Arsenal’s Yaya Sanogo: Guarding against overreaction and preaching patience 3

The morning after a game in which Yaya Sanogo scored four times may seem like an opportunistic moment to write about his potential, but let’s temporarily forget about yesterday.  Goals are great and they are the main currency in which most forwards trade, but what happened against Benfica wasn’t really proof of anything or a solid base upon which to construct a discussion.

A couple of tap-ins and a neat flick aren’t reason enough to get over-excited.

Since arriving at Arsenal, Sanogo has been an easy target.  He didn’t score a competitive goal last season and, when he did play, he had the habit of looking raw and rather clumsy.  Whilst his physicality will be in asset during his career, right now it makes him a figure of fun - his limbs flail about in an ungainly fashion and he hasn’t yet learned how to effectively use his body to his advantage.

In the year’s since Arsenal’s last title win, Arsenal have rather lost the player development-tag which they acquired early in Arsene Wenger’s time at the club.  Not necessarily in ‘academy product’ terms, but Wenger and his coaching staff were definitely known for improving players who arrived at his doorstep during their formative years.  Thierry Henry moved to Highbury when he was 22, Patrick Vieira joined when he was just 20, Cesc Fabregas was just 16, Samir Nasri was 21, Aaron Ramsey was 18…Arsenal may not see that much movement between their academy and their first-team, but they have repeatedly bought players during their early development phase and moved them quickly towards the apex of their capabilities.

Over recent years, that association has been lost.  Younger players are not greeted as they once were in North London and it’s almost assumed that if a youth international arrives at the club he will leave within three years having only appeared fleetingly in the League Cup.  Maybe that’s a half-truth, and maybe it’s just a perception created by the cumulative irritation of seeing so few off-the-peg stars arrive but, up until quite recently, that was the perception nonetheless.

And maybe that’s a perception that has hurt Yaya Sanogo?

From the moment he stepped onto the pitch in last year’s Emirates Cup, maybe the outside world took one look and just thought “no”.  He quite clearly wasn’t ready for Premier League life and, with patience having long since been exhausted, nobody was really in the mood for another conversation about raw potential.

But a year later, maybe Sanogo is worth another look?  Now that the arrivals of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have calmed the mood, Wenger’s new contract has been signed, and the AST have run out of statements to release, maybe it’s OK to return to a point where young players do prompt enthusiasm.  Sanogo isn’t ready for the Premier League, but there is enough about him to suggest that if his development is handled correctly - and, more importantly, slowly - Arsenal have the opportunity to build a very useful centre-forward.  Forget about all the naivety and clumsiness for the moment and appreciate his more subtle qualities: his instincts are very good, the runs he makes often lead to opportunities, and his link-play really isn’t that bad.  Ignore his performances in these recent friendlies and think back to his start in the Champions League last season: he was very active in that game and he seemed to embrace the occasion.  An incredibly minor detail though that may be, it’s still quite a strong statement about his mental attributes.

There will be some who, on the basis of what they saw yesterday, will now make lavish predictions about Sanogo’s future.  That’s foolish; there’s really no way of knowing how far he can actually go in the game.  But having said that, if you replaced his naivety with some self-confidence, his clumsiness with some finesse, and if he learned to use his size more to his advantage, then all of a sudden it’s not hard to imagine a situation where Sanogo does actually become a very good player.

That point is two or three years away at the very least, but with the right loan deals and the right exposure to the first-team, this one could be worth the patience.

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