Arsenal are known for their respected and prolific academy. Over the past decade, the Gunners have produced a host of elite footballers. However, could they comprise an entire XI?
The criteria are simple. To be considered for selection, these players must have been part of the Arsenal academy prior to turning 18.
They must also still be playing—this needs to be a team that could compete tomorrow. However, they need not still be playing for Arsenal, as many Arsenal graduates have flown the coup to find first-team football or trophies elsewhere.
The current Arsenal goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, would certainly make the cut. Szczesny joined the Arsenal youth set-up in 2006, aged just 16. He progressed through the ranks before a loan spell at Brentford accelerated his progress. At 23, he is already Arsenal’s undisputed No. 1.
Arsenal seem to produce plenty of left-backs. Under the rules of this exercise, Gael Clichy, Kieran Gibbs and Ashley Cole all qualify. I’ve opted for Ashley Cole based on his wealth of experience, although I shall endeavour to include the effervescent and improving Gibbs elsewhere.
By contrast, Arsenal haven’t produced too many right-backs. The likes of Kerrea Gilbert have flattered to deceive, showing flashes of potential only to fade into obscurity. The choice for this team is Justin Hoyte, who now plies his trade with Championship side Middlesbrough. Hoyte was with Arsenal from the age of nine and went on to make 34 first-team appearances, scoring one goal.
At centre-half, Arsenal are able to call upon the promising pair of Johan Djourou and Kyle Bartley. Although both players have now moved on, to Hamburg and Swansea respectively, they remain major prospects.
Arsenal have produced so many talented midfielders that I will have to select five to include them all. First of all, Kieran Gibbs will get his place in the side in the left-wing role that he started his career in. Gibbs’ Emirates Cup performance against Inter Milan in 2007 has become the stuff of legend.
On the right-hand side Arsenal can field Swedish dead-ball expert Sebastian Larsson. After beginning his career with Eskilstuna, Larsson joined Arsenal aged just 16. After a loan spell with Birmingham, he decided to leave the club to pursue regular first-team football. At 28, he already has 55 Swedish caps to his name.
In the middle, Arsenal are able to call upon the super-talented pair of Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere. Fabregas came over from Barcelona at 15, while Wilshere has been with the club since the age of nine. The pair showcase the Arsenal academy’s twin skills of talent-spotting and development.
To add some steel to this creative pair, I’ll throw in Ghanaian midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong. He will play bodyguard to the diminutive Wishere and Fabregas.
Up front, the line will be led by Nicklas Bendtner. The tall Dane has taken a lot of stick from Arsenal fans down the years, but remains the academy’s most successful recent striker, with an impressive 22 goals in 55 international appearances to his name.
Here's the lineup in full:
Szczesny; Cole, Djourou, Bartley, Hoyte; Gibbs, Wilshere, Frimpong, Fabregas, Larsson; Bendtner
So there you have it: an Arsenal Academy Graduates XI. How do you think this team would get on in the Premier League? Let us know below.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.