Premier League academy graduates must be more wary than most of the expression: Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.
Many a player to have filtered through Arsenal’s Hale End academy has been lumbered with a premature star billing and even more have failed to make it into the first team, let alone live up to such a build up. However, the Gunners appear to have been a bit too hasty with their assessment of some recent prospects, ruefully watching them prosper beyond north London.
As the highly touted Folarin Balogun nears an exit of his own, here are some of the former Arsenal youngsters, from past and present, whose success outside the Emirates he can hope to replicate.
After just 62 minutes of football under Arsene Wenger, Josh Dasilva was snapped up by Brentford’s widely revered scouting network aged 19, even though he was carrying an injury at the time.
Brentford’s leap of faith was rewarded as Dasilva rapidly formed a fixture of the club’s midfield during their run to the Championship play-off final in 2020.
Just 12 months after Arsenal accepted a £1.4m bid from Angers for Jeff Reine-Adelaide, the Ligue 1 side made more than £20m profit when Lyon came steaming in for the languid French midfielder in the summer of 2019.
Another year on and Reine-Adelaide is looking for a way out of Les Gones but Arsenal still had to watch, with considerably lighter pockets, Angers earn a huge commission from a player that had spent three years developing in their academy.
Although the history of youth football has been littered with players unable to transfer their precocious gifts to the senior game, hindsight certainly suggests that Donyell Malen’s prolific record in Arsenal’s academy warranted a longer spell with the seniors.
An outcast from both Arsenal and Ajax’s academy, Malen has emerged as the Eredivisie’s young scoring sensation in recent seasons, hitting double figures for league goals in each of his first two full campaigns with PSV Eindhoven.
As one of only a handful of the successful FA Youth Cup-winning side from 2009 still active in top flight football, Luke Ayling has clearly bounced back well from being released by Arsenal aged 18.
The English defender is such an influential and versatile member of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, the Argentine coach joked in 2018 that ‘we have Ayling who can solve every problem’.
Aged just 13 when he was released by Arsenal, Eberechi Eze revealed his difficultly adapting to such a harsh reality, telling The Independent: “I remember crying in my room for a solid week, my mum telling me that it’s going to be OK but not being able to get over it.”
After breaking through at Queens Park Rangers following a string of further rejections, Eze has since reduced a growing list of Premier League defenders to tears thanks to his swift adaptation to top flight football with Crystal Palace.
The linchpin of Algeria’s midfield for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations triumph – and player of the tournament – swiftly emerged as the pivotal cog in the middle for Milan just two years after being deemed surplus to requirements in the capital.
Having been installed in the Rossoneri’s double-pivot, Milan and Bennacer had a 2020 to cherish, and are well positioned among the bustling back in Serie A’s title tilt this season.
Andrew Cole was afforded just one cameo appearance in the top flight for Arsenal during his all-too fleeting time at the club.
When asked by FourFourTwo whether there was a conflict of characters between him and the Arsenal manager at the time, George Graham, Cole explained: “It could have been that – I had a personality clash with a lot of people during my career.
“At the time, there were quite a few centre-forwards who George felt were better than me. I left, and that was definitely the thing that turned my career around and helped me to achieve what I achieved.”
187 top flight goals certainly represents a favourable career turnaround.
Four years on from celebrating his bit-part role in Arsenal’s 2015 FA Cup triumph, Serge Gnabry made his allegiances abundantly clear by Tweeting the same message, proclaiming: “North London is RED!!!” Though, that particular war cry followed a four-goal haul against his former rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the colours of his new side, Bayern Munich.
Arsenal fans will have only been able to momentarily enjoy the role played by their former prospect in Bayern’s 7-2 demolition of Spurs, as Gnabry continued his electric form throughout the Bavarians’ continental domination.