Ex-Gunner Watch

Is it wrong to still love Giroud

  • Yes he’s no longer a gooner

  • No he will always be a top man


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Riou

A-M's Resident Jobber
Sol is a bit of a weirdo off the pitch, but was a titan for us on it...hope he does well.

Another Arsenal player I feel is a little underrated, tbh...probably because he spent too long at Sp**s, but from 2001-2004 he was right up there as the best CB in the world, when the world had many amazing players in that position.
 

Macho

Has Trust Issues With Processes
Trusted

Jens Lehmann sacked from Hertha role for asking if pundit was ‘token black guy’​

By Raphael Honigstein

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Former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has been sacked from his role at Hertha Berlin after asking whether a pundit was being used as a “token black guy”.

Lehmann has publicly apologised for the comment that he sent to former Germany international Dennis Aogo, who works for Sky Sport in Germany, while Hertha have condemned his words.

What happened?​

The 51-year-old sent a WhatsApp message to Aogo, asking: “Is Dennis actually your Quotenschwarzer (token black guy)?”

Aogo then posted a screenshot of the message on his Instagram story, captioning it: “Wow, are you serious? This message was probably not meant for me.”

There was a swift response from Hertha, where Lehmann was a member of the Bundesliga club's supervisory board.

Club president Werner Gegenbauer released a statement, which said: “Such statements are in no way representative of the values that Hertha BSC stands for.

“We distance ourselves from all forms of racism and welcome the action taken by TENNOR Holding.”

Lehmann claimed he was using Quote (quota) in reference to TV ratings, which is also Quote in German.

What has Lehmann said?​

Lehmann took to his own Twitter and wrote: “In a private message from my mobile phone to Dennis Aogo, an impression was created for which I apologised in conversation with Dennis.

“As a former national player he is very knowledgeable and has a great presence and drives ratings to Sky.”

@Riou see why I said it's for the best the invincibles didn't have social media back in the day? Lehman having Arsenal-Mania type takes irl.
 

Riou

A-M's Resident Jobber
@Riou see why I said it's for the best the invincibles didn't have social media back in the day? Lehman having Arsenal-Mania type takes irl.

Ffs, Jens.

I like how this also shows how terrible older people are with technology too :lol:
 

Sapient Hawk

The Reason We're Out of Europe
@Riou see why I said it's for the best the invincibles didn't have social media back in the day? Lehman having Arsenal-Mania type takes irl.

Damn it, Jens!

There's no way to explain himself out of this one :lol:

Sadly, Hertha could only follow one course of action.
 

Macho

Has Trust Issues With Processes
Trusted

A look at Arsneal's South London connection, by Art de Roche

Part 1 for 5 picture limit

Arsenal’s reach is global, but the club’s roots have remained prevalent throughout its 135-year history.

Much of the club’s success has been forged in north London. Herbert Chapman’s revolution of the game in the 1920s and 1930s, winning their first league and cup double in 1971, that title in 1989, and an Invincible team that came in the trophy-laden Arsène Wenger years.

The foundations of that global appeal, however, were made in south London, where many key figures in Arsenal’s story also called home in their formative years.

Club legend Ian Wright credits the tough early encounters in Lewisham Borough that subconsciously built his resolve and moulded the footballing personality many came to see at Selhurst Park and Highbury.

“Unknowingly you just get a fearless kind of vibe about you,” Wright tells The Athletic reflecting on his informal footballing education, in which he regularly played against friends almost six years his senior.

“The physical side of it, they would have an advantage over you but what you did when you got the ball was your bit. You don’t realise what’s happening, but you’re playing well beyond your years, but you don’t know. You’re just playing football.”

Many south Londoners are accustomed to cage football. Concrete pitches also home to basketball hoops surrounded by either fencing or brick walls, which provided a platform for the current generation to excel technically.

While these have taken more spotlight of late, spacious greens like Hilly Fields and Honor Oak Park in south-east London still stand as staples for those who paved their way from the area.

From Wright in the 1990s, to academy graduates that preceded him in the 80s and the current crop who have made waves in recent years, this is the story of Arsenal and the south Londoners who embody where the club is from, and what it represents.


To this day, youngsters are still spending their Saturday mornings at Hilly Fields and Honor Oak Park, the original training grounds for Wright, David Rocastle and, more recently, Eddie Nketiah.

Based on the long, steep, tree-flanked stretch that is Adelaide Avenue, Hilly Fields is the park that links those from New Cross, Brockley, Ladywell and Lewisham. A quick incline upon arrival from Wright’s more familiar Brockley end takes you to the Victorian building that is the upper site of Prendergast School, with the modern lower site situated at the bottom of the hill on the bank of Adelaide Avenue.

From the apex of the park, it looks down on tennis courts and a playpen in its immediate surroundings, before sloping into a wide-open green space waiting to be filled by young footballers.

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Hilly Fields, a park that links those from New Cross, Brockley, Ladywell and Lewisham, is where a number of young talented footballers honed their skills
Growing up playing on that stretch in the 2000s, the football was more organised. Players were sorted into their school year groups for two-and-a-half hours, but there remained licence for those good enough to prove themselves against older players like Wright and Rocastle did in years gone by.

“We used to play at Hilly Fields, or up the crematorium on Honor Oak Estate,” Arsenal’s second-highest goalscorer adds. “Even if I was 14, I played with Rocky (Rocastle) who was 10 or 11 at the time, or I played people that were 18, 19 or 20 at the time.

“You just played with everybody, everybody mixed in. You played in the games which lasted sometimes two, three hours. You obviously played with your friends, but when you link with those older guys, if you’re good enough, they’ll let you play with them.”

Nowadays, those who prove themselves good enough at Hilly Fields are often spotted by Hilly Fielders, as Nketiah was. Funnily enough, they play at Honor Oak Park.

On the 20 minute walk between the parks, you come out the top of Adelaide Avenue and onto Brockley Road.



Like many pockets of south London, the area is becoming more gentrified with each passing year, from the rebuilding of the entire Brockley Primary School, to the loss of corner shops and addition of corporations like Co-op.

Over the bridge from Crofton Park, onto Turnham Road and streak left towards the Honor Oak Park entrance, you pass Rocastle Road.

Follow the path and you pass Turnham Academy (then-Turnham Primary School) which Rocastle and Wright attended. Wright, however, began his primary education at Gordonbrock Primary School, like me, which sits just two roads off Hilly Fields, looking up at Prendergast through the trees of Brockley cemetery.

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Rocastle Road
Once you’ve got that quick fix of Arsenal heritage, you take the narrow route through the cemetery which, contrary to what you might expect, is often filled with children’s laughter as they race towards the park, oblivious to what it represents.



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Art de Roche (left) crossing the bridge with his brother, Beau (right) and friends ***** and Harvey Thompson, heading to Chelwood Nursery, which backs onto Turnham Academy
The fearless mindset born from playing beyond their years in south London went onto set Rocastle and Wright apart when it was time to trek north. Not just in a physical sense, but in how they expressed themselves at Highbury, across the country and in Europe.

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Honor Oak Sports Ground
Rocastle’s response to winning the free kick which resulted in Alan Smith’s opener at Anfield in 1989 signifies that fearlessness in the heat of battle, before Michael Thomas clinched the title later in the game. His goal at Old Trafford in 1991 which combined strength, skill and speed of thought represented the other side of that attitude, however.



Wright displayed a similar personality in his play, but the hours put in before becoming professional to make those moments of inspiration become natural reflexes were crucial.

What began as an obsession with scoring as a child became a pastime during the struggle before turning professional, when those years of practice resulted in goals that are still remembered today.

“It was pure instinct. When you talk about when we were younger, you had to act quickly, and use different kinds of skills, because you’re playing with people a lot older, bigger and stronger than you. You just have to improvise what you’re doing,” Wright remembers before comparing to his days in Sunday League.

“The Everton goal (the chip over Neville Southall which followed two flicks with either foot over Matt Jackson), I probably scored goals like that in Sunday morning football. Goals like the goal I scored against Swindon, the goal I scored against (John) Lukic, all those chipped goals you saw, I scored goals like that on a Sunday morning.

“I was trying to score goals, and it would go in, but I’ll be aiming for the post. See if I could make it go in off the post. Sometimes you take a shot from far to see if I could hit the bar and then it just flies in. By then you’ve already got two goals so, all of a sudden, you lose the enjoyment of what you were doing simply because it was coming so easy at that time.”

Having trialled at Crystal Palace, Leyton Orient and Charlton, and sent unsuccessful letters to West Ham, Chelsea and Arsenal in his late teens, those Sunday mornings were not enough to feed the appetite of such a talented young striker.

That state of limbo has also become a more common feeling for youngsters from inner-cities as years have gone by.

As so many young lives revolve around football, especially in the academy system, the ambition to become professional is always rising, leaving many without a plan B — which is a more severe issue for those coming from working-class backgrounds.

With that comes an inherent fear of failure which often drives the ambition to succeed, which can also work against young people. Even when the chance to impress arrives.

“There was a rejection problem I had through those years, especially with the Brighton trial. I never told anybody about it,” Wright recalls about his final trial on the south coast.

“I genuinely thought that I wasn’t going to make it even though I played really well. In my mind, I just thought they’re not going to take me for some reason, and they didn’t. So, I almost negatively put myself off for that one. I played well enough for them to take me but they didn’t.”

As is often the case, when the step up to Crystal Palace eventually came, many wanted their name attached to Wright’s success. A trial at Palace through Dulwich Hamlet is commonly referred to as the opportunity that elevated him to that first three-month professional contract, but the work had been put in elsewhere in south-east London.

“There’s a misconception. They’ve (Dulwich Hamlet) got this link with me which they don’t deserve. Ten-Em-Bee (a sports development centre based in Bromley) were the ones that nurtured me and got me through and kept me on the straight and narrow, nothing to do with Greenwich Borough, nothing to do with Dulwich Hamlet,” he admits, having trained at Ten-Em-Bee until he was 21 — a link that was revived when his son, Shaun Wright-Phillips played for them as a youngster.

“I was just having to trial with Dulwich Hamlet when the Crystal Palace scout approached me. That’s all it was. I never had any links with Dulwich Hamlet apart from that. Same with Greenwich Borough, I played three games. I wasn’t even signed to them. So they’re taking all that credit from Ten-Em-Bee and it’s wrong.”

While one club legend took the scenic route to professional football, a core of young south Londoners were making waves in their adopted home at Highbury. Joining Arsenal during their school years, Rocastle, Paul Davis, Michael Thomas and Kevin Campbell were the ones to steer that ship. Coming through the academy, their journeys were more conventional, however.

Having had an unsuccessful trial at Millwall, a young Rocastle was eventually scouted by Arsenal whilst at Roger Manwood Secondary School — which is now an adult learning centre at the opposite end of Brockley Road, just past Brockley Rise, heading to Forest Hill — where Rocastle took the train up to Arsenal and Wright, down to Crystal Palace.

Davis was spotted representing the south London district team aged 13, already an Arsenal fan, falling for them after their 1971 FA Cup win over Liverpool.

He was the first of the group to take the chance travelling alone to north London and back on Mondays and Thursdays every week after school to chase a dream that wasn’t as widely coveted or understood as it is now, and pave the way for those who came later.

“My mum wasn’t too sure because West Indian parents at that time didn’t really understand football, didn’t understand trials, they didn’t really get any of it. She wasn’t sure about it, but I was pretty sure. I told her, ‘This is what I’m doing’ and she went with it,” Davis tells The Athletic.

“I was the eldest of all the guys. I got into the first team when I was 17-18, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle and Kevin Campbell, would have been 13.

“Once they got spotted and came into the club, that’s when I realised there was some other black players lower down in the junior teams that were coming through from south London, which made it even better for me knowing that there were guys in the club coming through the same route I took five, six years previously.”

Coming through the system, those shared experiences of getting to Highbury for 6:30pm, getting changed in the first-team dressing room and training behind the Clock End helped strengthen the bond between all Arsenal players at the time.

The connection between those that travelled up from south London did run that bit deeper, however. As well as coming from a similar pocket of the city, Davis, Rocastle, Thomas and Campbell represented the second generation of the Windrush community throughout London, waiting to make their mark on society in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s.

For Arsenal fans, identifying with these players played a huge part in their decision to support the club initially — despite Charlton Athletic, Millwall and Crystal Palace all being closer to their homes — even if the players didn’t notice at the time.

“To this day I feel the reason that we have such a diverse Arsenal fanbase comes from that,” Davis adds. “People were watching out for us, looking at the games, watching us on TV.

“I feel very proud we played a part in that, but at the time we didn’t recognise that, we were just playing.

“Personally, I didn’t realise the effect that we were having on the community until after I finished playing. That’s when it really came onto me that we were doing a lot more than just being footballers, there’s a lot more people watching us from a different viewpoint.

“Even now people stop from the community and say ‘I support Arsenal because…’ and it’s only then you realise in your conversations with people, you realise the effect of you being in such a position as someone from the community.”

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The south London contingent also looked after each other within the club as well. The eldest of the group, Davis took it upon himself to protect the others early on. Making sure they were treated fairly both on and off the pitch was crucial.

Rocastle, Thomas and Campbell were also big characters, and proved they were able to fend for themselves. Having the support network of each other in those moments was crucial, however, and blossomed into life-long friendships.

By the time Wright signed for a club-record £2.5million, while still living in Croydon, the energy he brought was welcomed immediately, resulting in one of the most meaningful moments of his career being captured.

“Once I got to Arsenal, with my guys, my man, David, and the guys, it was bliss,” Wright says.

“The first goal I scored against Leicester, there’s a great picture where the first four people that came around me were David, Michael, Kevin and Paul Davis. So there’s five black man just standing there. Five of us man from south London.
 

Macho

Has Trust Issues With Processes
Trusted
Part 2

London.

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Ian Wright celebrates with Arsenal’s south London contingent after scoring his first goal for the club (Photo: Mark Leech/Offside via Getty Images)
“Me, Kevin Campbell, David Rocastle, Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, five man from south London at Leicester when I’d just scored — it’s amazing.”

“People don’t make any reference to the fact that my first goal for Arsenal with five black men, all from south London, playing for Arsenal. People don’t even make that connection.”


Having extended Arsenal’s reach back down to south London at the backend of the last century, the platform for fans in the new millennium to latch onto had already been created.

Assisted by the impact of foreign superstars such as Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, the intrinsic link Wright, Rocastle, Davis, Thomas and Campbell renewed extended to that generation’s children. Some of them, who grew into fans of the club, now play for Arsenal too.

Reiss Nelson (Elephant & Castle), Nketiah (Lewisham/Deptford) and Emile Smith Rowe (Croydon) all hail from south London, all grew up supporting Arsenal and weren’t solely products of the Hale End pipeline.

“In terms of facilities growing up, it’s street and cage football,” Neil Atherton, former teacher at The London Nautical School on South Bank, who taught Nelson, Vontae Daley-Campbell (Leicester City via Arsenal) and Brooke Norton-Cuffy (Arsenal Under-23s/Under-18s) tells The Athletic.

Situated two roads from the Thames, London Nautical — which was awarded Sports College status in 2003 — sits one turn from the Southbank Tower, with The Boomerang just a few paces further down adding to the skyline on the corner of Lambeth Borough, which was also home to Kieran Gibbs.

In that relatively tight space among London’s skyscrapers, the all-boys school, built during the First World War, takes 120 students in each year group. Tight-knit groups whose environments helped shape them both inside and outside of school.

“The talent in south London, where Reiss was in the Aylesbury Estate, it’s got so much going on around them that sometimes it might even be dangerous to come back late at night from training. It’s that dangerous. When you know everyone, it’s a bit easier.

“There’s eight, nine, 10 professionals in the last two or three years who have come through Nautical. For the seven years I was there it was ridiculous. Some schools have one or two but we had six lads in the last England youth squads. It’s mad.

“It is just that street element, you can’t put it down to anything else.”

While Nelson and Nketiah in particular were already in the Arsenal and Chelsea academy set-ups by the time they reached secondary school, they still experienced the cramped, chaotic energy those environments tend to thrive off.

While Nelson’s school had just one playground, situated in the middle of the melting pot that is Deptford and New Cross was Nketiah’s school Addey & Stanhope.

The school is camped on a corner of the long New Cross Road. Following it along takes you through Blackheath and into Greenwich where the Royal Observatory stands. Take a quick detour and you’ll find yourself in the hustle and bustle of Deptford Market where English, Caribbean, European, Asian and African shops can all be found. If you want to trek up to Arsenal, just head the opposite direction and get the train from New Cross Gate to Highbury & Islington, a journey many Arsenal fans take on a match day.

The school itself holds just 60 boys and 60 girls in each year group, with an area roughly the size of a seven-a-side football pitch for outside activity, as well as the inside sports hall.

“Being such a small school, we were only playing in the Blackheath Cup — for schools in the Blackheath and Lewisham area — there were no other cups available to us,” Nketiah’s former teacher and current Addey & Stanhope Head of PE, Bill Cawley explains to The Athletic.

“When we pick a football squad, if we’re picking 14 boys to go on a tournament, that’s over 20 per cent of the boys’ cohort for that year. So you’ve got abilities ranging from someone like Eddie, who is quite clearly a footballer, to someone who has never played a full football match before.

“But he (Nketiah) was well known. At most places we went to you’d hear, ‘Oh, it’s Eddie. We’re playing against Eddie today’.”

Despite the size of the school, Addey & Stanhope have helped produce a variety of sportspeople, including international women’s rugby players as well as professional footballers, three of which are linked with Arsenal.

While Nketiah is the most recent of their alumni to do so, icons of the women’s game, Katie Chapman (12th all-time appearance maker with 181 games and 58 goals from midfield) and Gilly Flaherty (17th all-time appearance maker with 155 games and 10 goals from defence) passed through the same halls and find themselves on the same Wall of Fame.

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Addey & Stanhope’s wall of fame: Nketiah is the first Arsenal shirt on the right, with his picture beneath… (Photo: Bill Cawley)


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…Chapman is the second picture up on the left. Flaherty is the second shirt in from the left, with her picture below (Photo: Bill Cawley)
“I taught Gilly. She was in my year group — I was her head of year — and she actually gave me her Champions League final shirt on the last day of school, so that’s up (on the Wall of Fame),” Cawley, who has taught at the school for 21 years, adds.

“I went to the school as well and Katie was at the school in my last year. I was year 11, she was year seven. As I came back as a teacher, she was just leaving, but she came back to do training with us.”

Growing within the world of elite sport while still developing as people around their peers, the relationships between clubs and schools can be vital.

Academy manager Per Mertesacker regularly stresses the importance of improving these youngsters as people as well as players. Clubs maintain these relationships in different ways. Fulham, for instance, provide half-termly reports on their players’ progress.

As Nelson was coming through the ranks, Arsenal’s Head of Education, Matt Henley kept that link between club and school strong.

“Matt’s great with close contact, phone calls with me, (it was) a good relationship. He was almost, ‘School comes first’,” Atherton says.

“At that point, all these boys played for school rather than training at Arsenal, so they’d always stay and play. There’s that feel in London of that community and wanting to play with their mates, they won’t forget their roots.”

In addition to school, their real-life environments and habits of these young players also have a part to play in their development.

Despite not featuring for the first team as much as they would have liked this season, Nelson and Nketiah stand as success stories for the academy system and those coming from similar backgrounds.

Nketiah, for example, has gone onto captain England Under-21s with then-coach Aidy Boothroyd adamant he was the man to lead the group. In the months prior, despite not playing for the first team, Mikel Arteta insisted the 21-year-old was doing all the right things in training.

These traits are just as important as what happens on the pitch and have been instilled into Nketiah in particular from a young age.

“When you’re talking about school, you’re talking about developmental stages for a young person, whether they are a footballer or not. Eddie started off (as) a quiet, reserved character and at that point wouldn’t say anything,” continues Cawley.

“As he got older and better, his expectations of those around him became higher and there definitely was that element of — Eddie wanted to be the best, leading by example, that leadership mentality and sometimes that bit of frustration.

“He also has really sensible parents. A really solid family around him that kept his feet on the ground. I know he’s deeply religious and I think that also helped him stay humble.”


Understanding the different situations players are coming from is crucial, now more than ever.

As a London club, those who come through the academy are often acclimatised to their surroundings, but with the various routes to first-team football, ensuring they are secure during that journey plays a vital role.

The street mentality that thrives off constant pressure and chaos in the bubble that is south London isn’t found everywhere in England, or Europe, where these players may have to live for entire seasons.

Nketiah and Nelson experienced this with respective loans to Leeds United and Hoffenheim respectively, while Smith Rowe has experienced both domestic and international loans which have seen him grow as a player and a person.

“Try to always understand the environment of what you’re taking players out from and what you’re bringing them into, that’s the main thing once they reach all the footballling attributes,” David Webb, Huddersfield Town’s former Head of Football tells The Athletic.

Webb first set eyes on Smith Rowe as a scout for Tottenham Hotspur when the midfielder impressed as a 15-year-old during an under-18s north London derby.

Fitting the remit for a Mauricio Pochettino-style player, Webb wanted to sign him at the time but the then-teenager’s loyalties lay with Arsenal.

His attempt was assisted by Paul Mitchell (current Monaco sporting director, then-Tottenham Head of Recruitment and Analysis) at the time and both were such keen admirers that they played key roles in his future loans to both RB Leipzig in 2019 and Huddersfield in 2020, where Smith Rowe made his mark at senior level.

“Germany is a very different country, a different environment, still away from family. I think that gave him (Smith Rowe) a taste and a flavour of how to live outside the London bubble,” Webb continues.

“Coming to Huddersfield was a testament to him in terms of accepting the challenge. It was a transition year from the Premier League to Championship, so he was coming into a situation where he had to fight, and it was a different brand of football which physically is very, very demanding.

“He had all that to take into consideration on the pitch, but then also knowing that he’s going to be away from family. He understood to do that, he had to come out of the comfort zone of London. That he’s going to have to live alone again, to look after himself once training had finished and adapt to being up in Yorkshire which is like night and day to London.”

That adaptation process was very successful. The creative influence Smith Rowe had on Danny Cowley’s team was unmatched, making more chances (28 in 19 games/2.14 per 90 minutes) than any of his team-mates during his time at Huddersfield.

Alongside this, him scoring the goal that effectively kept them in the Championship against West Brom made for an even better ending of the loan spell.

From south London himself, Webb’s career in football recruitment began as a scout for Crystal Palace. Tapping into the local talent pool, he spotted Wilfried Zaha and Sean Scannell.

After his time at Tottenham, experiences in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and Sweden with Ostersunds came before moving to Huddersfield. Well-travelled, the mental differences in each location became apparent and also gave a glimpse into how a player’s environment forms their overall development.

“Culture can play a key role. I grew up in Croydon and my family’s from Lewisham, Penge and surrounding areas, so I understood sometimes in those environments, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. It can be like survival (of the fittest) in a good way and it teaches you some really good skills,” he says.

“Go somewhere completely different (like) to Ostersunds, (and) Ostersunds’ people had the same mentality as the people in Stockholm which was the capital. That’s what they tried to have across the whole country rather than maybe just in areas like we have in the UK where London might be different to Manchester, Yorkshire or the Midlands.”


The biggest step for any player coming through a youth academy is cementing themselves in the first team. Key to that progression is a clear vision for how the first team play and recruiting players who fit those demands from a young age.

Whereas clubs tended to scout from the best Sunday league teams, Arsenal traditionally casting their net wider has proved beneficial.

“What they had then was clear alignment from the first team down. A lot of the (youth) teams tried to emulate the first team and it was apparent to me that it was Arsène Wenger’s philosophy,” Webb explains.

“He (Wenger) liked raw materials, he liked athletes, he liked fine-tuning them, working with them. The type of football he played was very attacking, very front-foot, so athletically you had to be very adaptable to do that. You didn’t have to be the biggest or strongest, but athletically you had to run, that was part of their concept.

“They had it aligned all the way down from the under-9s through to the first team. So every year when the players moved up, there might have been a change of coach, but there wasn’t a change of theme. They kept developing what they called ‘The Arsenal Way’.”

Smith Rowe is one of the standout examples of this philosophy coming to fruition.

Arriving at Arsenal at the beginning of his under-11s season, the young midfielder moved up to north London soon after. In many aspects, he is as much a north Londoner as a south Londoner as that is where most of his adolescence was spent, but the groundwork that enticed Arsenal was done down south.

Before making the move, he played under current Fulham Under-23 head coach, Colin Omogbehin at Junior Elite — a club of his creation, formed at the turn of the millennium to help guide young footballers from south London into the professional game.

“It’s a grassroots club. I set it up 22 years ago when I retired from football because I wanted to get into professional football as a coach but there weren’t many opportunities. In order for me to coach, I decided to create my own club,” Omogbehin tells The Athletic.

“We didn’t want to be a normal Sunday club. With my professional background, we wanted to create opportunities and develop players who could become professional footballers, but at the same time be good people in society.

“A lot of the time you have to take into consideration, being a south London kid, it’s not always the player’s fault. Sometimes the parents might be unable to get them there, so the parents had to buy into what we were trying to do for their child.”

Based in Beckenham, Junior Elite play their games at Langley Park Sports Ground. Trams run through the area straight into Croydon, where Smith Rowe grew up, and give away the location even if you are at a Goals Soccer Centre on a weekday:




Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jamal Blackman have also come through Junior Elite — as well as Smith Rowe’s peer Djed Spence, currently impressing as a regular starter in the Championship with Middlesbrough.

Initially spotted playing against Junior Elite by president Rob Mills, Smith Rowe’s education with them was about being put in challenging yet productive situations both technically and physically, in which he thrived extremely quickly.

That blend of technical and athletic ability moulded at Junior Elite and honed at Hale End set him apart as the sole midfielder able to fill the club’s creative void before Martin Ødegaard’s January arrival.

Aligned with the qualities of prototypical Wenger players, it is no surprise Arsenal have looked most like their old selves when he is on the pitch.

His assist for Bukayo Saka’s goal at West Brom in January exemplified these qualities in one move: spatial awareness to have a picture in his head before the ball arrived, technical ability to play a clean first-time pass around the corner, acceleration to burst into the space beyond the striker and the calm mind to lay the ball across goal for Saka to finish.




Before breaking into the first team, when used more as a fixed No 10, it wasn’t uncommon to see Smith Rowe receive on the half-turn and streak upfield to either score or lay in a team-mate.

Those too are situations he was entrenched in, growing up in south London before being exposed to professional settings at Arsenal.

“We used to do unopposed patterns — like a dress rehearsal before Sunday’s game,” Omogbehin continues.

“The goalkeeper goes into the full-back, as he opens out the winger would run away to create the space for Emile. It’s played into Emile, still taking it on the back foot and as soon as he picks it up, the opposite winger is running, Emile’s running and the centre-forward is pulling off.

“Emile has three decisions: Do I pass it to the left winger who can square it or shoot, the centre-forward in on goal, or do I keep driving and use their runs to create space for myself to beat a man or shoot. These are the scenarios we kept showing him every Saturday without fail. That’s how we develop a lot of our kids and then the exam is match day on a Sunday and he was phenomenal. If we put it in school terms, he would be an A+ student.”

Having that education at such a young age, Smith Rowe being very much aligned with Arsenal’s style of play has benefited both him and the club. Aged 20, his future looks bright.

“There are so many different comparisons. One minute he’s Kevin De Bruyne, Tony Adams said he’s Robert Pires, Trevor Sinclair said he’s Paul Merson, I said he’s Dennis Bergkamp, someone said he’s Jack Grealish, but the bottom line is he’s Emile Smith Rowe and he plays the game beautifully like someone that’s far superior than his years.” Omogbehin says.


Nketiah and Nelson have been harder to fit into the first-team picture this season.

Mikel Arteta has insisted the pair deserve more and laid blame on his own door for their lack of minutes, but that doesn’t escape the fact they have just eight appearances between them since the new year.

With such little game time comes an increased need for support, which was prevalent among the south London corps of the ’80s and ’90s. While most of this support isn’t visible, a glimpse of it was on show before Nketiah rescued a point for Arsenal against Fulham in April.

Before readying himself to take to the Emirates turf following an Alexandre Lacazette injury, he received a warm embrace from Nelson — an example of an individual who is always lifting those around him.

Former Arsenal right-back Daley-Campbell (Brixton) and current under-18s right-back Brooke Norton-Cuffy (Hammersmith) followed him as alumni of The London Nautical School under Atherton.

Daley-Campbell is now at Leicester City, where he made his first-team debut in the FA Cup this season.

Vontae-Daley-Campbell-Neil-Atherton.jpg


South-London start: Daley-Campbell (left), with Atherton (Photo: Neil Atherton)
Norton-Cuffy has impressed at Arsenal this season, starting with under-16s football, captaining the under-18s on occasion, making five under-23s appearances and signing as a professional in January at just 17.

Alongside him was Malcolm Ebiowei who is currently at Rangers, but while coming through their teenage years, Nelson was a presence.

Brooke-Norton-Cuffy-Reiss-Nelson-Malcolm-Ebiowie.jpg


Bright futures: (from left) Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Reiss Nelson and Malcolm Ebiowei (Photo: Neil Atherton)
“It wasn’t a formal programme but that’s what they do, they look after the ‘youngers’ as they say around here. You can always rely on him (Nelson) to have a word and put him on the phone,” Atherton recalls.

“Younger ones like Brooke look up to Reiss. That picture (above) was when he was in year nine and then three years on, he’s training in the first team with him.

“I just wish Reiss would get similar game time. When he first played against United, clearly he had been told, get the ball and get it to Granit Xhaka. That’s your role. Compared to — let him run at them, let him be free and he’s unreal. Same with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho. Reiss has just as much ability as Jadon had. It just seems like he’s been stifled.”

Although coming through the same school will give Norton-Cuffy a closer connection to Nelson, he isn’t the only youngster looking to emulate him and others by becoming members of the first team at Arsenal.

Like Nelson, Nketiah returned to his secondary school before the pandemic. His visit was to ensure those students didn’t lose sight of the reality of their situations.

“He came into the school not so long ago and he did a speech for our GCSE students about how important it is to focus on education and work hard to fulfil your dreams at the same time,” Cawley adds.

“We had a few boys who wanted to give everything up to be footballers and quite frankly none of them were good enough, they weren’t even at pro clubs, they just thought it would happen.”

Next up from Lewisham, like Nketiah, is Zane Monlouis. The 17-year-old has also impressed this season, making six appearances for the under-23s and is best known for his ability on the ball from centre-back. His natural pace also saw him fill in at right-back for the under-21s in their Papa John’s Trophy trip to Gillingham.

Further upfield, Jack Henry-Francis is waiting to make a similar impact with Steve Bould’s side. Having trained at Dulwich Park with Tulse Hill growing up, the 17-year-old signed for Arsenal in 2016 and recently made his under-23s debut in March with an assured performance as the side’s holding midfielder against Everton.

So, while those in and around the first team are finding out how tough realising the dream can be, those that follow still have reference points to keep Arsenal’s rich history rooted in the area.

“From playing in a cage, you know how many good players there are in the south,” says Nketiah. “I played with some great players and I think there’s a lot of talent, especially in south-east London where I’m from.

“I’m grateful that not just me but all the other boys coming from south have had an opportunity to make it so far and I think we’ve done everyone proud in the area who’s watched us grow up.

“Hopefully we can create more opportunities and a platform to show that there’s more talent like ourselves in south London and they can show what they can do in the future.”

If there’s one man that embodies that intrinsic link more than any other, however, it’s the one who shares his birthplace with the club, the one who inspired a generation of footballers south of the river and now watches many more flow through the youth system.

“I always say to people, ‘Yeah, it was meant to be’ because remember it was the Woolwich Arsenal before Dial Square,” says Wright. “I always made reference to the fact I was born to play for us because I was born in Woolwich.”

“At the end of the day, we were adopted north Londoners, man. North London loved us.”
 

Riou

A-M's Resident Jobber
Happy B-Day, to one of our biggest ever "what ifs", only 35 too...



...Theo said he, Abou and Adebayor all had their welcome to Arsenal photoshoot on the same day...the 3 got a group photo together, with Walcott having to stand on a stool for it :lol:
 

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