Stories

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

Arsenal

From the one that got away to a surprise first-teamer, James McNicholas looks at how Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup winners have fared in the eight years since their triumph

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

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.

James Shea

James Shea grew up a gunner

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.

Craig Eastmond

Eastmond, now at Sutton, against Arsenal in the FA Cup

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.

Pages