Arsenal: Picking a Starting XI Only with Players Aged 25 or Younger
Arsene Wenger's youth policy is no secret.
In recent years, the Frenchman has preferred giving chances to rising youngsters in the academy rather than splashing the cash on signings—and you can't argue that it hasn't worked.
The list goes on, but Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere are just two examples of players who benefited from first-team chances given to them by the Arsenal boss, usually in competitions like the Capital One Cup and even the FA Cup.
Here's a starting XI, which consists of only players aged 25 or younger, and a possible lineup for Cup games against weaker opposition this upcoming season.
GK: Wojciech Szczesny
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Arguably the easiest selection of the lineup, Wojciech Szczesny is currently the only under-25 first-team goalkeeper, with Lukasz Fabianski 28 years of age and Vito Mannone now a Sunderland player.
Szczesny's 2012-13 campaign was somewhat of a disappointment—some shaky performances led to his being dropped from the first team, before he ended the season on a good note upon his return to the side.
The 23-year-old is clearly far from the finished article, but some competition for the No. 1 spot—maybe in the shape of a more experienced keeper like Julio Cesar—could see the Pole start to fulfill his bright potential.
LB: Kieran Gibbs
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Another simple choice—like Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs is the only under-25 player of his position in the first team, as fellow left-back Nacho Monreal is 27 years old.
That being said, Gibbs isn't just in this lineup because his age makes him a default. The England international was one of Arsenal's most improved players last season, coming a long way since being the nervous understudy to Gael Clichy.
The 23-year-old is solid defensively, with 2.8 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per Premier League (to put that in perspective, Ashley Cole has 2.1 and 1.2, respectively). Gibbs has become more confident going forward, too, often providing an attack threat from the left flank as he charges forward and whips in decent crosses.
Arsenal seem to finally set in the left-back department—now all they need to do is get rid of Andre Santos.
CB: Ignasi Miquel
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Here's where things get tricky.
After the departures of Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci, Arsenal are currently light on centre-backs. What's more, the trio of Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen are all above the age of 25, leaving Ignasi Miquel as a shoo-in for this particular lineup.
The 20-year-old played just three times all season, scoring his first senior goal in a 6-1 Capital One Cup win over Coventry City.
A loan spell to a team where Miquel would gain first-team experience would probably benefit all parties involved, as his status at Arsenal as a reserve defender hasn't seemed to have changed at all over the past few years.
CB: Daniel Boateng
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It's clear that Arsenal need to sign a new centre-back.
If they had to call upon a member of the academy, though, Daniel Boateng would likely be the first in line. Since making his first-team debut for the Gunners in a 2011 Capital One Cup game against Bolton, the 20-year-old has yet to make another senior appearance, going on loan spells to both Swindon Town and Oxford United.
While he certainly has a long way to go before making an impression on the first team, Boateng could be one to keep an eye on.
RB: Carl Jenkinson
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Carl Jenkinson has made leaps and bounds since that miserable day at Old Trafford.
The 2012-13 campaign was somewhat of a breakthrough season for the former Charlton man, as he made 21 first-team appearances and was even capped by the English national team. Despite Bacary Sagna keeping his spot as first-choice right-back, Jenkinson took his first-team chances well with some energetic performances.
Not only has the 21-year-old become solid in defense—as he displayed when he kept Arjen Robben in his pocket during Arsenal's 2-0 win at Bayern Munich—but he has a burst of pace going forward and is capable of putting in dangerous crosses.
With Bacary Sagna starting to show signs of decline after two leg breaks as well as reaching the 30-year-old mark, Jenkinson could have a big 2013-14 season.
CM: Aaron Ramsey
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Speaking of improved players, Aaron Ramsey was probably Arsenal's most improved player of the 2012-13 campaign.
The Welshman has endured a tough few seasons since his horrendous leg break back in 2010, and at some points it looked like he would never reach the potential that he once promised. Strings of poor performances made him a scapegoat to fans, as he soon fell in the same category as the likes of Andre Santos and Sebastien Squillaci.
Somehow the 22-year-old didn't let the criticism bring him down, as his hard work and determination in the middle of the pitch soon saw him become an integral part of Arsenal's 11-game undefeated run at the end of the season.
Not only will Ramsey be featuring in Cup matches this season, but he'll be looking to continue his excellent form and nail down a starting spot in center midfield.
CM: Jack Wilshere
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For the first time in a while, the Jack Wilshere will be completing a preseason with his teammates and starting the new season injury-free (knock on wood, seriously).
We all know that the sky is the limit for the 2010-11 PFA Young Player of the Year, but it's time that the 21-year-old played a full, 40-plus-game season as Arsenal's midfield talisman—without any niggling injuries.
The 2013-14 campaign will be make it or break it for Wilshere.
CAM: Serge Gnabry
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Arsenal supporters who know anything about Serge Gnabry will agree with me when I say that I hope to see more of him in the upcoming season.
Explosive is the first word that comes to mind when watching the 18-year-old, due to his dazzling runs, blistering pace and powerful shot. Those three attributes combine to make one hell of a player.
The German's excellent performances for Arsenal U21s saw him earn his first-team debut this past season, having been brought on by Arsene Wenger in the dying minutes of defeats against Norwich City and Schalke 04.
It could be a season or two before Gnabry starts to really make an impact on the first team, but he'll be looking to make a bang with the chances he gets in the 2013-14 campaign.
LW: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
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Like Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is facing a crucial season in his Arsenal career.
He bursted onto the scene in his debut season for the Gunners, becoming the youngest Englishman to score in the Champions League with a goal against Olympiacos. The now-19-year-old soon became a fan favorite, nicknamed "the Ox" and even earning a surprise spot in England's Euro 2012 squad.
Having set the bar so high in his first season, Chamberlain's second season in North London saw him struggle to live up to his own high standards. Rather than build upon a strong first campaign, the former Southampton man seemed to suffer from second-season syndrome as he scored just twice for the Gunners in 2012-13.
I don't think I'm the only Arsenal supporter who would like to see more of "the Ox" in 2013-14. Despite not having a great second season, some lively substitute appearances made it clear that Chamberlain can change a game in an instant with his mazy runs and direct dribbling.
Let's hope 2013-14 is the year of the Ox.
RW: Theo Walcott
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It's sometimes difficult to remember that after 181 appearances for Arsenal, 33 international caps and an autobiography, Theo Walcott is still just 24 years old.
However, it no longer seems to be a story of unfulfilled potential for Walcott. Despite his characteristically inconsistent performances, the statistics don't lie: The England international notched up 21 goals and 16 assists in all competitions for the Gunners in 2012-13.
Walcott seems to be on the brink of becoming a world-class winger, and the level of consistency in his performances next season will determine whether or not he can build upon an exceptional 2012-13 campaign.
ST: Yaya Sanogo
No, it wasn't the marquee signing that Arsenal supporters so desperately want.
But put aside his injury history and the fact that he's a "typical Arsene Wenger signing," Yaya Sanogo was actually a great pickup by Wenger. In fact, I'm surprised no other clubs seemed to be in for him.
The former Auxerre starlet was one of the key players in France's recent U20 World Cup victory, scoring four goals in the tournament. The 20-year-old's pace, strength and knack of being in the right place at the right time bear a resemblance with a certain Thierry Henry.
Like a few other players in this lineup, I'm not expecting to see Sanogo play regularly in the Premier League this season. Rather, he'll have to prove himself with the chances he gets, whether it be substitute appearances in the Champions League or starting Capital One Cup games.