Arsenal lose Bukayo Saka understudy as Mikel Arteta faces more questions on youth policy

Amario Cozier-Duberry is set to leave Arsenal at the expiration of his contract
-Credit: (Image: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The Arsenal youth development pathway has come in for more criticism once again following the news that Amario Cozier-Duberry is set to leave the club when his deal expires in the summer. understands that despite hoping to keep the attacker and offering a new deal, the 19-year-old has opted instead to look elsewhere for more guarantees over his senior playing time.

Few can begrudge this decision. Despite the hype and appreciation, Cozier-Duberry has been unceremoniously snubbed by Mikel Arteta on numerous occasions when the opportunity to hand him a senior debut emerged.

It was Charles Sagoe Jr who was given the start against Brentford in the Carabao Cup last season as Cozier-Duberry sat on the bench. This has happened on six occasions in 2022/23 and twice this season.

There are arguments that with minutes and two goals up against Sevilla with 10 minutes to go, he could have come on instead of Reiss Nelson or Fabio Vieira in the Champions League. He and Reuell Walters are expected to join the 22 players who the club announced would be leaving at the expiration of their deals.

Walters, another player very appreciated by fans and the club, also chose against extending his deal having not made a competitive senior appearance. Karl Hein, meanwhile, who was on the preliminary list but remained in discussions over an extension is expected to renew before the likelihood of a loan move next season has been told.

Hein is one of seven players to be given debuts by Mikel Arteta from the academy line. The aforementioned Sagoe Jr - the only debutant from the previous campaign - joined Ethan Nwaneri, Folarin Balogun, Ben Cottrell, Miguel Azeez and Charlie Patino.

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Balogun and Cottrell both left on permanent moves last summer, Azeez joined semi-professional Spanish side Atletico Baleares in January and Patino has spent the last two seasons on loan but understands a permanent exit this summer remains the likeliest outcome.

Nwaneri, meanwhile, stands as the biggest hope of Arsenal’s next generation. He had an excellent summer for the England Under-17s side and made his second Premier League appearance as a substitute against West Ham. There are high expectations and thankfully for the club, Nwaneri has signed a professional contract despite interest from the biggest sides in the world.

Like Saka, there is not an expectation that he will go out on loan and should be of a level where he can make the jump immediately into the senior set-up. However, there is apprehension about whether Arteta will give him enough minutes.

Bluntly, many critics want to have their cake and eat it too. Arteta has been tasked with taking Arsenal back to the elite level and in the past two seasons, successive title challenges stand as solid evidence that he is indeed achieving that goal with the next step of course to land silverware.

Could this have been achieved whilst giving what I would describe as 'mind-changing' minutes to the likes of Walters and/or Cozier-Duberry? I am not convinced that it would.

A couple of substitute appearances do not change the reality of what lies in front of both players. An incredibly talented core of young players with the likelihood of more to be signed in the coming summer and winter windows.

To put it simply, for all their talent they have not developed to the required level to get those minutes. Granted, they could have been given a couple of substitute appearances here and there but I understand the decision of Arteta not to do that and instead invest more in a player he may need to genuinely rely upon should the need arise.

Is the academy therefore without criticism? No, and there are things that need to improve and one such area is perhaps holding on to players for too long in the hope that the draw of being at Arsenal is enough.

Evidence of these departures suggests simply that it is not and that these players would rather seek game time elsewhere. Arsenal need to recognise this sooner and besides the absolute best of the best (i.e. Nwaneri) move these players on.

But a balance does need to be found. Arsenal cannot let go of every talent they have and the youth teams at Under-18s and Under-21s level must remain competitive.

Something which is often overlooked when criticising the loan system of the youth sides, Arsenal need quality in their youth teams so that the philosophy which is synergised from Mikel Arteta’s senior team to Mehmet Ali’s Under-21s and Jack Wilshere Under-18s and so on, can be implemented.

This is the same reason why not all the best talents leave on loan. Loans are important and perhaps there is some room, as always, for improvement. But again, the youth sides need the required level of quality to remain competitive and provide the best possible foundation for growth.

The biggest problem has arguably been the generation behind Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe and Saka who have not reached a level close to these four. Nwaneri along with Myles Lewis-Skelly look the most promising and behind them Chido Obi-Martin and Max Dowman are two more names gaining traction although the former has been linked with a move away too.

As Arsenal have established themselves as title challengers and another overhaul of the squad is expected this summer after the tournaments begin to wind down, there are sure to be chances for more youth prospects of realistic potential of making a senior impact down the line getting more opportunities to come on in games. It is here where Arteta will truly be judged whether he can offer these players the pathway they need and convince others that Arsenal remains a place that will give youth the chance should they be good enough.