Since the Arsene Wenger era commenced at Arsenal in 1996, the North London giants have always boasted an exciting array of youngsters that are nurtured and developed to fruition before either progressing into the Gunners first team or gracing other teams with their young talent.
Youngsters that have emerged from the Arsenal academy include Jack Wilshere, Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas, Kieran Gibbs and a host of other world class players.
However, the problem with boasting so many promising prospects is there simply isn't enough room to keep and enjoy them all. The opportunity to play consistently and often arises and forces some of the brightest youths to depart. Andrew Cole, Sebastian Larsson and Fabrice Muamba are all notable examples.
This season has seen the continuation of Wenger's loan tactic, where the Frenchman sends out his vast number of teenagers to lower-tier clubs in order for them to gain sufficient first-team experience as well as experience the day-to-day life of a professional footballer.
Currently, there are sixteen youngsters away on loan, impressing various avenues of World Football. Despite the fact that not every one of those sixteen players is going to be able to break into the Arsenal first team, a number of them have looked particularly impressive and appear destined to become stars next season.
However, the Arsenal do already have a packed squad as it is—the sheer number of first-teamers could ultimately restrict a number of budding young guns.
This certainly looks the case for boom goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Currently on loan at Championship side Hull City, the 23-year old has had his spell at the Tigers tainted by injuries, particularly recently. However, prior to his recent thigh and knee injuries, Mannone was enjoying a stellar spell which saw the Italian make eight impressive appearances.
The former Atalanta shot-stopper established himself last season after injuries to Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski early in the season. A memorable performance against Fulham instantly had Mannone in the fans' best interest.
After pulling off numerous incredible saves to thwart a strong Fulham attack, many believed the Italian was the answer to Arsenal's ongoing keeping woes. However, after an honest error which resulted in a West Ham equalizer and the eventual return of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski, the 22-year old was once again dropped for the remainder of the campaign.
Almunia and Fabianski continued to struggle throughout the season, with many believing that their inabilities were the catalyst for another trophy-less season. However, this season, whilst Mannone has nursed injuries and impressed for Hull City, Fabianski has matured and developed rapidly, becoming the first choice Arsenal keeper until a season-ending injury in January.
Since then, the emergence of Polish youngster Wojciech Szczesny has provided Arsenal with real steel between the posts.
The 20-year old, who was always highly touted by Wenger, has been more than impressive and looks set to hold down the first choice role when he returns from a finger injury in April.
So where does this leave young Vito Mannone?
With Fabianski and Szczesny, the established first choice keepers, and the struggling Manuel Almunia still present, it is unlikely Mannone will want to continue playing third keeper at Arsenal.
Provided he maintains fitness, Wenger may look to send Mannone out on a season-long loan to a Premier League or Serie A side, which would prove invaluable for the Italian's development.
Fabianski has shown at times that he does not possess the safest hands and that the 25-year old can struggle with simple balls and crosses. However, his form this season was superb and Szczesny has been even better, despite the Carling Cup Final incident.
Mannone, too, has shown he is a quality keeper, but could the likes of Szczesny and Fabianski restrict the "Italian Stallion's" opportunity at Arsenal?
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