Seven youngsters who made an instant impact at Arsenal: Martinelli, Cole, Cesc

Quick Reads

Over the years, Arsenal have made a habit of exciting their fans with some brilliant young players and academy graduates making an instant impact for the club.

Arsene Wenger was never afraid to use a player he thought was good enough, no matter their age, and that tradition looks to be continuing even in a post-Wenger slump.

Some of these might not have had the Arsenal careers that fans might have hoped for, but nobody can take away how good they looked from day one.

Gabriel Martinelli

Joining at the age of 18 from Brazilian minnows Ituano FC for just £6million, it was expected that Martinelli would have to be patient to get first-team opportunities, especially given how prolific Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been for the Gunners.

As expected, he was bedded in with games in the Europa League and League Cup, but his performances have been so good it’s getting increasingly difficult to overlook him, scoring seven goals in his first four cup starts, including a brace in a breathless 5-5 draw away at Liverpool.

In the Premier League, he’s looked lively off the bench, notably helping Arsenal salvage a point against Southampton by setting up Lacazette’s injury-time equaliser in the final days of Unai Emery’s reign.

Handed a full league debut by Freddie Ljungberg, he stepped up to level things for Arsenal as they came back from a goal down to beat West Ham 3-1.

Carlos Vela

Now 30 and breaking all kinds of goalscoring records in MLS, the Mexico international is finally hitting the kind of prolific form that optimists might have hoped for when he first emerged at Arsenal.

It had felt like a long wait to see him after work permit issues saw him loaned out to Celta Vigo, Salamanca and Osasuna before his first proper season at the Emirates, though he was still just 19 when he made his debut.

He registered six goals and four assists from 29 appearances in his first full season, including a stunning hat-trick against Sheffield United on his full debut, which is an impressive tally when you consider only 10 of those appearances were starts.

Hector Bellerin

Not the first teenager to arrive from Barcelona and hit the ground running, injuries and a wider malaise have stalled Bellerin’s career a little in recent years, but he was a revelation when he first appeared at right-back, making 20 appearances in the 2014-15 season and cementing himself in the team ahead of the more experienced Mathieu Debuchy.

An FA Cup winner in his first proper Gunners season, he credits Steve Bould for developing him into a quality full-back.

“If there was a person who I had to identify as helping me a lot, that would have to be Bould,” Bellerin said at the time.

“I was a winger but from the under-18s up, I remember him just showing me the basics.”

Wojciech Szczesny

Poland international Szczesny was just 20 years old when he usurped Manuel Almunia as Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper, showing the pedigree that would later see him earmarked as Gianluigi Buffon’s successor at Juventus at a very early age, while it was patently clear how much he loved playing for the Gunners.

An alleged penchant for smoking in the dressing room and some high-profile errors saw Arsene Wenger lose faith in the keeper, bringing in the steady hands of Petr Cech – a proven winner – to play in his place, sending him out on loan to Roma. He’s since never looked back from Serie A.

It seemed a no-brainer at the time, but in hindsight it probably would have been better to show more patience in young Szczesny.

Jack Wilshere

Having been earmarked at a young age as a special talent by Wenger, Wilshere broke Cesc Fabregas’ record as Arsenal youngest-ever league debutant when he made his Premier League bow as a 16-year-old.

Less than two weeks later, the midfielder scored his first goal for the club in the same rout of Sheffield United in which Vela starred, and he soon became just the fifth 16-year-old to appear in the Champions League – all before he had signed his first professional contract with the club.

Cesc Fabregas

It blows our minds to think that Fabregas was just 15 years old when he left Barcelona’s La Masia academy to join Arsenal.

Long before the influx of playmaking Spanish midfielders came to the Premier League, Fabregas was a revelation when he started to break through in the 2004-05 campaign, passing the ball about as if he’d come with sonar vision pre-installed.

Watching a 17-year-old Fabregas in 2004 was like watching a footballer who’d travelled back in time to show us what football would become.

Ashley Cole

Cole making his Arsenal debut over 20 years ago – November 30, 1999 to be exact – is enough to throw us into a deep existential crisis. A short loan to Crystal Palace followed at the turn of the century, but soon enough Cole was making a big impact for his boyhood club as a teenager.

He made 17 appearances during the 2000-01 season, scoring three goals. He’d only better that tally once more in his 20-year career.


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