Per Mertesacker: Arsenal academy manager outlines 'four pillars' of development for youth team players

Per Mertesacker is working to instil four key pillars into the young players coming through Arsenal's Hale End academy; Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka - goalscorers in Sunday's 3-1 win over Spurs - have made the step up to the first team during Mertesacker's time in charge of the academy

Arsenal's Emile Smith Rowe, left, celebrates with Arsenal's Bukayo Saka after scoring his side's opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates stadium in London, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Image: Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are the pride of Arsenal's Hale End Academy

Arsenal's academy manager Per Mertesacker has outlined the 'four pillars' of development he has set up for the club's youth players.

Former Germany and Arsenal defender Mertesacker, who has been in his role since he retired from playing in 2018, has overseen the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe successfully make the step up from the academy to the first team.

Manager Mikel Arteta has put a huge amount of trust in Arsenal's young stars since returning to the club and it has paid off over the last 12 months, with Saka and Smith Rowe highlighting that once again with standout performances in Sunday's 3-1 north London derby win over Tottenham.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win over Spurs in the Premier League.

Mertesacker is using his own experiences from his playing career to teach the young players coming through Arsenal's Hale End academy the key principles they will need to succeed - whether that be in football or another walk of life.

"We came up with four pillars that we wanted to progress with," Mertesacker told the Arsenal website.

"For the football pillar, it's about what makes an effective team player. It's about how we measure players by what they do on the pitch but also how we measure them in times of life-long learning.

"That's also a pillar - you have to put education first and have a hunger for personal development, while also making sure that you are a student of the game.

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"The third pillar is about the physical things, specifically making sure you're as efficient a mover as you can be. It's about getting your football actions right and maximising what you do on the pitch in terms of the movements a football player needs to have.

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"The fourth pillar is really about mindset - we call it champion mentality. Not everyone will necessarily lift a trophy, but it's about your mentality and dedicating every single day, every month, every year to your development and making yourself the best person you can be. That's champion mentality.

"The ones who have that will be successful in football and in life. We try to measure around these four pillars and make sure that the players have a target that they can work towards for each of them. That's how we started the journey."

Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun are other examples of the academy talent making their mark on the first team at Arsenal, but Mertesacker's focus is not only on those making it as professionals.

"We have obvious examples of strong young Gunners that are now in the first team, and we also have examples who haven't made a professional career but have still been able to use their experience and development to get outstanding GCSE and A-Level results and open themselves up for the market that is out there," he added

"I could mention various examples of strong young Gunners. From the outside, the focus is always on the first team, so you naturally discuss the likes of Bukayo, who rates highly in every single one of those four pillars.

"But there are of course other players who fit that too. Tom Smith is a goalkeeper with the under-23s. Tom studies and puts himself in the best possible position to be successful."

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