In a dismal season for Arsenal, one of the few bright spots fans have had to hang on to has been the progress of their young players.
Bukayo Saka really resisted, but perhaps the name that surprised some is Emile Smith Rowe, whose introduction from the side coincided with a massive resumption of form from the Gunners.
A group of people who were not at all shocked by the 20-year-old’s rise to Mikel Arteta’s first team this campaign were those who worked with him in Huddersfield Town.
Smith Rowe had a successful loan spell with the Terriers in 2019/20 and, speaking this week, his then manager, Danny Cowley, revealed the specific conditions he and his coaching staff needed to meet to secure the temporary signature of Hale Ender.
“We first watched Emile play for Arsenal’s Under-23s at Boreham Wood and followed his progress,” Cowley – who now manages Portsmouth – told Portsmouth News.
“In Huddersfield our then football manager Dave Webb was a friend of the family so we got in. We then met mum and dad, who are teachers, and we established a connection there.
“Emile had had a really disappointing time at Leipzig, who paid around £ 2million for the loan, and then got injured in the first two weeks. He was young and alone in Germany.
“The way Leipzig play is a very pressing game, extremely different from the way Arsenal play. As a result, they broke it pretty early on.
“It meant we were working very hard with Arsenal to take care of him. We put in a tremendous amount of work to make this transition as smooth as possible – meaning we had him at our disposal for most of the season. .
“At that time, however, Emile was not able to physically play 90 minutes on Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, so we agreed with Arsenal that we would manage his minutes. I had to take him off at 60 minutes and the crowd would murder me! “
This tailor-made use of the loan system represents a stark contrast to the way Arsenal handled the development of their youngsters as they wanted to get playing time at the senior level.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the Gunners ‘lax approach to finding the right destination for their young talent is the decision to send Serge Gnabry on loan to Tony Pulis’ West Brom in the 2015/16 season.
Unsurprisingly, the German didn’t stylistically match what Pulis was trying to do to the Hawthorns and only managed one appearance in six months.
Having seen the value of their Hale End academy, the way Arsenal began to use the loan market to their advantage has changed dramatically.
Ben Knapper was appointed the club’s very first loan officer in January 2019 and is tasked with ensuring the Gunners’ talents get the most out of their time away from the club.
Talk to football.london Earlier this year, young center-back Mark McGuinness, who spent last season on loan at Ipswich, revealed he was in regular contact with Knapper to check on his progress.
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After seeing this much more thoughtful approach to youth development working elsewhere to prepare Smith Rowe for the first team, there is now a lot of excitement around the club for what could come next.
Joe Willock obviously made the headlines in his time with Newcastle, but Harry Clarke, Daniel Ballard and Zech Medley have all had some good times away from the club that will either make them useful assets for the senior squad or players whose the value could increase if they are to be sold on the transfer market.
While not all loans went as planned, Arsenal’s change of direction with regard to the system has already paid off and is expected to do so for years to come.