Arsenal bolstered their youth setup this week, signing Jonathan Dinzeyi and Tim Akinola after they were released by Tottenham’s and Huddersfield’s youth systems, respectively. The additions are notable not so much because of the players involved but because they may signal a new direction for the Arsenal academy setup. Of course, hopefully, the 20-year old defender Dinzeyi and 19-year old midfielder Akinola develop into Premier League superstars. Notably, Eddie Nketiah was released from the Chelsea academy before catching on at Arsenal and making his mark.
The moves come on the heels of Arsenal signing George Lewis after a successful trial. Lewis is a 20-year old winger who was plying his trade in the Norwegian 3rd division. Reportedly, Arsenal have more trials and signings in the works set for the coming weeks.
The Gunners are focused on signing “developmental players” after moving talents like Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, and Emile Smith Rowe (among others) through to first team football and sending a number of other young players out on loan.
The signings are undoubtedly driven in part by need. Steve Bould’s U23 side has a roster to fill out. Part of the change in the academy strategy is Brexit-driven — after December 31st, Premier League clubs will not be permitted to sign 16- to 18- year old EU/EEA players. Another factor is the recent changes in the scouting department at the club. And finally, according to The Athletic, Arsenal are also trying to create a more financially stable youth setup, one that signs low-cost, low-risk young players, develops them, and sells those who aren’t quite Arsenal-caliber for profit.
It remains to be seen whether that last aspiration comes to fruition, but from a mission standpoint, it’s a step in the right direction. Arsenal aren’t going to compete with the big spenders in the Premier League and Europe on sheer buying power. Arsenal need to move in the RB Leipzig, Dortmund, Monaco, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, etc. direction — become a club that punches above it’s financial weight by investing intelligently and selling at the right time.
Right now, Arsenal are in a transitional period. The club had a bit of a makeover false start over the past two seasons. But it was always going to be difficult to smoothly move out of the Arsene Wenger era. With the hiring of Mikel Arteta and the departure of Raul Sanllehi, the club has a second chance to hit the reset button. Signings like David Luiz, Willian, and hopefully Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, could serve as a bridge to the leaner, meaner, more efficient Arsenal.
The club needs to make sure the recent business doesn’t become a bridge to nowhere (well, a bridge to more bridges). The Gunners need a destination, a firm idea of what they want to become. The direction the academy looks to be going is a good start.