It has been an eventful season for our academy, with new faces in the dugout, stars continuing to develop, records tumbling and a run to the FA Youth Cup final all packed into a busy 10 months.
Here, we wrap up all the best moments from the 2022/23 season, as our Young Gunners continued to go from strength to strength.
A new era with Mehmet and Jack
The 2022/23 season began with Mehmet Ali and Jack Wilshere being appointed as head coaches of the under-21s and under-18s respectively. Mehmet stepped up from his role as assistant for the under-23s to get the head coach role, which was also handed to Jack at under-18 level, as our former academy graduate returned to the club where he took his first steps in coaching the season before.
Derby day delight
Jack picked the perfect time to get his first win as boss as we beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-1. Buoyed by an inspirational video message from his former teammate Cesc Fabregas in the dressing room beforehand, we took the game to the visitors and Omari Benjamin rattled in a hat-trick within the opening 25 minutes. Ethan Nwaneri would add gloss to the scoreline to complete a memorable afternoon for our youngsters.
Inside Hale End drops
Our six-part documentary series went live back in September, as we followed the paths of our under-15 and under-16 squads in 2021/22 to take an in-depth glimpse into their lives and what it means to be an aspiring footballer. For the first time, cameras were allowed on-site to follow academy manager Per Mertesacker, under-15s coach Adam Pilling and the under-16s' Adam Birchall as they help the next generation plot a course from Hale End to London Colney, thanks to their first professional contract.
Nwaneri enters the record books
Back in September, aged just 15 years and 181 days old, Ethan Nwaneri was brought on by Mikel Arteta during our 3-0 win away at Brentford to become the youngest player in our first team's history, surpassing Fabregas' record. He also became the first 15-year-old to play in the Premier League, and the youngest player ever to appear in a top-flight match in English football, beating the previous record held by Sunderland’s Derek Foster in August 1964.
Our Papa John’s Trophy run
Once again, our under-21s went toe-to-toe with EFL sides and their seasoned professionals in the Papa John’s Trophy. In the group stage we beat Cambridge United and Northampton Town, 2-0 and 3-1 respectively to help us qualify for the knockout stages. We ultimately fell to a 3-2 defeat to Stevenage, but left the Lamex Stadium with our heads held high as we were cheered off by a strong contingent of 700 Arsenal supporters.
Vintage comeback at Vicarage Road
When our under-18s found themselves 2-0 down after 13 minutes at Watford, they looked to be exiting the Youth Cup in the fourth round. However, the team showed determination, spirit, and resurgence to come back and blow our opponents away in the second half. A brace from Amario Cozier-Duberry plus efforts from Osman Kamara and Michal Rosiak in the spell of 11 minutes turned things around and booked a spot in the quarter-finals.
The climax against Cambridge
On a special occasion that saw Wilshere sit in the dugout at Emirates Stadium for the first time, Nwaneri’s thunderous strike gave us an early lead in the quarter-final but the U’s turned the game on its head to lead 2-1 midway through the second half. Cozier-Duberry equalised from the penalty spot before Michal Rosiak’s dramatic late winner saw us clinch a quarter-final spot.
Trio travel to Lisbon
Developing players is an important part of the academy and to see three Mauro Bandeira, Reuell Walters and Charles Sagoe Jr travel to Sporting Lisbon for a knockout tie with the first team was a proud moment. The experience would have been eye-opening for the Young Gunners as they learned exactly what life in European football is like, which more of our youngsters will sample now we're in the UEFA Youth League again next term.
Lewis-Skelly send us into final
We were paired with Manchester City in the Youth Cup semi-final, and it would prove to be another dramatic game. Rosiak opened the scoring after just six minutes with a pinpoint free-kick, but the away side drew level late in the second half to force us into extra-time. A minute away from a penalty shootout, Bradley Ibrahim picked out Myles Lewis-Skelly who glanced a header into the back of the net to spark bedlam as we reached the final of the competition for the first time since 2019.
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