we have mainly been signing senior professionals. Players with experience. The majority with many caps for their country.
In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that it is not youth v experience that Petit should be question, but the overall quality of the players that have come in.
Where you can be highly critical of the club is the quality of those that have been bought in.
The likes of Shkdoran mustafi and Granit Xhaka. I am a fan of the latter, but I can see why both have been heavily criticised. Also the likes of Flamini, Debuchy, Welbeck, Gabriel and Ospina. We have bought the experience, but those who have come in are perhaps not the required quality.
As Aaliyah once sang; Age ain’t nothing but a number.
Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Ousmane Dembélé, Kylian Mbappé, Gabriel Jesus were already amongst the best players in the world when still teenagers. For them it is nothing to do with age, they had the quality.
Should Arsenal really not target Ryan Sessegnon, Christian Pulisic or justin Kluivert because they are teens?
Ok, we might not want to sign anymore young centre backs as we already have 3 in the squad. But then again, Caglar Soyuncu is barely 22 and we are heavily linked with him.
Soyuncu is probably the type of player Petit does not want us to sign. A 22 year old centre back. But then he has nearly 100 top level games, is capped by Turkey and has been first choice in the Bundesliga for 2 years.
The scouts at Arsenal do not care about the age of a player if they think that player is good enough.
By 21, Lionel Messi had been named the best player in the world. He had already been performing at the highest level for Barcelona for 3 years. Whilst he is an incredible player, we should not avoid signing youngsters because they are young.
Should Arsenal not be looking to sign the next Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas or Neymar for fear of ending up with the next Nani, Anderson or Yaya Sanogo?
It is the talent of the player we should look at, not their age.
What is more important is the squad also needs balance.
There is no point having a squad made up of entirely 28+year olds. This was perhaps the downfall of the invincible’s. All the players reached their peak together. And over a 2 or 3 years period, all of their top level careers came to an end.
What we did not have during that period was the youngsters in the squad backing them up. The likes of Ray Parlour and Edu were the cover in midfield, but they were the same age as Giberto Silva and Patrick Vieira.
Up top was Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sylvain Wiltord and Nwankwo Kanu. A great crop of strikers, but not too much age difference.
Manchester United struggled post Sir Alex Ferguson. Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Robin van Persie. All the wrong side of 30. All their careers as top level performers came to an end at a similar time as when Ferguson left.
Likewise, you can have a squad with too many youngsters.
Arsenal’s downfall in 2008 was having too many inexperienced players.
When the going got tough after the Eduardo injury against Birmingham, the players did not have the mental maturity and experience to battle through and go on to win the league.
They were not helped out by William Gallas, the experienced captain, throwing a strop during that game. Or Tomas Rosicky, another experienced midfielder, being continually inured.
It is important to have the diversity in signings. The experiences pro’s mixed in with the youngsters.
What you want is a Thierry Henry upfront, and the next Thierry Henry coming through pushing him for his place. It is obviously easier said that done.
If we signed someone like Ousmane Dembélé, just 21 years old, he would be there not to just cover Henrik Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil but to compete with them. You could easily see a situation where by the end of the season, he is a first team regular, one of the best players in the world, despite being so young.
Football is all about balance, both on the pitch and off it. You want a balanced squad, a mixture of senior pros and young talents.
Arguably, in our current squad, we have too many players over the age of 25. We do not have enough top young players coming through who are of sufficient quality.
The opportunity to sign Dembélé, or Pulisic,or Yacine Adli should not be refused because of their young age.
Experience or youth, it does not matter. It is the quality that matters.