Do Arsenal finally have the perfect balance of youth and experience?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is infamous for his preference towards bringing in young players to develop but currently his Gunners squad boasts an abundance of experience.

Arsenal’s current first team squad consists of 14 players over the age of 25 and just one player under the age of 21 in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The likes of Mikel Arteta, Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky are all over 30 years of age and even the ‘youngsters’ Wojciech Szczesny, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson have several season worth of top level football under their belts despite being in their early-to-mid twenties.

Captain Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, and Gervinho are all in their late-twenties and arguably at the peak of their powers.

It bodes well for next season that such a high number of first-team players are mature and experienced at the highest level. However, when youngsters are either brought in to the club as prospects or brought through the ranks from the youth academy, they bring with them energy, dynamism and a refreshing enthusiasm to the established team.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is an apt example of that effect at both club level and international level with England. He has been an exciting addition and certainly a breath of fresh air for both club and country since his arrival from Southampton. Much the same can be said of Theo Walcott when he was brought in 5 years before his junior teammate in 2006.

When Jack Wilshere burst into the first-team as understudy to Cesc Fabregas, he brought with him an excitement about the future of the club and the national team. Aaron Ramsey had much the same effect before his long spell out injured via a leg-break.

Players like young Thomas Eisfeld in the youth squad, Serge Gnabry too, could be brought in to revitalize the old guard – their keenness to impress often makes them ‘wild cards’ for the manager and their tendency to play with no fear makes them unpredictable for the opposition.

The imminent arrival of 20-year-old Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre could very well have the same impact, as could his French colleague Lyon’s Clement Grenier two years his senior should he become an Arsenal player this summer.

Whilst the Gunners formerly had an issue of having perhaps too many young guns where they could have used experience, they may want to invest in some fresh young faces to offset the wealth of age and experience in their squad.

The team Wenger has now built is finally mature, it would appear, and that has registered in a number of improved performances from players hitting their peak at the same time. This could be the year Arsenal end their infamous trophy-drought – eight years ago when they won their last trophy, the FA Cup in 2005, their starting XI consisted of the perfect balance of youth and experience.

That team had three players over 30 (Jens Lehmann, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp), three players in their late-twenties at the peak of their powers (Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, and Lauren), four players in their early to mid-twenties Philippe Senderos, Jose Antonio Reyes, Kolo Toure and Ashley Cole) and one bright young prospect in 18-year-old Cesc Fabregas.

The last time Arsenal won the Premier League title in 2003/04, the ‘Invincibles’ had, coincidentally, the very same balance as the current Arsenal XI. Four players over 30 (Lehmann, Bergkamp, Pires and Sol Campbell), five in in the prime of their late-twenties (Vieira, Silva, Lauren, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg) and two in their early to mid-twenties (Cole and Toure).

Whilst the feats they achieved that season are highly unlikely to be repeated, the fact that Arsenal’s current first-team is rich in experience is only going to help them as they endeavour to end their trophy-drought next term.

Even their youngsters have plenty of experience in the Premier League, Champions League and even at international level. The next couple of seasons we could very well see the resurgence of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal as a team that genuinely challenges for titles both domestically and on the continent.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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