Premier League: Just who are Arsenal’s ‘homegrown’ players?

THE condemnation was widespread last week when Arsenal released their official Premier League squad list, and it did not contain a single English player.

The Gunners were the only top-flight club that did not have an Englishman among their submitted list, but while that produced the usual rash of articles bemoaning the foreign influx and the state of the modern game, there is a little bit more to it than meets the eye.

The devil, as ever, is in the detail of the new Premier League ruling, which is adhering to a Uefa stipulation that has been in effect in European competition for some time.

Clubs are allowed up to 25 players on their main squad list, of whom no more than 17 can be non-homegrown. They are also allowed an unlimited list of players aged 21 or under.

‘Homegrown’ players are defined as: ‘those who, irrespective of nationality or age, have been affiliated to the FA (or Welsh FA) for a period of three seasons or 36 months prior to their 21st birthday’.

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Arsenal’s main list was already controversial in that the Gunners only had 20 names on it, among which seven were listed as ‘homegrown’.

None of that seven, though, are English. Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Denilson, Alex Song, Nicklas Bendtner, Johan Djourou and Italian third choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone all fit the criteria though, and so they effectively count as English players.

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Arsenal have been accused of bending the rules by some, but the rules are quite clear, and the club have done nothing wrong. Clearly, however, this goes against the main aims of the rule – to promote young English talent.

Arsene Wenger has always been adamant that he ‘looks at the quality and not at the passport’, and the reality seems to be that if he continues to do this and bring players over at a young enough age (ie before they turn 18) then they will qualify as homegrown players when they are 21.

Others who are on track to do just that are Armand Traore (on loan at Juventus), Mexican Carlos Vela and Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

They are currently on the Under-21 list, alongside a number of players who have graced the first team and including a large English contingent, led by senior England players Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs and the 18-year-old Jack Wilshere.

So often criticised for his reliance on foreign players, the very presence of those three young Gunners in the recent England squad for the friendly with Hungary suggest that Arsenal are in fact already fulfilling that commitment to homegrown English players.

Other clubs may have more English players on their 25-man squad list – Manchester City had 13 – but very few have been genuinely home-grown by their current clubs.

Spurs, for example, have lots of English first-team players but only Ledley King came all the way through the club’s youth ranks, while John Terry is Chelsea’s sole example of a truly ‘homegrown’ English player.

At Arsenal, Wilshere and Gibbs are just two examples. Henri Lansbury, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Craig Eastmond are all on the fringes of Stuart Pearce’s Under-21s squad, and a host of other youngsters are coming through at Under-19, Under-18 and Under-17 level.

There is every chance that in a few years’ time, Arsenal’s 25-man squad will boast countless Englishmen. But for now, it is entirely foreign, and Wenger is not apologising for it in the slightest.

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