In a dismal season for Arsenal, one of the few bright spots fans have had to hold on to has been the progress of their young players.
Bukayo Saka really held up, but perhaps the name that surprised some was Emile Smith Rowe, whose introduction to the side coincided with a massive improvement in Gunners form.
One group of people who weren’t at all shocked by the 20-year-old’s rise to Mikel Arteta’s first team this campaign were those who worked with him at 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 had to fulfill to get Hale Ender’s temporary signature.
“We first saw Emile play for Arsenal Under-23s at Boreham Wood and followed his progress,” Cowley – who now manages Portsmouth – told Portsmouth News.
“At Huddersfield our then director of football, Dave Webb, was a friend of the family, which got us in. We then met mum and dad, who are teachers, and we had a connection. the low.
“Emile had a really disappointing time at Leipzig, who paid around £2m for the loan, and then he got injured in the first two weeks. He was young and alone in Germany.
“The way Leipzig play is a very pressing game, hugely different from the way Arsenal play. As a result, they broke it down quite early.
“That meant we worked very hard with Arsenal to take care of him. We put a huge amount of effort into making this transition as smooth as possible – which meant we had him at our disposal for virtually the entire season.
“At that time, however, Emile was unable to physically play 90 minutes on Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, so we agreed with Arsenal that we would manage his minutes. I would have to withdraw him at 60 minutes and the crowd would would kill!”
This bespoke use of the loan system represents a stark contrast to the way Arsenal handled the development of their youngsters whom they wanted to get playing time at senior level.
Perhaps the most glaring example of the Gunners’ lax approach to finding the right destination for their young talent was the decision to send Serge Gnabry on loan to West Brom from Tony Pulis in the 2015/16 season.
Unsurprisingly, the German didn’t match stylistically what Pulis was trying to do at the Hawthorns and managed just one substitute appearance in six months there.
However, after seeing the value of their Hale End academy, the way Arsenal began to use the loan market to their advantage changed dramatically.
Ben Knapper was appointed as the club’s first-ever loan manager in January 2019 and is responsible for ensuring the Gunners’ talents get the most out of their spells away from the club.
Talk to football.london Earlier this year young centre-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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Having seen this much more considered approach to youth development elsewhere work to prepare the likes of Smith Rowe for the first team, there is now plenty of excitement around the club as to what could happen next.
Joe Willock has obviously been in the headlines in his time with Newcastle, but Harry Clarke, Daniel Ballard and Zech Medley have all had good spells away from the club that will either make them useful assets to the senior team or players whose the value could increase should they be resold on the transfer market.
Although not all of the loans have gone to plan, Arsenal’s change in management over the system has already paid off and should do so for years to come.