The rise of social media has confided with fans having an unhealthy obsession with young players who have achieved nothing the in the game.
Previously, “fan accounts” were for a clubs best players. Alexis Sanchez. Mesut Ozil. Aaron Ramsey. And so on.
However with fans now driven by “being first”, many any end “fan boying” young players. They can then say “I was a big fan ever since he was 1 if he makes it.
These sort of people probably run multiple account for every young player; in the hope one makes it and they gain thousands of followers. A fairy sad existence.
But what it has led to at Arsenal is the over hyping of Willian Saliba and Folarin Balogan.
Saliba has been overhyped since the day we signed him around 18 months ago. “The new van Dijk” or “the Mbappe of central defenders” they called him.
The reality is he was just 18 when he signed and had barely played senior football.
Fans then cried that Mikel Arteta was not playing him. They would post up videos showing one good tackle. One good control. One good clearance. But they turned a blind eye to his rashness and mistakes.
These people had not actually seen him play. They hyped him up for clout; and as an extension of the Mesut Ozil debate.
They hate Mikel Arteta over his treatment of Ozil, so automatically any player Arteta doesn’t play becomes brilliant, and any he plays is awful. It is very transparent.
Most of those slating Arteta for not picking Saliba are also firmly in the “Ozil is a legend” camp. They don’t really rate Saliba, they just rate any player Arteta does not.
But ultimately Arteta sees Saliba every day in training. He sees him alongside Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel and Pablo Mari.
Arteta is best placed to make a decision on young players. Not some kid who has never seen him player.
People seem to have forgotten that Virgil van Dijk was playing in Holland for Groningen at 18.
He then moved to Celtic in Scotland before coming to the Premier League at 24. Not to join a big club but to join Southampton.
It was not until he was 26 that Liverpool made him the most expensive defender in the world.
Van Dijk was not even a full Dutch international until he was 24. As a young player he was very much recognised as someone who was a fantastic physical specimen but rash in the challenge and error prone. A bit like Saliba.
From what I have seen of Saliba he reminds me of a young Rio Ferdinand. He strolls through games but is too casual on the ball.
Ferdinand, like van Dijk, did not become the worlds most expensive overnight.
He started at West Ham before joining Leeds United.
Manchester United signed Ferdinand at 24, by which time he had played nearly 200 Premier League games.
Saliba will become a very good central defender. But he has a lot to learn. He needs to get 100 appearances under his belt, improve his game awareness and grow. Even if we do not see him for another 2 seasons he will still just be 21.
He needs to be given the time to develop.
Like Saliba, Balogun has a fan base which is mystifying.
People are claiming that Balogun should be playing ahead of Eddie Nketiah, ahead of Gabriel. Ahead of Alex Lacazette.
This is a guy that has performed well at youth level. But it is way to wary for people to be writing him into starting XIs.
Compare him to Bukayo Saka.
Saka is 2 months younger than Balogun and has over 60 appearances.
I see some say “Arteta hates young players”; but Saka disproves that.
It is clear that Arteta will play you regardless of your age as long as you are good enough.
Saka is good enough, Balogun is not yet.
That does not mean Balogun will not become a good striker, but as it stands he is 5th choice – behind Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel and Nketiah.
The best comparison at the club for Balogun is Gabriel.
Born within days of each other, Gabriel has shown he is Premier League quality. Balogun has not.
A couple of goals as a teenager off the bench in the Europa League does not suddenly make him a superstar. It is no more than what either Gabriel or Nketiah have done.
The Balogun deal is reportedly held up either due to money or playing time.
On money; it is ludicrous to say “just pay him what he wants”. I have seen some say “sell Nketiah and pay his transfer fee to Balogun”. These people do not know much about football.
Chelsea paid Callum Hudson-Odoi a reported £120,000 a week to keep him. This would make Balogun one of Arsenal’s top 10 paid players.
The level below that is Saka and Gabriel.
Both recently signed new deals for a reported £90,000 a week. Both deserved their new deals after consistent performances.
Anyone who thinks it is logical to pay Balogun more – or even par – to Saka and Gabriel is a plonker.
We have enough disharmony in the squad without paying an unproven youth player more than establish youth players.
Even paying Balogun the same as Rob Holding (who will deserve his new deal) is wrong. Balogun has literally achieved nothing in football and some fans want us to tie up £25m in a contract for him.
If it is playing time Balogun wants, then he has a two options.
Sign a new deal and take a loan or leave.
The fact is Balogun has players ahead of him in the pecking order at Arsenal.
Even if you discount Nketiah (whose time is probably running out); he is still behind Aubameyang, Lacazette and Gabriel. He has not shown he is better than any of those.
So sign a contract and take a 6 month loan deal. Go smash in half a dozen goals in the Championship. Come back having proven that you can compete with Gabriel to be back up to Aubameyang (I think Lacazette will leave in the summer). But the key is go and prove what you can do.
We have seen good youth strikers before at Arsenal. Lupoli, Afobe, Akpom, Nketiah. Dominated U18 games does not mean you will automatically step up.
His other option is to leave. To follow the likes of Stephy Mavididi and Xavier Amaechi out the door. Where are those two now?
Of course, some will say he is the “new Gnabry” – something people put out every time a young Arsenal players leaves.
Mavididi and Amaechi have done little since leaving the club.
Donyell Malen has dropped a level and is now performing well in Holland. But Saka is levels ahead (and the same age).
I would imagine if Nketiah left for Holland, he would outside Malen.
A lot of people also point to Jeff Reine-adélaïde as “another Gnabry”.
“The Jeff” is now 22 and has yet to do anything to prove Arsenal wrong in letting him go.
He went to Angers, where after a good season he earned himself a big money move to Lyon. They have now loaned him out to Nice. He turns 23 in a week.
Is Jeff better than Saka? No. Is he even better than Willock? Probably not. And Emile Smith Rowe is not too far behind.
Balogun and Saliba are good young players, but they are not on the level of senior first team Arsenal players. Anyone that thinks they are is either deluded or agenda driven.
For every Cesc there is a Merida. Every Wilshere a Zelalem. Every Anelka and Afobe.
Bar Gnabry – who had not played for 2 years – Arsenal have not regretted losing a young player. Not been proved wrong in allowing them to go.
It will happen again. But we have to back the decisions of the coach. The management.
And ultimately back the players who are at the club. Who want to stay here. Not those that think the grass is greener elsewhere.