Ranking the Top 10 Teenagers to Have Played for Arsenal Since 2000
In recent weeks, 19-year-old Nigerian Alex Iwobi has made headlines at Arsenal with some impressive contributions to the first-team. He's the latest in a long line of teenage talents who have flourished under Arsene Wenger.
In this piece, we identify the top 10 teenagers to have represented Arsenal since 2000. It's worth noting that this list is not intended to rank them according to their overall careers, but according to how effective they were in their teenage years with the Gunners.
10. Wojciech Szczesny
Goalkeeper is a position where experience is traditionally seen as vital. As a rule, keepers tend to start earning opportunities at a later age, which is balanced out by the fact they’re able to keep playing for longer.
Wenger gave Wojciech Szczesny his debut at 19, which says something about the prodigious ability he had as a youngster. His first start was marked with a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over West Brom, and it was startling to see such a young goalkeeper being so authoritative.
9. Carlos Vela
Mexican forward Carlos Vela may never have achieved his full potential at Arsenal, but he is still fondly remembered by those who saw him take to the field as a teenager.
Although he signed for Arsenal in his mid-teens in 2005, he was not able to make his debut until he was granted a work permit in 2008. His first start came in the League Cup against Sheffield United, and a 19-year-old Vela wowed the Emirates Stadium crowd with a stunning hat-trick. It was a stunning demonstration of his ability, and a number of cameos over the course of the season suggested the Gunners had a star in the making.
It wasn’t to be. Vela was eventually sold to Real Sociedad, but his noteworthy impact as a teenager has not been forgotten.
8. Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs made his Arsenal debut as an 18-year-old in the League Cup in 2007. However, by 19 he was already making himself a fairly regular presence in Arsene Wenger’s matchday squad. By December 2008 he had appeared in the Champions League, and his Premier League bow was only a couple of months behind.
Gibbs was perceived as having the potential to be the "new Ashley Cole." However, in recent years he has somewhat lost his way. He now finds himself behind Nacho Monreal in Wenger’s preferred pecking order, and that glittering potential may be at risk of being squandered.
7. Alex Iwobi
When Arsene Wenger introduces young attackers, he will often deploy them on the flanks. However, in several of Alex Iwobi’s first starts, he was used as a central playmaker. Giving him the No. 10 role was a statement of faith in his ability—and thus far, he appears to have repaid it.
Although Iwobi has recently been stationed out on the left, the impeccable decision-making and immaculate first touch that initially made him stand out remain.
6. Abou Diaby
When Abou Diaby joined Arsenal from Auxerre in 2006, he was still only 19. His potential was frightening, and it remains one of the great shames of Arsenal’s recent history that his career was so dramatically impeded by injuries.
At that tender age he had an incredible capacity to sprint away from opposition midfielders. His skill and power was reminiscent of a young Patrick Vieira, and for a time it looked as if he might follow in his countryman’s footsteps by becoming the heartbeat of the Arsenal team. Sadly, persistent injury trouble robbed him of that opportunity.
5. Gael Clichy
In 2004, Gael Clichy helped Arsenal win the title aged just 18 years and 10 months. The achievement made him the youngest player to ever claim a Premier League winner's medal.
Having arrived from Cannes as a complete unknown, Clichy served as an able deputy to Ashley Cole. He was lightning-quick and skilful on the ball, combining well with Robert Pires on that flank.
Some years later, he would go on to claim the left-back slot for himself. Eventually, he was sold to Manchester City. Nevertheless, his impressive contribution as a teenager remains etched into the Arsenal faithful's memory.
4. Theo Walcott
When Arsenal signed a 16-year-old Walcott in a multimillion-pound deal in January 2006, there was a huge burden of expectation. He didn't even play until the following season, making his debut as a substitute on the opening day of the Premier League against Aston Villa.
However, he quickly became a regular at the Emirates Stadium. In each of his full seasons as a teenager at Arsenal, he made at least 30 appearances.
Walcott has now been at the club for more than a decade. While he might not quite have fulfilled that early promise, he’s still proved to be a tremendous value for the money.
3. Hector Bellerin
Hector Bellerin’s breakthrough season came in 2014/15 as a 19-year old. After making his Champions League debut in September, he followed up with a first Premier League appearance against Hull City the following month.
With Mathieu Debuchy sidelined and Carl Jenkinson out on loan, Bellerin quickly became a fixture in the Arsenal first team. He hasn't looked back since. Even as a teenager, his remarkable pace and poise on the ball were immediately evident.
2. Jack Wilshere
Incredibly, Jack Wilshere made his competitive debut for Arsenal aged 16 years and 256 days. This wasn’t in the League Cup either—this was a Premier League match away at Blackburn Rovers.
His first start, a cup tie against Sheffield United 10 days later, was marked with an excellent goal. Very quickly it became clear Arsenal had a special talent on their hands.
It was during the 2010/11 campaign that followed that Wilshere really began to bed into the Arsenal side. Strengthened by a loan spell with Bolton, he became a key part of the Gunners midfield, shining against the likes of Barcelona in the Champions League.
Injuries have since slowed Wilshere’s progress, but there have been a few more impressive teenagers in the course of Wenger’s reign.
1. Cesc Fabregas
When Cesc Fabregas left Barcelona for Arsenal as a 15-year-old, he did so because he believed he could break into the Gunners first-team. However, surely not even he would have expect that by the age of 17 he’d be playing regularly under Arsene Wenger.
Fabregas was a remarkable talent because of his startling maturity in possession. He played with an intelligence and tactical awareness of a player 10 years his senior.
The Catalan midfielder was a once-in-a-generation talent and arguably the most gifted teenager to have ever played under Arsene Wenger.