An impressive 14 Arsenal players who feature in the first-team squad photo - nearly 50 per cent - appeared in the FA Youth Cup before becoming established in the first team squad.

And tonight, the next wave of hopeful young Gunners, all looking to tread the same path, get the 2010/11 FA Cup campaign underway at home to Darlington.

With Arsenal's Head of Academy Liam Brady, we look at the Academy graduates who made the step up from youth to senior football.

Johan Djourou

Season: 2003/04
Youth Cup appearances: 1

Liam's verdict: "Johan was just 16 when he played against Southampton, we lost 2-0 at home in the Fourth Round. We never quite came to a definite conclusion on what his best position was when he was in the Academy. He could play defensive midfield or centre-back, and now he has developed into a really good centre-back. He's improving all the time, and his form lately has been really good. In many ways though he was a bit of a late developer, and he had bad injuries too which set him back. But just a couple of years after playing in this Youth Cup game he was playing at the World Cup Finals, so he was always talented."

Cesc Fabregas

Season: 2003/04
Youth Cup appearances: +1
Youth Cup goals: 1

Liam's verdict: "Now he wasn't a late developer! He came on in the Third Round win at Crawley and scored - I think he lobbed the 'keeper from a distance. He arrived at 16 from Europe, but spent most of his time with the first team. It was good for him to play in the Youth Cup though, he was friends with the younger players and it's a good way to integrate into the Club. He's still very good with that, dealing with the young players here. It was Steve Rowley and Francis Cagigao, our Spanish scout, who brought him over and I remember watching him play for our Under-16 side after he signed and you could tell straight away he was a class act."

Nicklas Bendtner

Seasons: 2004/05, 2005/06
Youth Cup appearances: 4
Youth Cup goals: 2

Liam's verdict: "We had Nicklas, Anthony Stokes and Arturo Lupoli in the team at the same time, and they all tried to outdo each other in the goalscoring! He was always a big lad, and it was a good move for him when he went to Birmingham on loan in the Championship at a young age. Even when he first joined, he had lots of ability, great skill for a big lad, and scored goals. There's still a debate about what his main strengths are today, but I would like to see him get in the box more, be on that far post, but he likes to drop deep and be involved in the build up. I always say to him to get in the box though, because that's where he can score goals, and when he has done that for the Club, he's proved he can be a goalscorer."

Alex Song

Season: 2005/06
Youth Cup appearances: 1

Youth Cup goals: 1
Liam's verdict: "In 2005/06 we had a team full of players who have since gone on to achieve great things. But we got knocked out in our first game, by Brentford at home on penalties. It's a cup competition and these things can happen. I don’t know what it is about Barnet but we seem to be vulnerable there. It was a really strong team, and we could have gone all the way that year. Alex scored in that game – a 2-2 draw - and it's a pity we went out because he could have played a fair bit in the competition that year. That's the team that got away from us really in terms of wining the Youth Cup. He was a big strong lad, played in the role he plays today, he's a good kid and he's gone on to do really well."

Vito Mannone

Season: 2005/06
Youth Cup appearances: 1
Liam's verdict: "Another member of that 2005/06 team, and he was involved in the penalty shoot-out. He came over from Atalanta at 16, recommended by our scout Tony Banfield, and he's turned into a really good keeper. I was just speaking to Hull's chief scout actually, and they are very pleased with him there. He's never let Arsenal down either. I was at the Fulham game last year when he was man of the match."

Henri Lansbury

Seasons: 2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09
Youth Cup appearances: 12
Youth Cup goals: 5

Liam's verdict: "Henri had only just turned 15 when he played in the Youth Cup in 2005, and missed a penalty in that shoot-out with Brentford. He went on to win the trophy in 2009, but learning to live with disappointments is part of the process too. The Youth Cup is probably the best rehearsal for the real thing that they get. Henri and Fabrice Muamba were both distraught at missing penalties, but you have to go through those moments. It was good for them, and he ended up a winner. We identified him early on, when they have the ability you throw them in. He's a goalscoring midfielder - he scored a hat-trick in one Youth Cup game - and he scored at Spurs this season in the Carling Cup of course. He'd be a Ray Parlour type player and I'll think he'll go on and have a big career. We're pleased for him because he's one of six or seven lads that have been with us from the age of nine or ten and made it to the first team. He's all-action and I think the manager really recognises his talent."

Kieran Gibbs

Seasons: 2006/07, 2007/08
Youth Cup appearances: 6+1
Youth Cup goals: 3

Liam's verdict: "Kieran played in a wide left role for the youth team. That 2007 team could have won it too, we were very unlucky in the Semi-Final against Man United up at Old Trafford. That was a great experience for them though - to play in front of huge crowds at Emirates, then up at Old Trafford. Playing in front of 30,000-plus crowds was great for them. I always rated Kieran, he was very small but he has a lovely left foot. He's come on in leaps and bounds physically, it was Arsène's idea to give him a shot at left-back and he's done really well there. He's come through our system, played for the first team, and now for England too. It's particularly satisfying because a lot of people had doubts over his size, but I stuck with him. He reminds me of Graham Rix with that left foot."

Armand Traore

Season: 2006/07
Youth Cup appearances: 4
Liam's verdict: "Strong and super fast. He's very strong going forward, but maybe has to concentrate a bit more defensively to make it as a left-back. He's another terrific player that our scout Bob Arber spotted on the continent. He's played a fair bit for the first team, and is now on loan at Juventus, which will hopefully serve him well."

Wojciech Szczesny

Seasons: 2006/07, 2007/08
Youth Cup appearances: 3

Liam's verdict: "My first impressions of Wojciech were that he had everything to be a really good goalkeeper. It's a shame he didn't get a run in the Youth Cup, because he could have done well. He proved himself at Brentford when he went on loan there, and they still love him. He's got personality and he's got character, and that was evident even at a young age. I'm really pleased he's signed a new contract recently because I think he will push all the goalkeepers here to become the No 1."

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas

Seasons: 2007/08, 2008/09
Youth Cup appearances: 10
Youth Cup goals: 4

Liam's verdict: "Jay captained the Youth Cup winning team of 2009. We had a really good team that year, but Jay was super-influential. He's another lad who I think will go to the very top of the game. He's a goalscorer - he got four in that 2009 season - and he can produce something from nothing. I think he has found his best position now under Neil Banfield, in that roving role on the right side of the attack. The first team's formation could suit him. He's been here since a very young age. Always a big lad, and at first we had ideas that he could be a really good footballing centre-back, but he just loves attacking so much. He was dribbling the ball in his own goalmouth, so we had to move him forward! He's got a super left foot, a great range of passing and a fine shot. The nearer he is to the opposition goal, the better he is."

Craig Eastmond

Seasons: 2008/09
Youth Cup appearances: 8

Liam's verdict: "Craig played every game that season at right-back, because we had a particularly strong midfield. There was Lansbury, Wilshere, Frimpong, Jay - it was a very strong team. Craig's a very good footballer, an intelligent footballer. He's working on his physical strength but he's a good all-rounder. We're pleased that Arsène put him in the first team, now he just needs to get stronger and keep working. I think he'll have a good career in the game."

Jack Wilshere in his poppy shirt

Season: 2008/09
Youth Cup appearances: 7
Youth Cup goals: 2

Liam's verdict: "A classy player, but always very tough. He's a winner, and it's great to see what he's doing in the first team now. It was a good move to go up to Bolton on loan and he's only going to get better and better because he wants to. He won’t be satisfied just being the player he is now. He has a real ambition to go on and be the best he can be. When he played in the youth team he would be in midfield with Frimpong. Frimpong was the enforcer and Jack would play the football, but he could look after himself too. It was a great age group though. I think Fabio Capello likes him too, but like everything else, you have to keep working and performing."

Emmanuel Frimpong

The others
Liam's verdict: "Theo Walcott played against us in the Youth Cup for Southampton. They knocked us out in 2005, and should have gone on to win it that year. Ipswich mugged them in the final really but he should have had a winner's medal.

"Everybody knew about Theo, I was aware of him when he was 12 or 13 because he had this blistering pace that teams couldn't handle.

"Aaron Ramsey played in the Cardiff team that we played at Emirates Stadium. Jay Simpson scored a hat-trick for us that day but he was a very good midfielder who we knew about at the time because he was playing first team football for Cardiff too. He's gone out to Forest on loan now and I think that will be a good move for him.

"Someone else I want to mention is Emmanuel Frimpong, who hasn't played for the first team yet but would have done had he not picked up a cruciate injury in August. He was excellent in pre-season, and was part of the team that won the cup in 2009.

"Then there are the likes of Kyle Bartley, Thomas Cruise, Sanchez Watt, Gilles Sunu, Nacer Barazite and Mark Randall who all played in the Youth Cup and then the first team, and are still at the Club.

"It's a great source of pride to us that they are fighting for first team football at Arsenal. That's what our job is all about. We have got five or six of them in and around the first team, but you never rest on your laurels in this game, and we are always looking forward.

"The Youth Cup starts again this month and the Hale End Academy is a good place to be at the moment, because the boys see players who were in their place a couple of years ago now getting a chance for the first team. It's a great inspiration for them."

This feature first appeared in the Official Matchday Programme. You can subscribe to the Matchday Programme by calling 08700 20 20 20.

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
14 Dec 2010