The Young Gun(ner)s
Within this week’s article we have a slightly different focus, as you might be able to guess from the title – the academy. For decades, Arsenal’s famous Hale End has churned out superstar after superstar, and Gunners fans will be hoping that the current crop can emulate their predecessors.
From local lads that have been snapped up from Sunday League sides; such as Strictly Come Dancing’s very own Tony Adams, Paul Merson and Ashley Cole to name a few, to foreign talents that have been brought in and nurtured away from the bright lights of the Premier League; the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Wokciech Szczesny and Serge Gnabry, with all those that didn’t quite fulfil their dreams and potential and fell on the wayside along their journey, Hale End has seen them all.
In the current first team squad, players such as Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe have all progressed through the ranks, having first earnt their stripes in the Academy, which is now managed by former centre half Per Mertesacker.
When starting a new save, one of the most important things that you can do is have a little look through the youth teams, spotting potential gems, and of course the more that you know about them beforehand, the better. With that in mind, looking ahead to the release of FM23, I decided to get in touch with somebody who knows a little more about the Arsenal youth teams than me, @Balogunner14 – host of the excellent ‘Away From Hale End’ podcast (Go and check it out!) and expert in all things Arsenal Youth. Balo has identified four players coming through that he thinks have the potential to one day be mainstays in the first team.
In Real Life
Youth Stats: 47 apps, 3 goals, 5 assists
Senior Stats: 2 apps (for Arsenal), 1 goal, 10 apps (for Blackpool), 1 goal
Strengths: Passing, Vision, Technique, Ball Control, Creativity, Intelligence, Aerial Duels, Scanning, Progression
Weaknesses: Strength, Weak foot
Charlie Patino joined Hale End in 2015 at age 11. He immediately burst on to the scene, getting called up to train with the 1st team as a 16-year-old. After impressing greatly with the U18s Patino became a regular with the U23s at just 17 years old.
Patino’s 21/22 season was one to remember. He spent the 1st half of the season with Betsy’s U23s, including unbelievable displays against Chelsea and Manchester United. Charlie has an incredibly advanced understanding and tactical awareness for his age, allowing him to dominate youth matches from midfield. Patino’s keen ability to scan and use his first touch to take 1, 2, or 3 defenders out of play and break the press, often led to counter-attacking opportunities for his side. His development was noticed by Arteta, often calling Charlie up to 1st team training.
In December of 2021, Patino was handed his 1st team debut against Sunderland in the quarter-final of the League Cup. Charlie immediately made his mark by scoring just a few minutes after coming on and celebrating in front of an elated Emirates crowd. Although Patino isn’t known for making late runs into the box, nothing will surprise you about this young, intelligent lad, seemingly always being in the right place at the right time.
Patino plays as a deep-lying orchestrator controlling the ball well in tight spaces and using intelligence and technical ability to break a press. He turns possession in his own third into attack with a simple movement or pass. Creativity oozes out of him.
Patino’s range of passing is impressive. He excels at finding the best pass and not just taking the easy option. He can switch the field with ease and likes to play through balls to teammates making runs. A player in the mold of Arsene Wenger’s days.
Patino has the athleticism of a DLP. Even with his slight frame he’s able to hold off pressure, roll tackles and uses his first touch brilliantly to leave a defender in the dust. The next step in Charlie’s progression was gaining the confidence to carry the ball at that same level of explosiveness, which he has begun to do in the Championship. Patino currently sits in the 85th percentile of Championship midfielders for progressive runs and nearly the 95th in dribbles per 90 minutes.
As Patino grows in stature his strength and pace will open up more passing angles, a key for a DLP. He likes to create instant offense, but when playing from deep that can be a risk. His IQ/athletic combo will allow for those less risky passing angles. Charlie has already grown to above 6 feet and learned how to use that heigh to win nearly every aerial duel he finds himself in, currently in the 99th percentile for aerial duel success for midfielders in the Championship.
Charlie Patino has been heralded as the “best player to have ever walked through Hale End”, whilst his song at Blackpool has been dubbed the “greatest song of the season”. His plaudits come from far and wide. Anybody who’s watched Charlie Patino play can see his future knows no bounds. A once in a lifetime talent born to succeed at Arsenal.
In Football Manager
An absolute gem. The crown jewel of the Arsenal youth teams. Still only 18 at the start of the game, with the right guidance he could develop into an absolute superstar. Two-star current ability, were he not out on loan he’d be capable of being in and around the match day squad, and that potential ability star rating looks as though he has plenty of room for improvement.
While he is lacking somewhat on the Physical side of things, with just his Balance sitting above 13, this is to be expected at such a young age and isn’t vitally important for either an Advanced Playmaker or a Deep Lying Playmaker, the two roles which Patino’s attributes suit most.
Mentally, as you can see, all of the key attributes are at least 13 (bar Decisions), which is testament to just how mature Patino already is – an old head on young shoulders. These are all likely to improve as he develops and gains more first team experience as well, meaning that we should have a hard working, composed midfielder, capable of reading the game well and knowing exactly where he should be.
In terms of Technical attributes, those key attributes highlighted should all improve by at least two, possibly three, creating a top, top tier Advanced Playmaker. If you are going to look at playing him as a Deep Lying Playmaker, I’d try to focus on his Tackling and Positioning attributes, which whilst they aren’t essential, are definitely beneficial in that deeper role.
Patino is one that I’d definitely look to build my team around in the future, and the Hale End trio of him, Smith-Rowe and Saka should be the future of the club.
In Real Life
Youth Stats (for Arsenal): 36 apps, 1 goal, 2 assists
Senior Stats: 17 apps (for Lincoln City), 1 goal, 1 assist, 9 apps (for Blackpool)
Strengths: Pace, Strength, Passing, Crossing Angles, Work-Rate, Weak Foot, Recovery Speed, Dribbling
Weaknesses: Crossing, Accuracy
BNC came to Arsenal from Chelsea at age 12. A kid with incredible size and speed, his physicality caught Arsenal’s eye. Going into 20/21, BNC was waiting on his U18 debut, but by mid-season he was handed 5 consecutive appearances with the U23’s.
BNC began the 21/22 season as the starting RB for Betsy’s U23s and impressed so much that he was often called up to train with the 1st team. It was obvious to Arsenal that BNC was ready for the next step so they sent him on loan to Lincoln City in January.
At Lincoln City, BNC’s game advanced in many areas, including defensively and in support of breaking the press. This spell also showed his physical attributes weren’t just assets in youth football but directly transferable to the senior game.
It’s well-known BNC is a physical anomaly. There are few with his combination of strength and pace. But, that’s no guarantee of being a quality footballer. It’s all about how you use your gift, and Brooke knows exactly how to. He can simply glide past opponents, brushing them aside.
Brooke backs himself to take any opponent on, especially when there’s space for him to play into. All he needs is a half step, and the opponent doesn’t stand a chance. Match that physicality and speed with his close control, and BNC can take 2 defenders out with a single action.
Ok physical advantages are great, but football is all about what you do after you beat your man. Norton-Cuffy often takes multiple defenders out of play with his dribbling. He then uses a combination of passes to find his teammates in a position to make something dangerous happen
Defenders are afraid of BNC’s pace, which affords him space to read play in front of him and find the best possible pass, instead of the easiest. This is a rare luxury. On the assist, notice he has an immediate pass option to 8, but waits for 12 to release, leading to a tidy goal. (t.co/J2wNC5i733)
Norton-Cuffy has yet another advantage against defenders; his left foot. Defenders think they can shut down BNC’s advances by forcing him to the sideline. But with a simple touch to his weak foot where he makes a pass infield, Brooke breaks that press and the attack advances.
To recap BNC’s offensive qualities; he has the pace and strength to beat his man, the ability to play a range of different passes at different heights to set his teammates up to threaten the goal, the vision to play progressive passes, and the weak foot ability to split a press.
However, if you recall, my main concern for Brooke Norton-Cuffy has always been how he progresses as a defender. At youth levels, defenders often rely on their physical advantages to make up for their defensive liabilities, and BNC was no different.
BNC has worked hard in training on 1v1 duels and has become nearly impossible to dribble by when an attacker is isolate. Brooke has the ability to put a foot in to try and win a tackle, and still recover and prevent an attacking move.
BNC has represented England’s U18/U19s, and was called up to the U19 squad for the European Championships where Brooke played a crucial role in lifting the trophy. He played in all 5 games and contributed to England’s comeback win in the final.
BNC physical/technique combo make him unique and a force to be reckoned with. He’s able to use the space in front of him intelligently to get by opponents or play 1-2’s with teammates in possession. He’s a modern, forward-thinking RB who sees crossing options well. The last thing to add to his game will be the accuracy in the final third.
BNC is an incredibly rare profile with an unlimited ceiling.
In Football Manager
Another with a two-star current ability, Brooke Norton-Cuffy is also deemed as not being too far away from first team level, although unfortunately isn’t rated as having the capacity to improve at the same rate as Charlie Patino. Looking at the young right back however, there is certainly a player in there, and it’d certainly be nice to have another Hale End graduate to boost the number of home-grown players at the club.
Whilst his Physical attributes don’t quite reflect just how fast he really is, he’s certainly no slouch, and being just 18 years old still gives his Pace and Acceleration time to develop. His Stamina should also be able to increase to the 14-15 mark, which is vital for a modern full back.
In terms of Mental attributes, whilst he is lacking in some areas, such as his Positioning, Off The Ball and Decision making, other attributes that are vital for a flying wing back such as Teamwork and Work Rate (as well as the ever-handy Determination), mean that if you can bump the others up a touch with the right training then there is no reason that Norton-Cuffy couldn’t make up part of your first team squad.
With regards to his Technical attributes, despite BNC being able to cover at centre half and further forward on the right wing, his attributes definitely point towards his future lying at full back. With Tackling, Marking, Passing, First Touch, Dribbling and Crossing his strongest attributes, if these develop as you’d expect (ie. By at least 2 each) then you’ll have a Home Grown full back on your hands that will be capable of at least providing solid back up – but could potentially be first choice depending on his development.
I’d be very tempted to get rid of Cedric over the next year, and have him in and around the first team once his loan spell at Rotherham comes to an end.
In Real Life
Youth Stats: 51 apps, 26 goals, 11 assists
Strengths: Pace, Height, Finishing, Intelligence, Link-Up Play, Technique
Weaknesses: Tight Spaces
Edwards has worked his way through the ranks at Hale End, standing out as an elite prospect at each youth level. Khayon made his debut with the U18s at just 16, and became a mainstay in the 20/21 season adding 7 goals & 4 assists in 14 starts.
In the 21/22 season, Edwards made a massive leap, contributing 16 goals & 5 assists in 16 appearances for the U18s. Khayon also scored his first goal at the U23 level, finishing the season with 17 goals & 6 assists in all comps.
Unfortunately, Edwards’ season was cut short due to injury, but the positive side of that was he and Arsenal were able to sit down to the table and put pen to paper on a new contract amid interest from top clubs domestically and across Europe.
Edwards is a unique physical prospect due to his height/pace combination. Edwards is fast enough to make runs in behind between defenders, but also has the height and strength to play with his back to goal and be a target man against the press.
Not only does Edwards have the right physique to be a #9, but he’s an excellent finisher. Khayon can finish with both feet and with his head, first time/off a few touches. His goals come from all areas of the box & he’s got the IQ to always find space.
Edwards’ link-up play is forgotten due to his high-volume scoring. He works extremely hard in the middle of the pitch to involve teammates and progress play, and doesn’t stop moving until he’s found space in the box to finish off the move.
For Edwards to continue his development as one of the biggest #9 prospects in the world, he must work on first-touch control in tight spaces. Once that skill becomes elite he’ll be the exact kind of outlet a top team needs to beat the press.
Edwards has already trained with the 1st team a few times, earning that opportunity before he turned 17. This season Khayon will be the main striker for the U23s, with the likes of Moller, Biereth, and TJJ out on loan.
Khayon Edwards is another of the elite striking prospects at Hale End. His goal-scoring speaks for itself, and his physical attributes to go along with his excellent technical skills make him a scary good talent.
Star striker waiting in the wings in North London.
In Football Manager
At just 18 years old, Khayon Edwards is far from the finished product, as evidenced by coaches giving him just a one and half star Current Ability. These coaches also don’t have full faith in him ever developing into a first teamer at the Emirates, rating his Potential Ability at two yellow stars with a further star greyed out (which means that he could potentially become a three-star player but it’s difficult to call at his current age).
I think, however, that this is doing him a disservice. Edwards has a lot of time to improve, and with the right training could definitely develop into a player that you can use in and around your first team. Looking most adept to playing up front as an Advanced Forward or a Poacher, Edwards’ attributes don’t really lend himself to being the sort of striker to drop deeper and link up play, despite him being able to do so in real life.
His Finishing, First Touch and Technique are his best Technical attributes, which, paired with his Off The Ball, Composure and Physical stats mean that you have a player that is clever enough to make those little darts in behind the opposition defence, with the Pace and Acceleration to reach the ball before onrushing keepers.
Whilst there is no guarantee to how he will develop, I’d possibly give him a little bit of time at the club, with the odd cup game thrown in, before sending him out on loan to a club that will give him plenty of game time the season after.
In Real Life
Youth Stats (For Arsenal): 37 apps, 2 assists
Strengths: Tackling, Dribbling, Progressive Passing, Physicality, Versatility, Mentality, Ground Duels
Weaknesses: Crossing, Aerial Duels
Reuell Walters’ started in Sunday League, then scouted by top clubs. Walters chose Tottenham where he would play 4 years. In 2019, Spurs offered him a 2-year contract, which Reuell turned down to take time away from the game, spending 2 years with his family to better himself.
Walters joined Hale End in 2021, feeling rejuvenated after his break from the game. You wouldn’t know he had stepped away from football the way he hit the ground running with the academy. Reuell provided an assist in his 1st match for the U18s in 2021.
Walters shined in the 21/22 season, establishing himself as a U23s regular before he turned 17. When BNC and Alebiosu went on loan in January, Reuell stepped up and finished the season completing 90 minutes in all but 1 match, turning heads in the Arsenal 1st team coaching room.
Walters began training with the 1st team off and on just after his 17th birthday. He took part in the senior team’s preseason, starting at CB against Nuremberg, showcasing his intense physicality and ball-playing ability.
Walters is a physical defender with an eye for the game. He reads play in front of him well and knows when to put a foot in and win a challenge. His style of passing and dribbling leads me to believe he’s best at RB, but he has most of the physical qualities to be a stud CB too.
For Walters to succeed as a modern RB he’ll need to improve his delivery from wide areas. He’s an excellent progressive passer to find teammates in front of him, but sometimes lacks the ability to find a forward in dangerous areas. Something he has time to improve on at his age.
Walters is a mentality monster. For a 14-year-old to realize he should step away from his dream in order to succeed is incredibly rare. It speaks volumes to his self-awareness and outlook on what is important in life. A born leader. Any club would be lucky to have him around.
Reuell Walters is not only a special talent but he’s a special person. To have achieved everything he has at his age means the sky is the limit for this kid. His ability to play anywhere across the backline and his level-headed and mature approach will give him a clear pathway to future 1st team opportunities.
A gem on and off the pitch.
In Football Manager
Having only just turned 17 years old, Reuell Walters is the youngest player we’ll look at today, but could potentially have the brightest future. Rated as a natural right back or right wing back, he is also accomplished at centre back and left back, and it’s in the middle where his future could potentially lie.
Physically, Walters is a monster. At his tender age, these attributes could still increase tenfold, with his Pace and Acceleration potentially reaching terrifying numbers. His Stamina should be good enough if you want to use him as a marauding full back, but if you plan on moving him inside you’ll have to do a little bit of work on his Jumping Reach.
Looking at his Technical attributes, it’s tough to see where about on the park his future lies exactly. Whilst his Tackling, Passing, Marking and Heading are all among his best attributes, exactly what a Ball Playing Defender needs. However, he’s also a good crosser of the ball and some of his Mental attributes seem to lean that way slightly.
In particular, Walters’ Concentration and Decisions both sitting below 10 is a little bit of a worry, especially at centre back. However, given that he is still just 17 years old, if you put the effort into nurturing him correctly, then there is no reason that he couldn’t develop into at least a very good rotation option, particularly given his versatility – but if you play your cards right he could develop into a regular starter for years to come!
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