Arsenal's 2009 FA Youth Cup-winning team - Where are they now?
Arsenal are looking to end a 14-year wait for FA Youth Cup success on Tuesday night when they host West Ham in the 2023 final.
It promises to be a special night for head coach Jack Wilshere, who was part of the last Arsenal side who lifted the prestigious trophy back in 2009 after a dominant two-legged victory against Liverpool.
Wilshere was just one of a number of stars in a team that included the likes of Francis Coquelin, Luke Ayling and Kyle Bartley.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s final, GOAL tracks down what the crop of 2009 are doing now, and with the help of midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong - who was talking to us via Lord Ping - looks at what each player brought to Steve Bould’s legendary youth side...
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Arsenal’s Youth Cup-winning goalkeeper brushed off doubts over his height to go on and have a fine career.
That said, Shea never made a senior appearance for the Gunners, and after leaving in 2013 he dropped into non-league.
But after a spell with AFC Wimbledon he joined Luton Town in 2017, and he is still with the Championship club now as they chase promotion to the Premier League
Frimpong’s view: “James was very quiet and hard working. At the time, there were questions about his height and worries about whether he was going to be tall enough, but he was a decent keeper. “
Eastmond was a 'fighter', a player who could operate in several positions.
He was one of the stars of the 2009 Youth Cup team, and went on to make his senior debut just a few months after the victory against Liverpool in the final.
In all, he made 10 first-team appearances, including one in the Champions League, before leaving for Colchester United in 2013.
He then moved to Yeovil Town before signing for Sutton United in 2015. He has stayed with Sutton ever since, making more than 250 appearances for the club, including one against Arsenal in an FA Cup fifth-round clash in 2017.
Frimpong’s view: “Craig was very technical. He could play right-back or be in the midfield. He was very intelligent, very funny and always had a smile on his face. He was definitely one of the players that you needed in a team because he wasn't the biggest but he could fight.
"The last time I was on Twitter I saw he made the record amount of appearances for Sutton. It tells you the kind of player he is. He’s done really well for his career so far.”
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A full-back who became a bit of a cult hero because of his name.
Cruise was a cultured defender who made one senior appearance for Arsenal, starting a Champions League group-stage game away at Olympiacos in 2009.
He joined Torquay United in 2012 before being released three years later.
Cruise then stopped playing football, with reports suggesting he started training to become an accountant.
Frimpong’s view: “Thomas was another shy and quiet one. Very technical, He wasn't vocal but he was a very good player. He was probably one of the guys that you knew was going to the top because he was very technical and very smart. However, football never goes to plan. He was a very, very good player.”
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Arsenal signed Bartley from Bolton Wanderers in 2007 in what was quite a high-profile transfer for a teenager.
The towering centre-back went on to captain the reserves side and played a key part in the 2009 Youth Cup success.
Big things were expected of Bartley, but he only made one appearance for Arsenal, starting in the same Champions League game against Olympiacos as Cruise did.
He left for Swansea City in 2012 and has gone on to have a fine career, also playing for Birmingham City, Leeds United and, currently, West Brom.
Frimpong’s view: “We used to call Kyle 'Bambi on Ice' because he used to run like Bambi! Kyle improved a lot when he moved over from Bolton. I remember when he first came he wasn’t the best and struggled to head the ball. I remember Neil Banfield, worked with him and pushed him a lot. I remember that very, very well. Steve Bould also worked with him a lot after the training sessions.
"He really improved and I think Kyle owes a lot to the Arsenal coaching staff at the time because they really helped. He had a high composure on the ball but sometimes he did make one or two mistakes, but they were all rectified. He turned out to be a really good defender.”
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The surprise package of the 2009 youth team, according to Frimpong.
Ayling may not have made a single senior appearance for Arsenal, but the defender has gone on to have an excellent career.
He left north London soon after the Youth Cup success, joining Yeovil Town.
A move to Bristol City followed before he signed for Leeds United in 2016. Ayling has spent the past seven years at Elland Road, helping take the Yorkshire giants back to the Premier League.
Frimpong’s view: “Luke probably surprised everyone in my age group. He was very slow, he wasn't the tallest or fastest, but he was very, very technical. He's really worked on his football and also his pace, and that is the reason why he's one of the captains at Leeds at the moment.
"God bless Luke. He has a fantastic family. His mum and dad are really supportive. They have really supported him since the time that we were kids. He deserves everything as he worked hard to get to where he is.”
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One of the driving forces of the Arsenal midfield in the 2009 Youth Cup side, Frimpong soon forced his way into the first-team picture.
He made 14 appearances in all competitions in the 2011-12 season and soon became a bit of a cult hero, with his much published clash with Samir Nasri following the Frenchman’s move to Manchester City making him a bit of a fans’ favourite.
After leaving for Barnsley in 2014, the midfielder went on to play in the Russian Premier League with Ufa and Arsenal Tula before having spells in Sweden and Cyprus.
Frimpong’s view: “The Dench man! Funny, crazy and somebody his team-mates will want to go to war with. He is always ready to give his all. He wasn’t the best player but he was a decent player. He had a lot of heart.”
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Lansbury was another player who went on to have a fine career after leaving Arsenal.
The midfielder was highly rated by Arsene Wenger and he did make an impact with the first-team, scoring in a North London Derby win at Spurs in the League Cup.
But he never quite made it with the Gunners and left for Nottingham Forest in 2012. He then had a long stint at Aston Villa and is currently playing for Luton Town, who are pushing for promotion from the Championship.
Frimpong’s view: “Henri Lansbury was a crazy guy, but in a good way. Very tough and very technical. He could play as a midfielder, right winger and defensive midfielder - as well as a No.8. He has had a very good career.
"He was probably one of the players that everybody was tipping to go to the top because he was very good technically, and he could also fight and had heart.”
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Coquelin has gone on to have a fine career since coming through the youth ranks, starring for the Arsenal first-team and in Spain, where he still currently plays.
It took the French midfielder some time to force his way into Wenger’s plans, but he seized his chance in the 2014-15 season when injuries saw him partner Santi Cazorla in midfield.
Together, the pair formed a partnership that helped Arsenal to an FA Cup win that season.
Coquelin eventually left for Valencia in 2018 and he is now playing with Villarreal.
Frimpong’s view: “Francis Coquelin is the one player that I wished to play alongside. Francis was somebody that worked at his game. He was a dog on the pitch. He was a fighter. He was a winner. He was just a serial winner, he wanted to win at all costs. He wanted to run more than the competition and wanted to do more.
"Sometimes he got to a stage where we're both vying for the same position and you could see in his face that he wanted it. He was a top professional player and that is the reason why he went to play for Arsenal for so many years and also went to Valencia. He definitely deserves to be where he is at the moment.”
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The French attacker, who Wenger signed from LB Chateauroux, made one senior appearance for Arsenal, coming off the bench in the 2009 Champions League group stage tie at Olympiacos.
He returned to France in 2011 to sign for Lorient and had spells with Evian and Angers before heading to Turkey to join BB Erzurumspor.
Sunu then returned to his local club LB Chateauroux, where he is still currently playing.
Frimpong’s view: "Gilles was another technical player. He was very on and off. Sometimes very good or sometimes very lethargic, depending on his mood at the time.
"We played a friendly against the team that he was playing for before he came to us. He was the best player on the pitch. That's the reason Arsenal signed him. He's also had a decent career. I think with Gilles, he maybe could have done better than the career that he had because technically he was very good and very fast as well. He was one of the stand-out players in the squad.”
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Wilshere had already made his senior debut ahead of the Youth Cup final in 2009, such was his rapid rise to prominence.
A player of such prodigious talent, it was clear the midfielder was heading for the very top at the age of just 16.
He went on to star for Arsenal and for England, and would have achieved so much more had a series of injuries not taken their toll on his body.
Wilshere, who left Arsenal for West Ham and had a brief spell playing in Denmark, retired in from playing in 2022 at the age of just 30 to take on the role of head coach of the Arsenal Under-18s, and has guided his side to the Youth Cup final in his first season in charge
Frimpong’s view: “Jack was one of the most talented players that I have ever come across. He was very loving and had very good parents. I remember when I used to come to training at Hale End, I would have to take the bus all the way from Tottenham because my mum would be working. My mum was a single mother and she didn't have the chance to bring me to train. Jack’s parents, on the other hand, would leave work, go and pick Jack up from school, drop him at training, wait for the training to finish and then take him home. He was doing that all the time. He's been doing that for so many years. Andy Wilshere is a man that dedicated his life to Jack. He probably got to where he is because of his dad.
"As a footballer, he was just too good. Jack was amazing. He was the player that everyone knew was going to the top, playing for England. He was a lovely person as well.”
The captain of the Youth Cup-winning side, many expected Emmanuel-Thomas to go to the very top.
A dominant figurę in attack, he would score stunning goals throughout his time in the youth ranks, but he was never able to truly replicate that at senior level.
He still had a fine career, playing for the likes of Ipswich Town, QPR and Bristol City in the lower leagues, but inconsistency was always an issue.
Emmanuel-Thomas spent the past couple of seasons playing in Scotland, but he is now with Jamshedpur in the Indian Premier League.
Frimpong’s view: “Jay was very crazy. He should have gone to the top, but in football, certain things happen that you can't really explain. Technically, he was very good. He was one of the most technically-gifted players I've ever seen as well. Very strong. Very powerful and very vocal. He scored such amazing goals for us, especially in the youth team. He was the leader of the team at the time."
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Another gifted attacker, Watt was a key player in the 2009 Youth Cup team, scoring in the semi-final and in both legs of the final.
He scored on his senior debut, netting the first goal in a 2-0 League Cup win against West Brom at the Emirates in 2009.
But he left without making a Premier League appearance for the club, and after a spell with Colchester and in India with Kerala Blasters, the forward dropped into non-league.
Since retiring, Watt has spent time back at Arsenal, doing some coaching at academy level.
Frimpong’s view: “Off the pitch, Sanchez was a crazy guy. He will be honest and tell you that off the pitch he wasn’t the most professional and he was ill-disciplined. As a footballer, he was very good. He could score goals and get assists. However, his life off the pitch affected him dearly and as time went on, he was left wanting. He was a very good player that could have done more with his career.”
The man who led Arsenal to Youth Cup glory in 2009.
After taking charge of the Under-18s, Bould was promoted to be Wenger’s assistant in 2012 following Pat Rice’s decision to retire.
In 2019, he took over as Under-23s boss in north London, but left two years later.
He is the current head coach of Lommel SK in Belgium.
Frimpong’s view: “I owe my football career to Steve Bould. He had so much patience for me and only lost his patience with me when he felt I could do more. Steve definitely was a good coach and the one thing that we loved about Steve is he didn’t care who you were, he would treat you like everybody else.
"I remember we played against, I think, Sunderland in a Youth Cup game. Jack Wilshere, who was in the first team at the time, came to play with us and had a 'mare. Steve absolutely roasted him in the changing room and Jack was crying, I will never forget it. It just tells you the type of manager Steve was. He didn't care who you are, whether your name was Frimpong, Wilshere or Luke Ayling, he treated everybody with the same respect. Probably the best coach I've ever had.’’