I’ve been keeping an eye on his progress for a year or two now, great to see him make some real progress. Should be in the next Irish squad or at the very least start the B International against Scotland. Good article on him here:
Anthony Stokes picked up a black eye along with the match ball on Saturday. It was the only time Dundee United managed to lay a glove on him. Falkirk’s 5-1 caning of the Tannadice side, which marked the end of the Craig Brewster reign, had just as much to do with Stokes’ excellence as the visitors’ ineptitude.
The 18-year-old, on loan from Arsenal, is the kind of player Falkirk have lacked for most of John Hughes’ stewardship, and certainly since the departure of Darryl Duffy to Hull City in January. With Stokes in their ranks, Falkirk now bristle with intent in the final third. He has added a much-needed cutting edge to their trademark passing game.
Liam Brady, Arsenal’s head of youth development, first clapped eyes on his protege as a raw 13-year-old in Ireland. A couple of years later the club plucked him from Shelbourne and introduced him to the bright lights of Highbury.
Naturally, the former Celtic manager is delighted to see Stokes starting to fulfil his potential north of the border. “He only turned 18 in July and to go up there and play in a league which, I know from personal experience, is very tough physically, is a great credit to him,” said Brady.
“I keep in regular contact with John Hughes and he’s always telling me how well Anthony is doing. He struggled to score in the first few games, but now his confidence is high and he is off and running.”
A textbook hat trick it included one with his right, another with his left and a third from the penalty spot was the perfect showcase of his talents at the weekend. So, too, were the two assists for the other couple of goals in a virtuoso performance. “He’s a very creative, inventive player,” added Brady.
“He can score goals but he’s also the kind of player who doesn’t necessarily depend on other players to help him score them. He’s got a great shot on him and, although he’s naturally right-sided, he’s worked extremely hard on his left side. He’s got a very good attitude to working on any so-called weaknesses.”
Stokes could have joined the phalanx of Arsenal youths Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Larsson and Fabrice Muamba are all at Birmingham City on loan south of the border. However, the presence of Patrick Cregg and Stephen O’Donnell, close friends and
Arsenal contemporaries, at Falkirk encouraged him to try his luck in Scotland.
“At the moment I am really happy here and things are going very well for me,” said Stokes. "It’s as well as I could have expected when I moved here on loan from Arsenal. The penalty was my seventh goal in eight games for Falkirk and I’m feeling really confident in front of goal these days.
“When I scored my first in the CIS Insurance Cup against Inverness I had a break of a few matches, but, since the St Mirren game, I haven’t stopped scoring. All I want to do is concentrate on my game and score as many goals as I can for the club.”
Cregg and O’Donnell, another couple of young Irishmen who were brought to Arsenal through Brady’s contacts in Ireland, ultimately failed to make the grade at Arsenal and joined Hughes’ side in permanent moves in January. However, Brady fully expects Stokes to return to the Emirates Stadium at some point and challenge for a place alongside the likes Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie.
“For sure,” said Brady when asked if Stokes is a potential first team player at Arsenal. “He’s only 18. Very few players play in the Premiership at that age. Anthony has now had two years of reserve-team football and it was time for him to experience some men’s football. He’s got his feet on the ground. Some kids think they’ve arrived as soon as they start doing well, but not Anthony.”
Falkirk’s cherry-picking of young Arsenal talent has been of mutual benefit to both clubs. As well as Cregg, O’Donnell and Stokes, goalkeeper Mark Howard also enjoyed a loan spell at the Falkirk Stadium last season, though contractual problems prevented the move being made permanent. As Brady explains, there is no mystery behind the link-up between the clubs. It is simply down to the initiative of Hughes.
“He just picked up the phone to me,” explained Brady. “He was looking for players that Arsenal were maybe thinking of letting go, so I invited him down to one of our reserve matches. That is how he picked up Cregg, O’Donnell and Howard. It’s a good place for young players to go because Falkirk play the right kind of football. We have built up a trust now.”