• Stephen Broekhuizen

The Arsenal Academy XI - Who Makes It?

Given the emergence of the likes of Saka and Smith Rowe in recent times, and the fact that as I write this it's the eve of the transfer window closing and the only signing we have made is for the Under 18s, (cue meltdown) I thought it might be fun to put together a team made up entirely of Arsenal Academy graduates throughout the years.

For this I will play a fairly standard 4-4-1-1 system... because I can.

Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny

Still playing at Juventus, the Goalkeeper who joined our youth setup when he arrived would go on to break into the first team in the 2010/11 season, playing 15 of our Premier League games, Overall, the Polish international would go on to play 132 league games for us and made 189 appearances for the club. He later moved onto Roma on loan, before going to Juventus.

As well as being a quite commanding goalkeeper when at his best, he also seemed to have a really genuine love for the club and is perhaps the best goalkeeper we have ever produced from the Academy - winning two FA Cups for the club.

Right Back: Pat Rice

There aren’t enough words to express Pat Rice's dedication to Arsenal.

Having signed as an apprentice in 1964 before turning professional with the club in 1966, he would go on to play 528 games in total for Arsenal, scoring 13 times, before joining Watford for a 4 year spell. Upon retiring, he re-joined Arsenal as a youth team coach, working until 1996 at which point he took over for a few games as a caretaker manager for the senior team prior to the arrival of Arsène Wenger. He then became the Frenchman’s assistant manager until 2012. In total as a player and coach he spent 44 years at the club; a true legend, even beating cancer after he left the club.

Apart from the trophies he won with Wènger as Assistant Manager, he also led Arsenal to the FA Youth Cup in 1988 and 1994, he was Arsenal's Player of the Year in 1972 and won the league and cup double in the 70/71 season, as well as the FA Cup in 1979. A wonderful defender who could tackle and pass well enough to play the modern football we do now, he shares the record of a total of five FA Cup final appearances for the club along with David Seaman and Ray Parlour.

Left Back: Kieran Gibbs

He is on here because I can’t think of any other left backs who should be on the list... nope still can’t think of any.

Gibbs, who is by far the best left back the club has ever produced by the way, would play 230 times for the club scoring 6 times. He also made 10 appearances for the English national team showing us just how good he was at his best - he was also a runner-up internationally with the England Under 21s in the 2009 European Championship. He won 3 FA Cups at Arsenal and was definitely better than any other English international left back we have ever produced in the Academy.

We definitely didn’t have anyone who won two leagues and two FA Cups and played 107 times for England before signing away his soul to join Chelsea come through our youth ranks.

Centre Back: Tony Adams

Where to start? 672 appearances and 49 goals, 4 league titles, 3 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, a European Cup Winners Cup, a host of individual honours and 66 caps for England. Not bad

Adams signed for Arsenal as a 13-year-old and stayed at the club until his retirement in 2002. He was the Arsenal captain at such a young age and was a true leader even so early on, great at motivating the players on the pitch and one of the greatest defenders of his time. He had wonderful positional sense, would head a brick to stop the opposition scoring and his 49 goals show he wasn’t shy at getting a few goals a season either.

Some only ever saw Adams under Wènger and think he was just a super defender and captain, but he was a very good player with the ball at his feet as well and could easily fit into the current Arsenal system and play out from the back.

Centre Back: David O’Leary

Perhaps a little biased on this one in putting him over the likes of Keown but when I first started supporting Arsenal I had two players I loved - and David was one of them.

He was an outstanding defender and holds all kinds of appearance records for Arsenal. His 722 games is still a club record he set during his 20 years at the club, as well as being the youngest player to 100 and 200 games for the club - he was just 26 when he played his 400th game. To put that into modern perspective, if Saka plays all our remaining Premier League games he would then have to average a little over 45 games a season until he is 26 to match what O’Leary did.

In his career he won two league titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups. He was also a very tidy player on the ball and helped to be a calming influence on the likes of Tony Adams and that wonderful young team that came through in the late 80s.

He played 68 times for Ireland and will always be remembered for scoring the winning penalty in the shoot out with Romania to put Ireland through to face Italy in the 1990 World Cup. A real Arsenal man who is still around the club, and if I could pick one former player to be a part of the current Arsenal board it would be O’Leary.

Right Midfield: David Rocastle

Many people might put Ray Parlour in here, but for me it is my other favourite player when I first started supporting the club, David Rocastle who gets the nod for me. I love that Saka wears his Number 7 as no Arsenal graduate since Rocastle has excited me as much.

In total he played 241 times for the club, scoring 23 goals, but it was the way he played, the skills, the running with the ball, the chances he would create for others and the toughness he had on the pitch that made him truly special. The fans loved him, teammates loved him and basically everyone loved him as he was a very humble and very down to earth person.

A famous story of his youth team days was how focused he always seemed to be looking at the ball when it was at his feet - this was down to, they would later find out, rather poor eyesight! But contact lenses would fix that.

In the days when football was often route one and you almost had to murder someone to be sent off, he was just different; gliding across the pitch with the ball at his feet and without a doubt he would be a star player in the modern game. He died way too young, and I do genuinely have tears in my eyes writing about him thinking back to all the wonderful memories I have watching him play. He won a league title twice and a League Cup during his time at the club. The fact he had only 14 caps for England is crazy.

Central Midfield: Cesc Fàbregas

Cesc joined the youth set up as a 16 year old, and thanks to a few key injuries made his way into the first team a few seasons later, never really leaving until he was sold to Barcelona.

In total the midfielder would play 303 times for Arsenal, scoring 57 goals and making over 100 goals for others as well. He was a key part of our midfield during that time, and while the only major honour he would win would be an FA Cup, he was a huge part of our run to the Champions League final.

He was everything a modern footballer should be - able to tackle, pass, score, assist and drive his team forward. He has also won a World Cup and two European championships, as well as a few other irrelevant trophies while playing elsewhere in the league... there was a time when we had moved stadiums that he was key to us continuing to make the Champions League year in year out. He would leave eventually to go back to Barcelona but in his final five years at Arsenal he created 466 goal scoring opportunities, made 86 assists and scored 4 goals; all better than Xavi and Iniesta during the same period.

His move to Chelsea after leaving Barcelona will still hurt fans especially given we passed the opportunity to bring him back.

Central Midfield: Liam Brady

Perhaps the most naturally gifted player we have ever produced, Brady was simply a generational talent.

In his time, he played 307 games for the club, scoring 59 goals and assisting countless more. He was a key talent in bringing Arsenal to 3 FA Cup finals in a row and he was immense against Juventus on our run to the Cup Winners Cup semi-final where we won 2-1 on aggregate that year but sadly lost in the final. In 1979 Brady (being Irish) was the first foreign winner of the PFA Player of the Year award.

He was simply sensational to watch on the pitch; a great left foot and an ability to find a pass other people didn’t even see. He scored great goals and had his socks pulled down before it was cool. If you have never seen Liam Brady play, it is hard to describe just how good he was - not just a good player or a great player but for a time was quite possibly the best midfielder in the world. If you could combine Fàbregas and Wilshere, you would get close to Brady.

He made the move to Juventus for half a million pounds, becoming the first foreign player to sign for an Italian club when the borders re-opened to foreign transfers in 1980. He was a rare thing - a success in Italy, at a time when many who moved there didn’t do so well. He helped Juventus to back-to-back league titles. Having an ability to brighten up the dullest of games with his footballing intelligence, it is no wonder he was such a success with the youth set up at Arsenal as well. One of the greats - not just of Arsenal, but of the game as a whole.

Left Midfield: Bukayo Saka

Even though he currently plays on the right I couldn’t give him Rocky’s spot and given the off-field problems of Graeme Rix I can’t include him, so instead I will pick Bukayo Saka. With 110 games and 18 goals for Arsenal he has already matched Rocastle’s international tally of 14 caps, scoring 4 goals. At just 20 years of age, already one of our key players, he has already won more trophies than Harry Kane (to be fair he was once Millwall player of the month).

Saka is the most exciting talent I have seen from the academy maybe since Rocastle. He is truly a star in the making and these players do not come along all that often, so we need to enjoy him. A player who clearly loves the club as well, we can only hope he matches the likes of Adams and O’Leary when it comes to his appearances for the club. He is such a joy to watch and has that same ability Brady had to just do something special. To turn a very slow boring game into something different.

The way he bounced back from the summer disappointment and the horrible abuse he suffered shows just how mentally tough he is - like Rocky he seems to just be a very nice person and those England team pictures of him on giant inflatable unicorns show how much other players enjoy being around him as well. He is currently doing such a great job on the right but perhaps he will eventually go left, or central... only time will tell - and hopefully he has a lot of it ahead of him at Arsenal.

Attacking Midfielder / Number 10: Paul Merson

For me, it has to be Paul Merson.

He did often play wide right, especially in the early days, but he for sure was at home as a number ten. He had a rare talent for dribbling with the ball, could strike a vicious shot, spot a pass and he was great to watch in the league title winning season of 88/89; he scored ten times and was voted the PFA Young Player of the Year.

He would go on to play 423 times for the club and score 99 goals. He won two league titles, an FA Cup, A League Cup and the Cup Winners Cup during his time at Arsenal. Perhaps he is a little underrated by those outside of Arsenal, but his first touch and his ability to spray passes was sensational to watch. A gifted footballer and one of the finest we have ever produced.

His time as a pundit has been a bit hit and miss though...

Striker: Niall Quinn

Could go with a few people here, Kevin Campbell or maybe even Andy Cole, but (not being at all biased) will pick another Irishman; Niall Quinn.

He may be better known for his time elsewhere and the work he has done off the pitch for charity, and maybe even for the goals and assists he had for Ireland, but he was one of the best target men to ever play the game in England. Think of how many times he set up Kevin Phillips with a flick on.

Quinn did start his career with Arsenal and in his 93 appearances for the club got 23 goals before he left to Manchester City for £800,000 in 1990. Overall, in his club career he would go on to score 163 goals in 551 games. While he was part of the 88/89 squad and scored two league goals that year, he only played 6 games making him not eligible for a medal. He did win the League Cup during his time at Arsenal though... incidentally also making him more successful than Harry Kane.

Off the field he is a very nice guy as well, and has done a lot for charity. He was also very popular in the Arsenal dressing room during his time at the club.

I know I have left out a few players who may have made it onto other people’s lists; Andy Cole, Kevin Campbell, Charlie George, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour or even Serge Gnabry.

But one thing is for sure - Kieran Gibbs is the best left back we have ever produced.

- Stephen Broekhuizen