By Josh James
Liam Brady, Academy Manager and Head of Youth Development at Arsenal, believes that this season's Carling Cup run is further evidence that the Academy is producing players of a high enough quality to feel at home in the first team.
Academy graduates Mark Randall, Henri Lansbury, Kieran Gibbs and Justin Hoyte have all appeared in the League Cup this season, and Liam believes that there more talented youngsters further down the system awaiting their chance.
"I'm very excited about what we have at Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 level, especially with regards to the English boys," he begins. "They have done ever so well in the Under-18s league so far this season, as in the main we have played with the Under-16s and 17s. We are top of our section at the moment, and the Reserve team is doing very well also and that mainly consists of our second year boys.
"In fact I would say this is probably the healthiest state the Academy has been in since I've been here.
"I think that's because we are starting to see the first generation of players who have come all the way through the age groups at Hale End. Boys like Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Henri Lansbury, Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Sanchez Watt have all attained England schoolboy recognition and they have been with us since they were nine and ten.
"Roy Massey deserves great credit for all the work he has done with the younger players at Hale End."
The Hale End Academy is where the Club's under-nines to under-16s are based, before becoming scholars and moving the Arsenal Training Centre at Shenley, with the first team squad.
Roy Massey is in charge of the Essex-based facility, where he works each day with a host of coaches.
"There's an excellent team of coaches there," Liam confirms. "Carl Laraman came on board about a year ago, and he's in charge of the coaching for the Under-12 downwards. We also have a number of younger coaches, generally non-league players in their late 20s or early 30s, who work with the players at that level too.
"Then we have Steve Gatting, who coaches the Under-15s and Under-16s. He also mentors and tutors the guys, helping them with their apprenticeships and sporting excellence - the football side of their education. Steve Leonard is another coach doing great work at Hale End, we also have George Paris, who was with me at West Ham. It's a good coaching team at Arsenal, they all know the kind of work we want them to be doing.
"Basically," the former Republic of Ireland International continues, "unless we can give players to Arsène Wenger who are technically strong, able to pass and move, they would find it difficult to progress to the first team. So that's why I'm very pleased with the quality of player we have got this year.
"The Under-18s who have gone into the first team - Mark Randall, Nacer Barazite, Fran Merida, Henri Lansbury, Kieran Gibbs - they have all done very well and you can only do that if you are technically able.
"To get these boys into the Club in the first place is the most important thing, because we feel that as soon they are here, the facilities and coaching we can offer is sufficient to keep them. But if they end up at West Ham, Tottenham or QPR for example, you can't get them. So a lot of work goes into getting the boys at eight or nine, and Roy does a great job with that."
In the past there has been a criticism that young English players were not as technically gifted as many of their foreign counter-parts, due to the coaching in this country. However Liam states that, at Arsenal at least, the English players are now very strong technically.
"Generally I don't think enough emphasis is placed on the technical side of things in coaching the youngsters in England. But we have been doing that here for the best part of ten years now and I do believe that the technical level of our players has improved because of that. The academy system is functioning well at Arsenal, but it all depends on the work you give to the boys."
And a successful academy has led to a successful Carling Cup side in recent years - this is the third year in succession that the Gunners have reached the last four, sticking the policy of using mainly young players - this year younger than ever.
"I heard that the average age of the squad that won at Blackburn in the last round was less than 20," says Liam - himself a former trainee at Arsenal. "The experience the boys are getting is invaluable. I think how they have played has been amazing, and the results they have got have been amazing too. A lot of the teams they have knocked out in recent times have been teams that really want to win the competition - Everton, Newcastle and Blackburn for example.
"In last year's Semi-Final against Spurs, they put their very best team out to reach the final, but they couldn't beat us and I'm really looking forward to this year's Semi-Final.
"The boys play without fear, and in fact if anyone has fear, it's the opposition because know if they don't do well they could get embarrassed."
This season though it's not just the Carling Cup team that has benefited from the Academy's Graduates.
Johan Djourou has recently returned from a successful loan spell at Birmingham City, where he played more than a dozen Premier League games, and will be hoping to pick up where he left off in an Arsenal shirt last season, following his return to the Club.
Another player who gained valuable first team experience with the Blues is Nicklas Bendtner, who spent two years in the Gunners Academy between 2004 and 2006 before his season-long loan spell at St Andrews. Since returning to Arsenal in the summer he has already netted twice in the Champions League, and got his first Premier League goal against Spurs in the 2-1 win at Emirates on December 22.
"It was funny," recalls Liam, "because at half-time I said to Nicklas that if he can score a winner against our biggest rivals he will be a hero forever more. It was quite prophetic of me!"
This interview featured in the matchday programme for
Arsenal's League Cup Semi-Final versus Spurs. If you are
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