The academy at West Ham is famed for producing international players such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson and Michael Carrick. At the start of another decade, it is Arsenal who are now lauded - and envied - for nurturing the next generation of talent. As they meet in the third round of the FA Cup today, Gianfranco Zola, the West Ham manager, is hoping his side, hampered by financial uncertainty, injuries and battling relegation, can replicate the Arsenal model.
"It is working and in difficult circumstances," said Zola, of their own youth policy. "The kids are doing very well. James Tomkins is one of the very good youngsters, also Jack Collison and there are others like Junior Stanislas." Tomkins, the 20-year-old defender, was outstanding at Tottenham last Monday in the 2-0 defeat. He is growing with every game according to Zola, who added: "He will be an important player for us."
So might yet be Freddie Sears. Prolific in the youth team and reserves, the striker made a dramatic first-team debut at 18 with a winner against Blackburn in March 2008. Burdened with expectation, he has failed to score for West Ham since. But with his attack hit suspension of Guillermo Franco, Zola has brought Sears back from a loan spell at Crystal Palace and he could figure against Arsenal. "The Palace experience has helped me," said Sears. "You grow up a lot when you leave the place where you know everything and have to start again."
Another player to benefit from a spell in the Championship is Arsenal's Cardiff graduate Aaron Ramsey. "He is so good on the ball and works so hard," said fellow Welshman Collison. "Over the next few years you will see great things from him." @Email:email@example.com West Ham v Arsenal, KO 8.15pm, Aljazeera Sport +3 & +5