Prior to Saturday’s FA Cup final victory, the only real positive that had come out of this season was the development of youth at The Arsenal.
Bukayo Saka was the cream of the crop.
2019/20 was his breakthrough season, with only Nicolas Pepe creating for goals in the Premier League for Arsenal. His attitude and willingness to play whether required was impressive.
Behind Saka, the likes of Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson also had their part to play.
2 years separate the Nketiah (eldest) and Saka (the baby of the group). The 4 Hale End boys had grown up together in the youth teams.
It is easy to forget that Reiss Nelson is just 20. He seems to have been around forever!
Alongside the 4 was youngster Matt Smith.
Smith had only recently begun joining in training sessions with the first team following a return to football following the suspension. He had previously captain Arsenal at U18 level.
The 19 year old was a surprise inclusion in the first team squad in recent weeks and he made it 5 Hale End boys on the bench (6 if you include Matt Macey who joined us from Bristol Rovers at 19).
There were also 3 Hale End graduates that started the game.
The story of Emiliano Martínez is an incredible one.
Some of us will always know him as Damian Martínez, joining Arsenal at 18-years-old from Argentina.
10 years on and, following injury to Bernd Leno, he has become a key player and is now arguably Arsenal’s number 1.
From Oxford to Sheffield, Rotherham to Wolverhampton and Getafe. It was at Reading for the 2nd half of last season he took a huge step forward.
Well done lad.
Another to sign into the academy was Hector Bellerin.
Joining Arsenal at 16-years-old from Barcelona, he ahs now played over 200 games and captained Arsenal.
The last 2 seasons have been tough for the Spanish-Cockney. Bad injury and a loss of form when returning seemed to shatter his confidence. But he is back.
Last but not least is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. A man who has really turned round his Arsenal career recently.
A few months ago Maitland-Niles seemed on his way out of Arsenal.
Questions about his attitude, about him demanding to play midfield. He had seemingly played his last game for Arsenal.
He kept his counsel, worked hard at training and was fantastic on Saturday. Likewise he was key against Manchester City in the semi-final.
The FA Cup final made it a century of games for The Arsenal. Hopefully he continues to focus and kicks on.
Back in 1987, Tony Adams (20), David Rocastle (19), Michael Thomas (19), Niall Quin (20), Martin Hayes (20) beat Liverpool to win the League Cup. This group of talented youth team graduates would then go on to win the league together at Anfield in 1989.
Who knows what the current crop of graduates could go on to achieve?