Arsenal youth academy players
Scouting reports on the best young players from Hale End
Arsenal’s Hale End academy is intrinsic to the football club. Since its inception, Arsenal’s greatest teams have always featured home-grown academy players, including Rocky Rocastle, Tony Adams and Ashley Cole. As the club rebuilds, there’s an increased emphasis on academy players – with Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe the stars of the new generation.
Here are brief profiles on the next generation coming through Hale End. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.
What is Arsenal's academy identity?
Arsenal have one of the best youth academies in English football. It may not quite be at the level of Chelsea’s Cobham, but it has a strong case for being the best of the rest. It’s status within the exceptional catchment area of London enables it to attract the best talent in the region.
Hale End has often produced high-tech players that subscribe to the playing style that has became synonymous with the club under Arsène Wenger. They used to invest a lot in foreign talent – see Cesc Fàbregas, Héctor Bellerín, Serge Gnabry – but have since scaled back their international recruitment.
What are Arsenal's academy pathways?
Throughout the years, particularly in the last 2000s and early 2010s, Arsenal have given significant opportunities to academy-produced young players. Arsène Wenger and their move to the Emirates Stadium was key to that, with the club having to rely on home-grown prospects to play big roles.
The focus on the academy predates that, though. Arsenal have had many strong academy generations, not least the one that powered the famous title win in 1989 that included Tony Adams, Rocky Rocastle, and so on. In recent years, Mikel Arteta has built his teams around Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.
Who are Arsenal's best academy graduates?
Liam Brady, Tony Adams, Rocky Rocastle, Ray Parlour, Paul Merson, Ashley Cole, Jack Wilshere – just a selection of the players that came through Arsenal’s academy and established themselves as key players in iconic Arsenal teams.
Of the current crop, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are the standouts. There’s also Folarin Balogun and Brooke Norton-Cuffy breaking into senior football now. Away from the club, graduates like Alex Iwobi, Josh Dasilva, Stephy Mavididi, Chris Willock, Joe Willock, Yunus Musah and many more are playing to high levels across England and Europe.
What competitions do Arsenal's academy teams play in?
Arsenal are, unsurprisingly, strong competitiors at domestic level in English football. They’ve won multiple titles at every age group, most recently the PL2 in the 2018/19 season. They’ve also won the FA Youth Cup seven times, only bettered by Manchester United and Chelsea.
They were perennial participants in the UEFA Youth League but haven’t played in the competition since the 2016/17 season, the last time the first-team qualified for the UEFA Champions League.
After a difficult spell, Hale End is back to producing first-team quality for Arsenal and Charlie Patino feels next on that conveyor belt. People behind-the-scenes have even spoken about him being the ‘best ever graduate’ which, considering the company, is a bold statement.
Patino is on loan at Blackpool in the Championship for the 2022/23 season, following sporadic appearances for the first-team last season. Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal hierarchy seem to rate him highly.
Charlie Patino's style of play
There is something wonderfully ‘Arsenal’ about the way Patino plays. He is most natural as a six or eight in midfield and boasts technical quality to make the difficult things look easy. For the Under-23s this season, he has been tasked with conducting play when collecting the ball from his defenders, where he can either dribble through pressure or distribute with laser-like accuracy.
He is left footed – almost in the mould of David Silva – and glides across the pitch with ease, displaying great control and body perception. He can breeze past players with body feints and shoulder drops, making him extremely press-resistant in midfield. His awareness of when to drive forward, when to stay and when to pass is very mature, and he likes playing close to teammates where he can eliminate opposition defenders with give-and-go’s.
Confidence in his own ability can lead to him getting caught in possession but those lapses are becoming more infrequent. He is an honest worker, will never shirk away from challenges and is used to being kicked – but could be stronger in duels – something which will hopefully arrive as he bulks up. Patino, like many left footed players, should also aim to improve his weaker right side.
Charlie Patino is a high-tech deep-lying midfielder with a great range of passing and an innate awareness of pressure. If he isn’t smacking passes across the pitch, he’s deftly dropping a shoulder to beat pressure. His vision and composure are high-level skills of his.
The biggest weakness about Patino is his weakness – slender and slight, he lacks physicality which makes him easy to brush off the ball and bully in duels. That said, there have been promising signs of him developing a more sturdy physique. Time is on his side as well.
At just 18 years old, Brooke Norton-Cuffy was playing regular senior football in League One on loan at Lincoln City. That says a lot about him as a player. To be able to not only withstand but flourish at a highly competitive level like that as such a young age is impressive.
Following a successful six months in League One, he stepped up to Championship side Rotherham United this past summer having signed a new, long-term contract extension at Arsenal. He was also a starter for the England team that won the UEFA U-19 European Championship.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy's style of play
Brooke Norton-Cuffy is a senior-ready player already. The fact that he has already played at League One and Championship level at his age is testament to that. He has a very solid frame which can withstand heavy contact which is underpinned by very good straight-line speed.
Those attributes are key to his style of play as a wing-back. Norton-Cuffy is a physical and direct runner that likes to drive forward on the overlap and with the ball. He is a powerful presence down the wing, attacking defences with his ball-carrying and running. He is adept at side-stepping inside to beat a player then attacking the space he creates. His crossing has plenty of margin to improve but his ball-striking is decent and enables him to whip in flat balls on the run.
In our exclusive interview with him, Norton-Cuffy described himself as a “one-v-one” player, someone who relished isolated battles. He has room to improve technical aspects of his game, particularly his defensive positioning and the way he receives the ball. That said, all the tools are there for Norton-Cuffy to develop into a Premier League level wing-back.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy is an athletic and physical wing-back that offers valuable verticality as a runner and ball-carrier at senior level right now. He is a self-described one-v-one player, capable of dominanting in duels going both ways.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy has a number of technical points he can improve. His body shape when receiving the ball is one, his ball-striking technique is another. He has room to become a more secure and consistent player in general.
More academy player pages
Kido Taylor-Hart has been at Arsenal since the age of seven. His development at the club has almost spanned 13 years, and it kicked into gear in the past year. Last season saw him impress with the under-18 side before being integrated into the under-23 group. He eventually signed professional terms at his boyhood club last summer, allaying fears that he may move on elsewhere.
Kido Taylor-Hart's style of play
Predominantly a wide player at youth level, Taylor-Hart cuts a fairly peculiar profile on the pitch. He’s pretty tall and is a very upright runner, almost rigid. He isn’t explosive but he can shift through the gears smoothly.
He is a high-volume dribbler – his first instinct, for better or worse, is to get on the ball and carry it. He has good close control in smaller spaces which enables him to beat defenders by manipulating the ball and is adept at rolling out of pressure to drive into open space, but he is prone to doing too much too often.
Taylor-Hart’s decision-making on the ball leaves quite a bit to be desired in general. He doesn’t release possession quickly enough in quite a few attacking situations. After a eat bit of dribbling to break open the game, he would be better served to move the ball on quickly to exploit the space he creates. Instead, he often carries the ball into dead-ends and turns possession over with poor shots.
That said, his potential as a dribbler and ball-carrier is obvious – and it would fit well in a more central role.
Kido Taylor-Hart is a prolific dribbler that can disrupt defences with his direct ball-carrying and smooth changes of speed.
Given that he is a high-volume dribbler, Taylor-Hart is unsurprisingly prone to over-dribbling quite often. His decision-making on the ball is often poor as well.
Arsenal’s academy has provided he club with a number of high-level players over the decades – from Rocky Rocastle in the 80s and early 90s, to Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe in the current generation. In terms of overall quality, it’s difficult to look past Tony Adams and Ashley Cole as the standouts.
Beyond Saka and Smith Rowe, there’s a new crop of impressive Hale End products coming through. Folarin Balogun is dominating in under-23 football, Charlie Patino is a standout, as is Omari Hutchinson. Reuell Walters is another one to watch.