Fabregas, Wilshere, Ward – Five youngest players in Arsenal history

Arsenal’s transitional phase under new manager Mikel Arteta has continued this season as the club look to return to former glories in the coming years, though the hopes of the north London side have been boosted by the emergence of several young talents at the Emirates.

The likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli are two of the teenage talents to have made an impression for the Gunners so far this season, and following their success we’ve decided to look at some of the youngest players to make their Arsenal bow.

Here are the five youngest players in Arsenal history:

Paul Vaessen – 16 years, 346 days

Vaeseen’s career proved to be one of what might have been, the forward blighted by a succession of injuries after making a first-team debut aged just 16 years and 346 days, turning out against Lokomotive Leipzig in the UEFA Cup in 1978.

The centre-forward made his league debut the following year against Chelsea and slowly began to establish himself in the first-team, scoring a dramatic late goal against Juventus in the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1980 to book the Gunners’ place in the final.

Vaessen would, however, be forced to retire from the game before his 21st birthday, a ruptured knee ligament and succession of operations leading the forward to walk away from the game with his career still in its infancy.

The Gillingham-born striker sadly turned to both drugs and crime following his retirement, Vaessen tragically found dead aged just 39-years-old following an accidental overdose.

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Gerry Ward – 16 years, 321 days

Ward held the record as Arsenal’s youngest-ever player for half a century after making his debut as a teenager in 1953, featuring against Huddersfield aged just 16 years and 321 days.

He remains the youngest ever player to start a league fixture for the north London side, though his Arsenal career was separated by a four-year period of National Service.

Despite spending ten years as a Gunners’ player, Ward made just 81 appearances for the club before joining Leyton Orient, scoring ten goals.

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Jermaine Pennant – 16 years, 319 days

Pennant was earmarked as a teenage prodigy after impressing in the youth ranks at Notts County, joining Arsenal in a £2m deal aged just 15 in 1999.

He made his debut for the club in a League Cup tie against Middlesbrough later that year, beating Ward’s record by just two days, but failed to make a league appearance until August 2002.

Despite scoring a hat-trick on his full Premier League debut against Southampton, Pennant’s Arenal career stalled as he made just 12 league appearances amid a series of loan spells before joining Birmingham City on a permanent basis in 2005.

Pennant later spent three seasons at Liverpool, reaching the Champions League final in 2007, before enjoying a nomadic career taking in spells at the likes of Portsmouth, Real Zaragoza, Stoke and Wigan.

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Jack Wilshere – 16 years, 256 days

A player once tipped as a future star for both club and country, Wilshere’s career has ultimately proved one of unfulfilled potential, a series of injuries decimating a midfielder who burst onto the scene as a preciously talented teenager.

Wilshere starred for the club’s 2009 FA Youth Cup-winning team before being handed his debut by Arsene Wenger, making his first appearance as a substitute in a Premier League match against Blackburn.

The midfielder made a handful of appearances over the next two seasons before a breakthrough 2010/11 campaign, being named as the PFA Young Player of the Year and starring in the Champions League against Barcelona.

Injuries, however, have been a familiar problem for the now 28-year-old, particularly several debilitating ankle injuries that saw him lose some of that initial spark.

Wilshere made 197 appearances for the club and won two FA Cups before his free transfer departure to West Ham in 2018, his career failing to hit the heights once expected.

Cesc Fabregas – 16 years, 177 days

The youngest player in Arsenal’s history, Fabregas was plucked from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy with the promise of a clear route to first-team football.

The Spaniard did not have to wait long for his opportunity in north London, making his historic debut against Rotherham in a 2003 League Cup tie before becoming the club’s youngest ever goalscorer later in the competition against Wolves.

Opportunities would increase as the club’s famed ‘Invincibles’ side was broken up, Fabregas emerging as the leading light in a new generation under Arsene Wenger and being named as the club’s Player of the Season consecutively in 2007 and 2008 – the latter alongside the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

The classy midfielder became club captain in 2008 and made 303 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions, scoring 59 goals before returning to Barcelona in 2011.

Three seasons in Spain ended with a return to the Premier League at Chelsea, Fabregas winning two Premier League titles across the capital and becoming the second highest assist provider in the division’s history.

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