Tradition is something that is held dearer in one part of North London than anywhere in the country. It is easy to talk of tradition meaning something. In Liverpool, they make much of it, but nobody holds tradition so close quite like the inhabitants of the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger kept his job maybe five years longer than he would elsewhere because of tradition. That time allowed him to win a few more FA Cups in an age where it is the third prize in a raffle with two big prizes. Still, they stuck to the Arsenal way, started in 1996 but passed its sell-by date in 2010.
What of their tradition now? Unai Emery will be looking at blending history and expectation with the brave new world, not spending £50m on Lacazette because Aubameyang wasn’t available, but spending wisely. Another big part of the Arsenal way is developing youth.
Of the ten youngest ever scorers in the Champions League, three were playing for Arsenal at the time. It points to an era where not only did the Gunners qualify for the competition without fail but they entrusted young players with key roles and weren’t disappointed.
In 2018, the Champions League seems a long way away for Arsenal. They’re priced at 6/4 in the latest odds to qualify, behind four other sides. Only four Premier League sides qualify for the big competition, but not so long back, it was Arsenal and any other three. So much for that tradition now.
The Old and the New
The oldest of the so-called youngest players to score for Arsenal in the Champions league was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who netted just eight minutes into his Champions League debut against Olympiakos. He may not have been born and bred Arsenal – he signed from Southampton as a 17-year-old – but he represented the future.
In scoring, he became the youngest English player to score in the Champions League, taking that record from Theo Walcott, another Arsenal player who once had a big future ahead of him. Even younger than both was Aaron Ramsey in 2008. He scored the final goal of a 5-2 win against Fenerbahce. He’s gone on to score the winner in two FA Cup finals, too, but at 27 years old looks set to leave the Emirates this season.
The youngest Arsenal player to score in the Champions League was Cesc Fabregas in 2004/05. He scored against Rosenborg as the Gunners won 5-1, starting a fine career under Arsene Wenger in which he won the Premier League, a feat he’s since repeated at Chelsea.
Which brings us to 2018, with Arsenal in the Europa League and outside the favourites for Champions League qualification. Who would be the young scorers now? Emile Smith Rowe bagged himself a goal against Qarabag to become one of the Gunners’ youngest ever European scorers, although Mattéo Guendouzi ran him close too at the age of 19.
To be a success, the new manager must bring some of that tradition back and end their two-year exile from a competition they featured in for 17 successive seasons. Most of all, he must begin to find the next generation of exciting young things that will carry them forward, not just the big money buys and imports.