Arsene Wenger has prided himself on bringing the best out of young, underachieving players for as long as he’s been in charge at Arsenal. The likes of Nicholas Anelka, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere have emerged under his stewardship, whilst he also got the best out of the previously promising Dennie Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.
It’s not going to win him any more trophies, though. The Arsenal era is over, Wenger’s best available team completely torn to shreds by a rampant, exciting and younger Manchester United team.
For all Wenger’s insistence that Youth would come good and that his Arsenal kids would eventually shine and sweep all before them, the future now looks very, very grim for the North London club.
The average Arsenal player starting on Saturday was born on 23rd June 1987, whereas Manchester United’s birth date was the 11th February 1998. Arsenal are eight months older.
Of course, it would be disingenuous to simply average out the ages of the players and claim this figure to explain it all – one vastly experienced Ryan Giggs or Lens Lehmann could skew the statistics and disguise a younger team altogether. However, with the most senior players on show playing for opposite teams and being born just 223 days apart, we can rule this out.
So where exactly do this Manchester United team get their edge in terms of youth? If we sort the players on each team from oldest to youngest and then graph them against each other, perhaps we’ll be able to see? Arsenal are in their changed yellow strip, and each players initials are given below the comparison graph.
The most obvious statistical blip is the difference in age between the two clubs second most senior players. Andrey Arshavin is 30 years old, whereas Ashley Young is only 26. There is four years and a month between the two, which is huge, especially for the significance of our statistics. Indeed, if we were to equalize the age of Young and Arshavin, then our difference in ages between the two sides would be reduced from eight to three months, a statistically insignificant margin.
It’s also worth noting that, whilst the youngest player on the pitch was Phil Jones of Manchester United (born 13 days before Carl Jenkinson), if we look at the second-youngest to sixth-youngest player on each team, the Manchester United player was older each time. They were, on average, of 152 days older, or around five months.
It’s towards the top end of the spectrum that Arsenal players tend to be older. Each match-up, from the oldest to the fifth-oldest, sees the Gunner as the elder statesman. However, here the difference is more pronounced. The average age difference is almost two years, although Arshavin vs Young skews it somewhat. That said, even if we disregard that match up, Arsenal are still an average of one year and three months older than United at the older end of the range.
Of course, what Saturday’s slaughter taught us is that age is just a number. Phil Jones was the youngest player on show but mightily impressive, whilst the older Carl Jenkinson will have nightmares about this match for as long as his career lasts. So, if anything, Sir Alex’s team selection shows that putting your faith in youth can pay dividends, so long as it’s the right youth.