Where are they now? Arsenal’s 2009 FA Youth Cup winners


Jack Wilshere was the standout talent, but he was far from alone in a highly promising crop of Arsenal kids. The young Gunners won the Premier Academy League in 2009, as well as the FA Youth Cup - knocking out Tottenham and Manchester City on their way to the final.

One player is training as an accountant – and another could be set for a return Arsenal as a top international

There, they beat Liverpool’s youngsters 6-2 over two legs to mark a dominant win. Yet things have, inevitably, panned out in a variety of ways for the players since.

Some have plummeted down the divisions, others are surging back up, one is training as an accountant – and another could be set for a return to Arsenal as a top international years after he was allowed to leave. This is where they are right now.

James Shea

Arsenal’s Youth Cup triumph would have meant more to Shea than most – the goalkeeper was born in Islington and grew up a Gunner. However, he never represented the club at senior level; despite being on the bench for five Champions League group stage games, he remained a nearly man for Arsenal.

One of the highlights of his time with the club came in 2010, when he was asked to fill in for training with the England senior squad after an injury to David Stockdale. Nevertheless, when his Arsenal contract expired in 2013, Shea was released.

But that wasn’t the end of his Arsenal story. Arsene Wenger agreed to let Shea continue training at London Colney until he found a new club, and even during stints with non-league Needham Market and Harrow, Shea continued reporting to Arsenal. Eventually he earned himself a move to League Two AFC Wimbledon, and having played a part in the club’s promotion last year, has since established himself as their first-choice keeper in League One.

Craig Eastmond

At one stage, Eastmond looked like one of the most promising players among this clutch of Arsenal prospects. In the summer of 2009, he joined Shea, Luke Ayling and Cedric Evina in signing professional terms with the club. A few months later, he made his senior debut in a 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the League Cup.

Premier League recognition was not far behind, and by January 2010 Eastmond had been handed another new contract and a substantial pay rise. Arsene Wenger was seemingly a fan of his versatility, with the player equally at home in holding midfield or at right-back.

The 2010/11 season marked a turning point for Eastmond. With first-team opportunities at Arsenal proving more difficult to come by, he was loaned to his boyhood club Millwall. When he found it difficult to hold down a place with the Championship side, it prompted a tumble down the divisions that included spells with Wycombe Wanderers, Colchester and Yeovil.

In September 2015, Eastmond ended up signing for National League South side Sutton United. In his maiden season he was named the club’s player of the year and helped them to promotion. This season he was reunited with Arsenal in that remarkable FA Cup fifth-round tie, and although the Gunners ran out 2-0 winners, Eastmond’s performance caught the eye. At 26, it’s possible he could yet climb back through the divisions to play at a higher level.

Kyle Bartley

Brawny centre-half Bartley was not a typical Arsenal academy player. Recruited from Bolton, his physical style was highly effective at youth level but he didn't necessarily have the footballing ability Wenger demands from his ball-playing defenders.

He made just one senior appearance for the club, starting in a Champions League dead rubber away to Olympiakos. After loan spells with Sheffield United and Rangers, Wenger ultimately chose to sell Bartley to Swansea.

He has spent this season on loan at Leeds, where he has been reunited with former Swansea boss Garry Monk. He has enjoyed an excellent run of form at Elland Road, and it would be no surprise to see Monk face serious competition as he looks to sign Bartley on a permanent basis this summer.

Luke Ayling

Bartley and his centre-back partner Ayling have shared some parallels in their careers to date. Like Bartley, Ayling’s only real experience with the Arsenal first-team came in that match against Olympiakos – although he didn’t even make it off the bench.

In May 2010, he joined Yeovil. He spent four years with the Glovers, playing over 150 games and earning himself a reputation as a reliable defender whether stationed at centre-half or right-back.

He then moved on to Bristol City, before joining Leeds last summer. It’s at Elland Road that Ayling has been reunited with Bartley once again, regularly playing outside his one-time Arsenal team-mate as a full-back.

Thomas Cruise

The left-back with the familiar name was another handed his only first-team experience against Olympiakos (yes, that teamsheet was quite something). However, just 18 months later he was released.

Initially, his prospects looked good. Cruise had a trial with Italian sleeping giants Sampdoria and although he reportedly impressed with his technique and versatility, the Serie B side weren't able to offer him a permanent deal. He also trained briefly with MLS outfit New England Revolution, before ultimately settling on the rather less glamorous destination of Torquay.

Cruise made 61 appearances in just over two seasons with the south coast club, but was released in 2015 after a succession of knee injuries. He is now re-training as an accountant.

Cedric Evina

Cameroon-born full-back Evina never made a senior appearance for Arsenal. In October 2010, he joined Oldham Athletic on loan – a switch that former Gunners striker Paul Dickov decided to make permanent a few months later.

In 2011, he left Oldham citing homesickness, joining Charlton. However, he struggled to displace regular left-back Rhoys Wiggins, and after three years in south London was allowed to join Doncaster for free.

After a decent start to life with Donny, Evina has recently fallen out of favour. Doncaster boss Darren Ferguson made him available for loan in the most recent January transfer window, but a move ultimately failed to materialise. He has subsequently found first-team football relatively difficult to come by, and his future must now be in considerable doubt.

Jack Wilshere

By the time Wilshere won the Youth Cup, he was already part of the Arsenal first team. He made his competitive debut in a Premier League match against Blackburn in September 2008 – a full six months before the youth team’s triumphant moment.

A succession of ankle problems have blighted Wilshere ever since, preventing him from fulfilling his enormous potential

Wilshere spent the second half of the following season on loan at Bolton, before firmly establish himself as a key player in a new-look Arsenal midfield alongside Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song. In the 2010/11 season, he made 49 senior appearances while still a teenager.

Perhaps that was too much for his young body to handle, as it was then that the injuries began to bite. A succession of ankle problems have blighted him ever since, preventing him from fulfilling his enormous potential.

Last summer, after being left out of Sam Allardyce’s first (and ultimately only) England squad, Wilshere asked to be released on loan. He moved to join Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, and his fitness record was initially better on the south coast - until an unfortunate leg break ended his 2016/17 season early.

With little over a year left on his current Arsenal contract, it remains to be seen if Wilshere is still considered an important part of Wenger’s plans.

Henri Lansbury

Wenger was always a huge admirer of Lansbury. From his mid-teens, the midfielder was invited to train with the first team on a semi-regular basis. Speaking in July 2011, Wenger said of the youngster: “At the moment it is a bit congested for him but I believe he has the talent to play for Arsenal Football Club. I have to give him a chance at some stage and as quickly as possible. I believe in him.”

Ultimately, that ‘congestion’ proved too great for Lansbury to overcome. Although he experienced the elation of scoring in a north London derby against Tottenham in September 2010, he could never quite force his way into Wenger’s team. There were loan spells with Scunthorpe, Watford, Norwich and West Ham before Wenger eventually consented to sell him to Nottingham Forest.

Lansbury blossomed with Forest, regularly captaining the club and eventually becoming the subject of a transfer tug of war between Aston Villa and Derby County. In the end, he joined Villa for a fee of around £3m in January of this year. It seems like a matter of time until he reappears in the Premier League – the level at which Wenger has always believed he was destined to perform.

Francis Coquelin

If you’d been asked to pick the player from this team who’d go on to become a regular part of the senior side, few observers would have chosen Coquelin. However, the Frenchman has defied the odds to force his way into Wenger’s plans.

For a long time, that looked highly improbable. Coquelin was farmed out to Lorient and Freiburg, the latter of which proved to be a disastrous spell in which he was predominantly played on the left wing.

In the autumn of 2014, he was stationed on loan at Championship club Charlton when a midfield injury crisis forced Wenger to recall the combative Frenchman. Handed his chance, Coquelin seized it with a series of no-nonsense performances that added much-needed steel to the Arsenal midfield.

Although Coquelin’s standing in the Arsenal squad has dipped this season, he was recently rewarded with another long-term contract.

Emmanuel Frimpong

In some ways, Frimpong was an archetypal modern footballer – more revered for his social media activity than for anything he did on the field.

Frimpong appeared on the cusp of forcing his way into the Arsenal first team when the first knee injury struck. He was never the same player again

However, his tale is one of misfortune as much as hubris. Like Wilshere and Lansbury, Frimpong’s Arsenal career was impacted by a succession of serious injuries; in the Ghanaian’s case, two cruciate ligament injuries before the age of 21 put paid to his prospects of making the grade at Arsenal.

In August 2010, Frimpong appeared on the cusp of forcing his way into the Arsenal first team when the first knee injury struck. He was never the same player again.

After loan periods with Wolves, Charlton and Fulham, Frimpong was allowed to join Barnsley for an undisclosed fee in January 2014. He has since left English football for spells with two Russian clubs (including ‘Arsenal Tula’) and currently plies his trade for Swedish outfit AFC Eskilstuna.

Oguzhan Ozyakup

Wenger is renowned for his ability to assess the potential of young talent. However, he may feel he made a mistake when he let Ozyakup leave the club in June 2012. Despite a glowing reputation as a promising creative midfield, Ozaykup made just two senior appearances before joining Besiktas.

Back in his native Turkey, Ozyakup has proved a revelation. He is on course to win a second consecutive Turkish Super Lig, and has amassed 25 international caps since making his full debut in 2013.

Remarkably, Ozaykup has even been mentioned as a potential transfer target for Arsenal and Wenger this coming summer. Perhaps the Gunners boss will seek to correct his mistake and bring the playmaker back to the club where he made his first strides as a professional.

Conor Henderson

Irish midfielder Henderson is yet another young player who proves that talent alone is not enough to make it at the top level. As a teenager, he looked certain to make an impact at Arsenal – he was an intelligent passer and positionally astute. However, injury problems proved his downfall.

He made his senior debut in an FA Cup tie against Leyton Orient in March 2011. However, that summer, a knee ligament injury during pre-season ended his hopes of establishing himself in the first team.

Henderson has since played for Hull, Stevenage and Grimsby, and is currently in his second spell at League Two side Crawley Town.

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas

Dubbed ‘JET’ by the Arsenal fans, the team’s captain seemingly had it all. He was powerful, skilful and versatile; during his time in the Arsenal youth-set up, Emmanuel-Thomas played in every position bar right-back.

Throughout his time at Arsenal, he operated in a difficult space where he appeared far too good for the youth team, yet not quite good enough to step up to senior level. He made just five first-team appearances before being sold to Ipswich.

Emmanuel-Thomas is currently stuck in different kind of football limbo. Despite being top scorer during a loan spell with Gillingham, his deal was terminated prematurely and he was sent back to now parent club QPR. However, he is ineligible to represent them this season, so must wait until the summer before reassessing his options.

Rhys Murphy

At 26, Murphy has already had what would be described as a journeyman career. He has represented 10 different clubs in the UK and abroad, and to his credit has continued the goalscoring exploits he exhibited at youth level with a record around one in every three competitive games.

Although Murphy did figure in the Youth Cup triumph, he is more fondly remembered for scoring the only goal in Arsenal’s victory over Tottenham to secure the Premier Academy League title in the same season.

Murphy is currently playing alongside former Arsenal team-mate Henderson for Crawley Town.

Steve Bould (coach)

With the exception of Coquelin and Wilshere, Bould is the one man still at the club. In May 2012, the coach succeeded Pat Rice as Arsene Wenger’s assistant, and has served in the post ever since.

The appointment was initially widely welcomed, with Arsenal fans hoping that the former centre-half could instil some defensive discipline into the team. However, Bould’s coaching ideology appears rather different from his playing style, and Arsenal’s problems at the back have continued.

With talk of a shake-up in the coaching staff this summer, his position could well be under threat.

Now read...

More features you'd love at FourFourTwo.com

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1