With Ben White our oldest signing, Arsenal have returned to securing bright young talent rather than those players nearing the end of their career.
In recent years, this is the 3rd “project youth” we have embarked on. But what happened to the previous generations?
The Foreign Legion
In the mid 00s, Arsene Wenger and his scouting team cast the net wide to bring in some of the brightest young talents from across Europe.
Cesc Fabregas (15 when signed) was the jewel in the crown and he was joined by Abou Diaby, (19), Philippe Senderos (18), Robin van Persie (21), Denilson (18), Mathieu Flamini (20), Alex Song (18), Gael Clichy (17), Emmanuel Adebayor (22), Nicklas Bendtner(17), Emmanuel Eboue (21) and the sole Englishman Theo Walcott (16).
This group of players underachieved at Arsenalbut the majority when on to have successful careers elsewhere.
The 2007/08 season was when this group of youngsters peaked.
The summer of 2007 saw senior players Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg leave. That left just Jens Lehmann, Kolo Toure and Gilberto Silva as the last remaining men who had a serious impact on the invincibles just 3 seasons earlier.
The baton was passed from that great side onto the youngsters, and they came so close to greatness.
The young team became the first to reach 60 points in February, after winning 3–1 against Manchester City; Wenger described the feat as “phenomenal”.
Manchester City’s defeat of Manchester United the following week meant a 2–0 win at home to Blackburn Rovers put Arsenal five points clear in first spot, with 12 matches to play.
And then it all came tumbling down.
The team faces Birmingham at St Andrews. The infamous game where Eduardo suffered that horrific injury following a horrendous fouls by Martin Taylor.
Arsenal then came behind to go 2-1 up as the game entered injury time. Clichy then proceeded to pass the ball to no one within his own box, and then bring down his opponent. Penalty. 2-2.
Arsenal would draw 3 and lose 1 of their next 4 games, a 5 game run without a win which would see Arsenal drop from 1st to 3rd; a position we would never recover from.
We ended up the season 4 points behind Manchester United who would go on to win 4 of the next 6 league titles.
With the age of our side, that success could have been ours had the team not capitulated against Birmingham. The togetherness of the side never recovered from William Gallas sulking in the centre circle.
Over the next couple of years the team struggled for success. The lowest point coming in 2011 once again against Birmingham City.
The side were clear favourites for the League Cup Final but proceeded to concede in the 89th minute. A disastrous goal of our own making.
That defeat seemed to make a turning point for many of the young players.
Instead of staying to fight together, they were tempted away by instant success and wealth elsewhere.
In the summer of 2011, Clichy went to Man City and was quickly joined by Samir Nasri. Cesc Fabregas returned to Barceona. A year later Song joined Cesc at Barcelona and van Persie moved to Manchester United.
A group of some of the most talented young players in world football had spent half a decade together ad failed to win a trophy.
The side began being built following the exodus of players after the Champions League final. 2 years later we nearly won the league. 6 years after that defeat to Barcelona, project youth was over and the youngsters who were hoped would take us to glory were now men leading other clubs to trophies.
Everytime one of them lifted a trophy it made the 8 years of no silverware even more painful.
The British Core
As the foreign legion of young players broke up, there was new young hope.
One of the issues highlighted with bringing in so many young, talented players from abroad was none of them had any real loyalty to The Arsenal.
When you are getting teenagers to depart the clubs they have grown up playing for and supported, you almost install disloyalty in them.
Having learned from this, the British Core rose.
Led by Jack Wilshere, the most naturally gifted youngster to come through our academy in decades, the future was bright, the future was British.
In December 2012, Wenger thought he had found the answer to Arsenal’s lack of success.
Wenger stood beaming like a proud father behind Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as they all signed new long term deals.
Throw in Theo Walcott who was still just 23 at the time and the core of the team was now British.
Gone were the days of Arsenal not having an Brit in the side. Moving forward half the team was going to be British. And it was exciting.
The summer of 2013 saw a new kit launch and the British core was very much part of it; with all 6 members of the side front and centre of Puma’s campaign.
18 months after they had all signed their new contracts; we had won our first trophy since 2005 winning the 2014 FA Cup.
But that Final winning side contained just 2 of the 6 British core.
Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs we’re the only two members to start, with Jack Wilshere on the bench.
Both made significant contributions during the game with Gibbs heading off the line at 2-0 down and Ramsey grabbing the winner.
Injuries had curtailed must of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott’s season and both missed the final due to injury.
And this was the story of the British Core. They all struggled throughout their Arsenal career with injury.
Ramsey, following the assault by Ryan Shawcross, was always picking up niggling injuries; whilst Wilshere had chronic ankle problems.
Walcott had issues with both shoulders that led him to miss a lot of football and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s entire career at Arsenal and later Liverpool would be a story of getting fit, playing half a dozen games and then breaking down again.
Gibbs also had his issues and as for Jenkinson, his heart was in the right place but he was never quite good enough.
Arsenal would also win the 2015 FA Cup; this time with Walcott and Ramsey in the starting XI and Gibbs, Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench.
By the time the 2017 FA Cup final came around, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding had been added to the British core, with Hector Bellerin an honorary member.
Holding, Bellerin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck would al start that final, With Walcott and Iwobi on the bench.
Chambers had found himself out on loan, whilst Wilshere was loaned to Bournemouth as he recovered from another set back. Gibbs was also out injured.
Following that victory; the original 6 members of the British core would begin departing.
Gibbs joined WBA, Oxlade-Chamberlain Liverpool and Walcott Everton.
In 2018 Wilshere would join West Ham and 12 months later Ramsey left on a free to Juventus.
Jenkinson would be the last of the 6 to leave the club – joining Nottingham Forest in August 2019.
Unlike the foreign legion that proceeded them, the British core did not really go on to much success.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey won medals, but they contributed very little to their sides success, whilst the rest slide down the leagues.
Whilst the British core were not as talented as their predecessors and did not achieve as much in their career, they did achieve more with Arsenal.
3 FA Cups from 2014-2017, Walcott left with 108 goals in 397 games and Ramsey with 369 games and 2 FA Cup winning goals under his belt.
Gibbs played 230 times for the club, Wilshere 197 and Oxlade-Chamberlain 198.
However the FA Cup wins papered over a deterioration in the league. In 2016 Arsenal finished outside the top 4 for the first time in 20 years.
Project Youth Part III
So this summer Arsenal have added Ben White (23), Aaron Ramsdale (23), Martin Odegaard (22), Albert Sambi Lokonga (21) and Nuno Taveras (21) to an existing young core that includes Kieran Tierney (currently 24), Gabriel (23), Emile Smith Rowe (21), Bukayo Saka (19) and Gabriel Martinelli (21).
It is a combination of some of the best young foreign talent and some exciting young British talent.
In its previous two incarnations, the foreign legion were talented enough to dominate English football but failed to do so, whilst the British core were not quite good enough but won trophies.
Could a mixture of the two result in Arsenal returning to top 4, being a title chasing team and winning trophies along the way?
Strap yourself in and get ready for the journey.