Bengaluru, March 26: Arsenal are going through a transitional phase under Mikel Arteta and so far this season, the North London side has seen a brilliant crop of young players breaking into the first team.
The likes of Bukayo Saka, Joseph Willock, Edward Nketiah and Reiss Nelson are some of the young talents to have made a big impression this season.
However, this is not the first time that the Gunners are priding themselves on the evolution of young players. It was always a key tenet of Arsene Wenger’s managerial approach and before. The French tactician has always provided big opportunities to academy stars even if they are at an early age.
Over the years, there has been several budding stars coming out from the ranks in Arsenal and here we will look at such five players who were the youngest to represent Arsenal:
Paul Vaessen – 16 years, 346 days
The centre forward's career was marred by injury and controversy. He made debut aged just 16 years and 346 days, appearing against Lokomotive Leipzig in the UEFA Cup in 1978. However, just at 21, he was forced to retire from the game after he ruptured knee ligament. The English forward was later involved into drug and scandals and was found tragically dead at the age of 39 in his apartment with a drug overdose.
Gerry Ward – 16 years, 321 days
The left-winger held the record of being the youngest Gunners over a decade. Moreover, Ward still remains the youngest Arsenal player to ever start a league match. He made his debut as a teenager in 1953, featuring against Huddersfield however played only a handful of games, scoring ten goals before signing for Leyton Orient.
Jermaine Pennant – 16 years, 319 days
The English winger joined the academy for a whopping £2m deal aged just 15 in 1999. He quickly made his debut just one year later beating Ward’s record by just two days appearing in the league cup.
He, however, made his league debut three years later. He scored a hat-trick on his full Premier League debut against Southampton but never made it big in North London. He was loaned to several PL sides afterwards and later was sold to Birmingham. Since then his only big move was to Liverpool.
However, the move too was not praiseworthy. He, however, has a career full of different challenges playing in different countries like Spain, India and Singapore.
Jack Wilshere – 16 years, 256 days
Once viewed as one of the biggest potentials of England, it is fair to say the midfielder's career has not panned out well, perhaps due to his consistent injury issues.
Wilshere was handed a debut by Arsene Wenger, making his first appearance as a substitute in a Premier League match against Blackburn in 2008, becoming Arsenal's youngest ever league debutant.
He has earned a number of accolades including the PFA Young Player of the Year award, selection to the 2010–11 PFA Team of the Year, and Arsenal's Player of the Season award in his first full campaign for Arsenal during the 2010–11 season.
But slowly injury started to make toil in his spark and he was eventually sold to West Ham in 2018. He made 197 appearances for the club and won two FA Cups before joining the Hammers. His terrible luck with injuries has continued over there too where he has been restricted to just 14 Premier League appearances.
Cesc Fabregas – 16 years, 177 days
The youngest player in Arsenal’s history and probably the best player from the academy till now to play for the side. The Spaniard was already a popular name in La Masia ranks when arsenal captured him from there. He did not have to wait longer to make his debut after he was called from the bench against Rotherham in a 2003 League Cup.
In this tournament that very season later he became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in the competition against Wolves. Slowly his emergence incited a big impression on the pitch repeatedly as he was named as the club’s Player of the Season consecutively in 2007 and 2008 – the latter alongside the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
He, however, left the side in 2011 for his former club but made 303 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions, scoring 59 goals with 92 assists. He, however, chose to join the rivals Chelsea three-season later and won two league titles. He also became the second-highest assist provider in the division’s history in that period.