Ranking the 5 greatest Arsenal academy graduates of the last decade (2011-21)

Bellerin and Smith Rowe are definitely in, but who tops the list?
Bellerin and Smith Rowe are definitely in, but who tops the list?

Youth academies have always played a crucial part in nurturing special prospects around the globe. One of the most famous academies in England for youth football continues to be Arsenal's. The club continues to be led by Arsene Wenger's vision of allowing young talent to accommodate themselves into the first team set up.

Arsenal continue to rely on their academy talent

The impact of Arsenal's graduates is clearly visible in Mikel Arteta's current squad. In fact, one of the few reasons the Gooners appreciated ex-boss Unai Emery was for integrating these youngsters into the senior squad.

On that note, here's a look at five of the most capable football professionals Arsenal have produced through their youth system in the last decade.

Without further delay, let's delve straight into it:

#5 Hector Bellerin

Hector Bellerin recently confirmed he left Arsenal to "win trophies"
Hector Bellerin recently confirmed he left Arsenal to "win trophies"

If Arsenal somehow fail to grow talent for future generations, they usually tend to pickpocket some good academies across Europe. After bearing the fruit of Cesc Fabregas’ brilliance their interest only grew in Barcelona’s La Masia Academy.

So they went searching again in 2011, a right-back this time. La Masia was kind enough to let Hector Bellerin leave. He was 16 when he arrived and was a part of the youth system for the next two years. His competitive debut came in 2013 in a League Cup win against West Bromwich Albion.

After a brief loan spell at Watford in 2013-14, he was accommodated into the senior Arsenal squad. Bellerin was competing for a regular spot with the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal. However, it didn’t take long for Bellerin to earn bragging rights of being Arsenal’s first choice right-back, thanks to his explosive pace.

For three consecutive seasons from 2015-2018, Bellerin made more than 40 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions. It was around those years that he was counted amongst the fastest players in the Premier League. He would very often find himself contributing in the final third. But before Bellerin could take his game another few notches up, he suffered an ACL injury to his left knee in 2019.

He’s never looked the same since and has at times been on the receiving end of some criticism from the Arsenal faithful.

After 239 senior appearances, nine goals and 29 assists for Arsenal's senior squad, Bellerin decided to move to newer pastures. He was always keen to move back to Spain someday and finally secured a loan move to Real Betis, a club his father adores.

#4 Emile Smith Rowe

Emile Smith Rowe celebrates after scoring against Chelsea
Emile Smith Rowe celebrates after scoring against Chelsea

When former Arsenal great Tony Adams compared Emile Smith Rowe to the elegant Robert Pires, many felt it was perhaps an overplay of sentiment. However, there is a fair share of those who feel the resemblance cannot be discarded just like that. Well, whatever the case, Smith Rowe has done no harm to his reputation and finds himself constantly adored by the Gooners.

He first signed for Arsenal when he was 10, back in 2010. The young Englishman has since come through the ranks and when fully fit is usually guaranteed a start under Mikel Arteta. On the back of consistently productive performances at the youth level, Smith Rowe made his dream breakthrough in 2018. He accompanied Arsenal to Singapore on their pre-season tour and scored his first for the senior team.

Unai Emery was well aware of his potential. When Smith Rowe was brought in as a substitute in a Europa League game in 2018, he became the first player born in the 21st century to play for Arsenal in a competitive game. As is customary for most Arsenal talents, Smith Rowe was sent on loan to Leipzig and then to Huddersfield Town.

The latter helped Smith Rowe accustom himself to the physicality of English football and the pace of it. Last season, Smith Rowe cemented his place in Arteta’s side filling the playmaker’s void that was left by Mesut Ozil. Smith Rowe’s impressive vision on field, his one touch passes and the ability to play on half-turn has earned him the nickname, “Croydon De Bruyne”.

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Edited by Nived Zenith
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