Top 10 talented teenagers

We've picked 10 teenagers who have had a major impact on the team. Who do you think was the biggest success?

Cliff Bastin


Cliff Bastin


Discovered by accident when Herbert Chapman went to watch a Watford player in a Third Divison match against Bastin’s Exeter City, the Gunners’ record goalscorer for over six decades is first on the list.

Not rated an an exceptional footballer in any one facet, the quality that marked Bastin out as an outstanding talent at an early age was his ice-cool temperament. The over-eagerness that is to the detriment of many teenagers’ game was not part of his character.

Converted from inside-left to outside-left - much to Bastin’s surprise - he became a regular member of the Arsenal first team just after Christmas in his first season (1929/30) and was a regular until his Gunners career was curtailed by the Second World War.

In that first season he played 21 league games, scored seven times and he also inspired Arsenal to an FA Cup win, scoring four in eight games including a goal eight days after his 18th birthday against Hull in the FA Cup final. His 1930/31 season was astonishing for a teenager - 28 goals in 42 games to exert a huge influence in the first Arsenal team to win the league title.

His ice-cool confidence was summed up by the fact that, in a team including such striking superstars as David Jack, Alex James and Jack Lambert, the teenage ‘boy wonder’ was the penalty taker.

John Radford



Being an Arsenal fan in the early 1960s wasn’t a very rewarding business. From 1960 until the summer of 1966, the Gunners endured real mediocrity. Their highest league finish was a modest seventh during this time and they progressed no further than the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Unearthing a raw, muscular centre forward who also possessed pace and a subtlety of touch was therefore a major boost for the club and its supporters. John Radford made his debut for the club when he was aged just 17 years and 28 days, making him the second youngest Gunner of all time after Gerry Ward.

Three games later he scored his first Arsenal goals, when he got three in a 4-1 victory over Wolves. Radford then claimed another six goals in 1964/65 season and eight more the following campaign.

The next season, as a 19-year-old, he was in the side more often than not and though only getting seven goals, his overall play, combining with two other youngsters George Graham and John Samuels, was improving all the time.

Similar to Tony Adams, Cliff Bastin and Liam Brady, Radford used his teenage prowess asa springboard to a magnificent Arsenal career. Ultimately he grabbed 149 Gunners goals which, at the time was second in the all-time scoring stakes, behind, of course, Bastin.

Liam Brady

When the legendary football writer Hugh McIlvaney saw Liam Brady as a teenager playing for Arsenal he wrote: “Brady has a left foot delicate enough to pick a speck of dust from a baby’s eye,” and Gunners fans relished every second that they watched that magic wand of a left foot in seven glorious seasons for the club.

Brady made his debut as a 17-year-old against Birmingham on October 6, 1973 and immediately launched the move that brought the game’s only goal. His magnificent crossfield ball found George Armstrong who helped it onto John Radford who crashed it home.

From that point onwards he enjoyed a love affair with the Highbury faithful. Skill, vision and a wonderful touch, he was regarded by many as Arsenal’s most gifted player since the war and though initially used sparingly by Bertie Mee, at the end of his first season, he was featuring regularly and grabbed his first goal for Arsenal in the last match of the 1973/74 season - a 1-1 draw at home to QPR.

His influence grew through his teenage years as he complemented the talents of the experienced Alan Ball in midfield, but it could have all been so different. The story goes that the plane tickets sent by Manchester United were left on the Brady family mantelpiece after they were impressed by Arsenal scout Gordon Clark and the prodigy headed for Highbury.

Paul Vaessen



The son of former Gillingham and Milwall player Leon Vaessen, this talented teenager undoubtably has the most tragic tale in our top 10. The 17-year-old made his debut in the final game of the 1978/79 season, a 1-1 draw against Chelsea, making him the seventh-youngest player to ever represent the club in league football.

The following season he slowly began to challenge for a regular spot in the Arsenal front line, featuring in 14 games and scoring twice in the league. But he will always be remembered for the events on April 23, 1980 in Turin. The scores were level in Arsenal’s 1980 European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final with Juventus and the hosts seemed set to progress on the away-goal rule.

Then, with just two minutes left, Vaessen, who had come on for David Price, nodded home a Graham Rix cross to inflict the first-ever home European defeat on Juve and take the Gunners to Brussels for the final.

Vaessen was still only 18 and must have dreamt of a long and glorious Arsenal career in front of him, especially when he was handed a starting place in the first two fixtures of the following season.

But from that point onwards he only made a handful of appearances and in early 1982, at the age of 20, he suffered a knee injury that meant he would never play professionally again. In August 2001, at the tragically young age of 39, Vaessen died in very sad circumstances.

Tony Adams


Arsene Wenger and Tony Adams with the Premier League trophy

Arsene Wenger and Tony Adams with the Premier League trophy


A born captain, Adams was a leader from the moment he made his first-team debut a couple of weeks after his 17th birthday against Sunderland in 1983.

Kenny Samson, an experienced England international playing alongside Tony in the defence that afternoon, recalls: “He might have only been 17 but Tony asserted himself on that first team. Myself and Pat Jennings were both international regulars at the time, that didn’t matter, if we made a mistake Tony let you know about it.”

It was actually Sansom who handed Adams the captain’s armband when he was still just 21 in 1988, and the Romford man didn’t relinquish the responsibility until retiring in 2002 - the longest serving skipper in the club’s history.

Despite his early baptism in the first team, Tony struggled to displace Tommy Caton and David O’Leary at the heart of the defence. He then found fellow 18-year-old Martin Keown preferred by Don Howe. But when George Graham arrived at the club, Adams soon became one of the first names on the team sheet and by his 20th birthday the number six shirt was his own.

Nicolas Anelka



Lured away from Paris St-Germain in early 1997, Anelka made his debut at the end of the 1996/97 season but it was in the subsequent double season that he delighted in shredding Premier League defences to ribbons with his pace, power and assured finishing.

On November 9, 1998 Anelka became the club’s youngest Premier League goalscorer when he on target in the thrilling 3-2 home win over Manchester United and his taste for big-game goals was highlighted by the Gunners' FA Cup campaign. A goal in the fifth round against Crystal Palace was followed by a strike three days after his 19th birthday in the quarter final against West Ham.

And on May 16, the teenager delivered in the FA Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley with a typically cool finish to make it 2-0, clinching the double for Arsene Wenger’s men. The following season’s 19 goals - 15 whilst still a teenager - alerted Real Madrid to Anelka’s talents and only a few months into his twenties he said au revoir to Highbury.

Cesc Fabregas

The young Catalan came to Arsenal from Barcelona as a 16-year-old in September 2003 with an impressive resume. Cesc had just been top scorer and Player of the Tournament in the Under-17 World Cup - and Barcelona were not exactly thrilled when the Gunners lured him away from the Nou Camp.

But the gulf between bossing youth team football and an Arsenal side that is widely acknowledged as one of the best in Europe would surely be too wide to negotiate for the central midfielder in his first few seasons at Highbury.

Not a bit of it. After breaking the ‘youngest player’ and ‘youngest goalscorer’ records in the League Cup, Cesc became a regular in the Arsenal engine room, breaking more records along the way.

Similar to Bastin, it was the cool phlegmatic nature of Cesc that shone through. As his former skipper Patrick Vieira said about his record breaking European goal against Rosenborg, “He had three or four touches before shooting but that’s typical of him, he’s so composed, there’s never any panic with Cesc.”

Theo Walcott

Arriving in north London having already torn Championship defences apart at the tender age of 16, Theo showed plenty of promise.

After impressing for the Gunners’ reserve team, the rapid forward was rewarded with a surprise call-up to Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England squad for the 2006 World Cup, despite only making 13 senior appearances in the second tier of English football, and became England’s youngest-ever player at the age of just 17 years and 75 days old in a friendly against Belarus.

Theo did not feature at the World Cup but returned to Arsenal ready to replicate the explosive performances he had produced for the Saints. Gunners fans would not be disappointed.

The forward quickly became a regular at Emirates Stadium, playing at least 30 games a season between 2006 and 2013, and also broke a 125-year record to become England’s youngest hat-trick scorer when he struck a treble against Croatia aged only 19.

Theo suffered a long-term injury in the 2013/14 season but returned this year ready to reproduce the scintillating form that made him a firm favourite with the Gunners fans.

Kieran Gibbs

Having excelled predominantly as a left winger for Arsenal at youth level, Kieran Gibbs made his first-team debut as an 18-year-old against Sheffield United in the League Cup in 2007.

He was selected as a left back in that match and it is in this position that the Lambeth-born defender has forged a successful career.

After spending a successful loan spell at Norwich City that season, Kieran began to establish himself in the first-team squad during the following campaign. He made his Champions League debut in December 2008 and his Premier League bow - against Tottenham Hotspur - two months later. Arsène Wenger had often spoken of his high hopes for Kieran, and, with Gael Clichy injured, picked him to play in FA Cup and Champions League semi-finals while still a teenager.

Kieran made his England debut in a friendly against Hungary in August 2010 and, following Clichy’s move to Manchester City a year later, became Arsenal’s undisputed first-choice left back.

He scored his first goal for the club in a League Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town and made a crucial sliding tackle in the last seconds of Arsenal’s final Premier League match of the 2011/12 season - a nervy 3-2 win at West Bromwich Albion that secured a top-four finish.

Kieran signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal in December 2012 and celebrated by scoring a thunderous volley in the FA Cup against Swansea City a month later.

Playing predominantly alongside Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny last season, Kieran helped Arsenal keep 17 Premier League clean sheets - the second-highest total in the Premier League.

Now competing alongside Nacho Monreal for a place in the team, Kieran is well on the way to realising his vast potential, featuring regularly in the England squad.



Jack Wilshere at Ewood Park

Jack Wilshere at Ewood Park


“He is not fazed by anything. He takes the ball no matter where and no matter against who he plays. It's just natural for him. Wilshere can play on the flanks or behind the strikers. He can play in the middle of the park and up front.”

Arsene Wenger has always been convinced of Jack Wilshere’s ability. So much so, in fact that he handed the Hertfordshire-born midfielder his competitive debut in a Premier League match away at Blackburn Rovers in September 2008 - Jack’s age at the time: 16 years and 256 days.

By that point, Jack had already gained first-team experience during the previous pre-season. He made his first start in a 6-0 League Cup victory over Sheffield United 10 days after the Blackburn game, crowning an encouraging display with his first goal for the club - a fierce left-footed effort from the edge of the area.

He signed his first professional contract in January 2009 and helped Arsenal’s Youth Cup team win the tournament that year.

Jack spent the second half of the next season on loan at Bolton Wanderers and made his England debut against Hungary on August 11, 2010, coming on as a late substitute at Wembley.

It was during the 2010/11 campaign that Jack really established himself as a permanent fixture in the Arsenal squad, making 49 appearances in all competitions, with his performance against Barcelona in the Champions League a particular highlight.

Jack suffered the first serious setback of his career when suffering a fracture of his ankle in an Emirates Cup match against New York Red Bulls. The injury kept Jack out for 15 months and - having been handed the No 10 shirt ahead of the 2012/13 season - he made his return against QPR in October 2012 and played 33 times that season.

Last season was a memorable one for Jack - he won both the Arsenal and Match of the Day Goal of the Season awards after for his strike against Norwich City at Emirates Stadium. A first major honour would follow at the end of the campaign as Jack, having recovered from injury, came on in extra-time as Arsenal beat Hull City 3-2 in a dramatic FA Cup final.

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