In a frustrating season the all too familiar complaints about the perceived failure of Wenger`s youth policy have once more come to the fore. The paradox though is that the famed youth policy, at least in regard to transfers, was brief and actually ended three years back. Its impact though was protracted. The delicate task of timing the departure of expensive experienced players with the development of precocious talent with more value in their legs has disappointed in trophies and perplexed those who didn`t foresee the financial need for such a strategy.
Since 2005/2006, prior to the opening of the Emirates stadium when, in the space of 6 months between July and January, Wenger bought a collection of teenagers in Walcott, Bendtner, Mannone, Traore and Diaby, then added Song and Denilson in August, he has only bought one other teenager, Aaron Ramsey, as a first team squad member. All of his first team signings since then have been more developed players with Nasri at 21 the youngest. Five signings in the last 3 years have been 24 or older, Rosicky, Eduardo, Sagna, Silvestre and Arshavin with the average age of the 10 transfers in that period 23.6 years.
The current first team squad is made up of 29 players, a reasonable size for the PL, though this includes Senderos and Traore, both currently out on loan. The average age of the squad at the beginning of the season was a touch over 22. It will end this season over 23 with the help of the comparatively ancient Arshavin. If the squad remains unchanged then that will, naturally enough, climb to around 24+ by the end of next season which is pretty well an average age for a PL team. Much the same as the `71 double winning side with youngsters George and Kennedy balancing more mature players like McLintock.
That picture would only change if older players were to leave. While van Persie has yet to sign an extension to his contract, and there might be some questions about Gallas, plus the ability of Rosicky to continue playing, space in the first team squad is likely to be made by the removal of those like Senderos, Traore and possibly Bischoff. Given Arsene`s recent statement that “…if we buy, it certainly won’t be players who lack experience. We have enough of those.” the expectation is that the average age might take a modest upward turn this summer.
Looking at the average age of the current first team squad, while still a young side, much of that imbalance of youth and experience is in one area – midfield. The average age of our attack is nudging 24 with the older Eduardo, van Persie and Adebayor balancing Bendtner and Vela. Our defence is a relatively ancient 25 with only Gibbs and Traore true youngsters. If this squad remains together then our attack by the end of next season will be looking towards the 25 mark and defence 26. But our current midfield would barely average 23 even by the end of next season. Take Rosicky and Arshavin out and we are looking at still only 22 by then. Even with Rosicky included we kicked off this season with a midfield squad still shy of 21 as an average age. It`s seems clear where experience is needed which would mean players like Ramsey and Wilshere could find their progress hindered by an endeavour to redress that imbalance with Bischoff perhaps having to look elsewhere.
As a club we will and should always look to recruit and develop exciting youngsters but they are unlikely, other than in Carling Cup competitions, to be afforded quite the same degree of focus that they have had over the last 3 or 4 years.
As the team continues to mature, particularly next season, the door to the first team squad won`t open quite as widely for the youngsters in the future as it has done. Unless that is, our experienced players show the same frustrating tendency for protracted injuries as they have done this season.
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