After signing a new long-term contract with Arsenal, Reiss Nelson quickly signed a season long loan with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. As one of The Gunners’ most promising youngsters since Jack Wilshere, he is many Arsenal fans’ big hope for the future. But Reiss symbolises much more to Arsenal fans than outsiders may believe.
As with many other clubs, at Arsenal, homegrown talent is valued. Players that admire the club. Players that visualise all the hard work from staff and players or most importantly, players that the fans can identify to.
This is something that ex-manager, Arsène Wenger, strongly invested in and just before he left, he spoke of how we should uphold the clubs values through the adversity and change that everyone was about to experience. One of these was respecting and bringing through young talent from the youth academy. Arsène spent a lot of time and effort planning various things within the academy from how and where they train to the actual facilities they have to work within. Most recently, he oversaw the redevelopment of Hale End.
Hale End is Word class and world leading village of facilities used by Arsenal youth squads between the ages of 9 and 16.
The Academy, designed to optimise the education and growth of every player both physically and characteristically, now features a number of full-size pitches, including an exhibition pitch with the same surface and dimensions as Emirates Stadium which allow an easier transition to the first team. The pitches are named after the original four stands at Highbury, in recognition of the club’s long tradition of developing home-grown talent. The new main building houses a state-of-the art gymnasium, a new analysts’ suite and recreational space for our young players. There is also a restaurant area, changing rooms, classrooms, offices and medical space. The David Rocastle indoor sports hall has been refurbished, with a new 3G surface and a wrap-around design that gives the impression of playing at Emirates Stadium. Imagery of Academy graduates including Alex Iwobi, Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, Hector Bellerin, Jack Wilshere, Emi Martinez, Chuba Akpom, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Wojciech Szczesny cover the walls as inspiration to the boys.
The little details were important for everyone involved when building, and they attempted to make the facilities not only look good, but also suit every player involved. This would mean that everything would have to be shaped around their timetable, which due to their age, would include school. State of the art floodlights were installed onto every single pitch so that pupils would be able to train later in the evening after school.
Also, things such as tutoring services and private rooms are provided on site so that students don’t fall behind with education work on the basis that they had football.
The development, completed in 2017, aimed to improve the productivity of the academy which had previously encountered a number of years with little to shout about. To boost this, the higher powers at Arsenal also brought in new academy staff. Ex-players Freddie Ljungberg and Per Mertesacker have been unveiled as Under 23’s manager and academy manager respectively at the start of the 2018/19 season. Luckily for Arsenal, It has already starting to reap rewards with players such as Bellerin, Iwobi all coming to fruition during or around the time of this project being completed.
Furthermore, Reiss Nelson (18), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (21) and Eddie Nketiah (19), who were part of the last batch of players that Arsène attempted to bring through, also came through Hale End Academy. Reiss and Eddie have excelled since their early education, and last season was the best example of this quality. With 21 goals and 5 assists between the two of them, they became Premier League 2 Champions. Both players have proven themselves so much at this level, that they’ve been trusted in the first XI. Reiss starred in several Europa League games and earned himself a Premier League debut and Nketiah stormed onto the footballing scene by scoring two goals against Norwich, one of which was after 17 seconds after coming on as a sub, and won the game in doing so.
In addition to this, last seasons U18’s also succeeded as a squad. Reaching the final of the youth cup and finishing second in the league. Whether these players will make it in the first team is an unanswerable question at the moment, but what we know is that they’ve certainly got the potential.
The facilities have been described by graduate, Alex Iwobi, as “Futuristic” and “Amazing”. He also went on to confirm how he believed these changes to the educational areas as well as the pitches etc are vital. “It’s not just about the football, but also the educational side as well.”
With all of this project and the chances that are given to the players to thrive in, it is not hard to see why Arsenal are experiencing such brilliant results and an influx of young talent. It’s also not too optimistic to regard Arsenal as one of the trailblazers of the youth game in this country. Chelsea have excellent squads and have won plenty of trophies but also a notorious loan system. Manchester City have brilliant facilities and several talented players but in a squad where every player is top quality, the chances given are sporadic. With recent signs, The Gunnners have seemed to be able to strike a good bond between having the squad, facilities and chances, and for this have plenty to look forward to.
However, It’s not only Arsenal that will benefit from this academy, Gareth Southgate definitely has plenty to look forward to when managing his England squad. He will have a plethora of English talent evolving from Hale End during and before the Euros and World Cup. And because of top-level coaching, these players will be adept in multiple positions. He will be able to select from not only the players already mentioned, but ballers such as Smith-Rowe, Amechi and Willock, to name just a few.
So here’s to everyone at Hale End, and here’s to Arsenal and England’s future!