Originally published in Give Me Sport – 24 January, 2016
Benik Afobe’s goal against Sunderland was his second in two games, after his record £9 million move to Bournemouth.
Joining Arsenal’s youth programme in 2001, Afobe became a senior player in 2010 but, after failing to break into the first team, found himself at Wolverhampton after relatively successful loan spells at Huddersfield, Bolton, and MK Dons to name but a few.
His senior career may not have taken off at Arsenal, but how did some of his classmates fair? The class of 2010 was a bit of a mixed pack for Arsene Wenger. The majority moved on to other ventures, some, like Afobe, hit highs and others slumped to lower leagues. How many of these players, however, was Wenger right to let go?
This Spanish defender managed five appearances for the senior team. He featured in both the Premier League and Champions League, starring against the likes of Liverpool and Olympiakos. The height of Miquel’s Arsenal career came in the 6-1 thrashing of Coventry City, in the League Cup, where he guided home a header.
The 2013/14 season saw Miquel loaned out to Leicester City where he made seven league appearances and helped them to promotion. Conceding nine goals in that time may have contributed to the decision to offload him to Norwich City where he only managed two appearances.
Miquel now plies his trade in the Spanish Segunda Division where he is an integral part of Ponferradina’s back four. A crucial part of a team that looks set to finish mid-table.
He wins plaudits for strength and pace and did impress at Leicester when he was given a chance to play. His sporadic run under Wenger suggests he did have a certain quality, perhaps just not enough. A switch to the Segunda Division, rather than being retained by a Championship side, is evidence that maybe he just does not cut it at a higher level.
Verdict: 50/50. Given an extended run in the team, Wenger may have found himself a dependable defender with composure on the ball, but at the same time, he never managed to cement a place at Leicester or Norwich and perhaps the Arsenal boss made the right decision in offloading him.
North London native, Boateng, was released in 2014 where he joined Sodertalje FK, in the Swedish third-tier.
During his spell at the Gunners, Boateng managed zero appearances and only made a total of eight appearances over two years, on loan at Swindon Town, Oxford United, and Hibernian.
Verdict: Right to go. Wenger made the right call in releasing this young lad. Never showing enough quality to break into any of the teams he went on loan to, his only real qualification to play for Arsenal was being a fan.
At least, he’s still playing, and in Sweden – there are far worse countries to be living in!
Despite moving to Arsenal in 2010, as a youth product, Ebecilio never managed a game for the Gunners. His potential at Arsenal was cut short when he returned to his native Netherlands to play for FC Twente, in 2013.
He managed 60 appearances for Twente, scoring ten goals in the process. He starred only five times for Nottingham Forest before having his loan terminated and returning to the Netherlands.
A technical player with some ability; there’s no doubting that. With a good range of passing, and at ease with the ball at his feet, it’s likely he will return to Rene Hake’s setup at Twente.
From the flashes of brilliance he’s shown, it’s clear Wenger’s philosophy is well instilled in the young Dutchman.
Verdict: Should have been a keeper. Wenger discarded this midfield talent too early, not giving him enough time to shine and prove himself. At only 21-years-old, there’s plenty of time for Wenger’s decision to come back to haunt him.
Another player who failed to make a start for the Gunners. Moving on after only three years in North London, Henderson found himself at Hull and Crawley before settling at Grimsby Town in the National League, after a short spell on loan.
His training at Arsenal will bring invaluable experience to Grimsby and his qualities will be highly appreciated there – already starring in 4-0 and 5-0 victories. Henderson could be a shrewd signing if his performances help Grimsby in chasing promotion to League Two.
Verdict: A good decision from the gaffer. Not good enough for Arsenal or the Premier League. Looks set to be a solid-enough midfielder who will forge a career bouncing around the lower divisions.
Aneke joined Arsenal the same year as Afobe and the pair of them progressed to the senior team together too. Also like Afobe, Aneke failed to make an appearance for the Gunners but a relatively successful loan spell at Crewe Alexandra, between 2012 and 2014, saw him score twenty goals.
He has since found himself plugging away in Belgium, for Zulte Waregem, and has seen a run in the England youth system although, unlike his colleague Afobe, never made it to the U21 level.
His physical presence and direct style of play are perhaps the cause of his Arsenal disappointment – Wenger preferring faster, more technical strikers. Since his move to Waregem, he has found the net just four times in two seasons and his lack of finishing ability is the likely reason for his release.
Verdict: Another thought-out decision by the manager. Despite the lack of striking talent in the Arsenal squad, Aneke was never going to set the Emirates alight and Wenger was right to ship out this youngster and let him develop elsewhere.
Nobody but the manager knows all of the considerations when deciding on young players’ careers. It seems that Wenger has made the correct call on most occasions.
The life of a manager is hard. They do well in letting plenty of subpar talents go and get criticised when they let young starlets slip through their net – such as Sir Alex Ferguson’s regretful decision to let Paul Pogba leave.
Maybe Wenger let Benik Afobe go too early but he does know when to keep hold of a talent and, when Jack Wilshere returns to fitness, be certain we’ll all be reminded of that fact.