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October 2016
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Which of these 11 players will make the breakthrough for Arsenal next season?

By Tony Attwood

Leaving aside the infinite number of players who are linked, for whom Arsenal are on red alert or who have been seen driving round and round the M25 looking for a signpost saying Highbury, there are a fair number of players who could either breakthrough or make a return.

Whether any of them are going to do a Coquelin or Bellerin this coming year, it is hard to say, but even so the list of possibles (when one includes the players returning from loan) is perhaps bigger than one might imagine.

Lukas Podolski seemed to be out of favour, and his loan spell only resulted in eight starts for Inter, so that wasn’t too hopeful.  Although he can certainly come on and zap in some last minute goals.  But I doubt that he will be happy with that as a role.

Joel Campbell was tried out but really doesn’t seem to be in Arsène Wenger’s thinking now, so a transfer to Real Sociedad is being talked out.  There are plenty of other suitors out there too.

Yaya Sanogo just seems bedevilled by injury, and only got to start three times for Palace on loan, but on the other hand Arsène Wenger appeared to have a great belief in him.  One more season looking for an opportunity?  Perhaps.

Carl Jenkinson has been in the news and it seems well established, if not actually settled, that he will play for Sunderland this coming season.  Strong noises from Arsenal however that he most certainly does have a future with us.

Wellington Silva now, at the age of 22, has an EU passport and so a work permit.  But he is quoted recently as saying,  “There are two clubs in England that have already spoken with my agent, so I know I have those two options. I would like to play in England now, even if it isn’t for Arsenal. I hope to show my potential.”

He was at Almeria last season, playing on the wing quite often, which is not where he seemed to be heading from his earlier days.  However as he is now 22 he will have to take up one of the valuable “25” slots in the Premier League and Champions League squads if he is going to play at all.  If not, then he has to go, either as a transfer or on loan.

Quite probably he will feature in pre-season games to give him a chance to show his potential.  Then perhaps a half season loan to a Premier League club with fewer forwards on their books.

Krystian Bielik played for the first team at Legia Warsaw but not for Arsenal after his transfer.  Mr Wenger described it as a gamble at the time, and no one knows what the thinks now.  He started out in the under 18s, then quickly moved up to the under 21s, and those who have seen him have spoken highly of what they saw.  So there is a chance.

He has played in the centre of defence and defensive midfield – he is a player who can break up attacks, but he is (according to the odd report I have seen) not the finished article as yet.  But that gamble of signing him could well have been a good one.

He has trained with the first team, and could be available on the sidelines for a few outings, including the league cup perhaps.

Jon Toral had a very positive season playing 36 times for Brentford who made the play offs.  He has signed a new one-year deal with Arsenal so this again looks like the chance to shine and step up, or else move on.

Gedion Zelalem was expected by some (well, me) to have got further by now, having seen him actually play for the first team but something seems to have slipped back.  In some games he has looked less in touch with the match around him than was the case before.  Maybe he expected more by now, as well.

But he is still only 18 years and has played 34 times for the under 21s.  And maybe the fact that he seems to have settled on the USA as the country he will represent.

Recently, Zelalem has been making something of an impact on the international stage as well.  He has played for the USA at the U20 World Cup in New Zealand where his country reached the quarter finals before going out on penalties.

He was highlighted as the star of the show in the US 4-0 defeat of New Zealand, and Talk Sprout have put up some videos of him.  Just scroll down the page, get rid of the advertising and you will see what I mean.

Isaac Hayden wasn’t heard so much of last season because of injury although he has already played for the first-team against WBA in the league cup and there has been talk of him approaching a break through moment.

He has already played for England at under 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 level, which shows a certain consistency in his work, and he has been captain of the under 21s, so maybe a loan this season is the most likely outcome.

Serge Gnabry also missed the season because of injury, having made his breakthrough into the first team in the season before.  He is overdue a return because he looked sensational the season before last.

Chuba Akpom appeared on the bench goodness knows how many times last season, has played in four Arsenal league games, has played ten times for England’s under 20s (scoring six), and has been nicknamed “Titi” by Alexis Sánchez because of the similarity of his style to, well, you know…

His breakthrough, when it comes, will be an explosion.

So to answer my question at the top.  In order of possibility I’d go for…

  • Gnabry
  • Zelalem
  • Toral
  • Akpom
  • Bielik

If two from that list do what Coquelin and Bellerin did this season, we’ll be laughing.  Two more top first team players, without spending a penny or worrying about stupid transfer windows.  That’s the way to do it.

16 comments to Which of these 11 players will make the breakthrough for Arsenal next season?

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    For this coming season I’d pick Gnabry to have a definite impact on the first team. I also really like Chuba Akpom and think he might have a chance if he has a good pre-season and we don’t sign another striker.

    Bielik probably needs another year playing regularly at U21 level and integrating into the squad a great prospect for the following year though. Possibly a loan spell for the second half of the year.

    For Toral it all depends on pre-season, if he has a blinder then he may put himself in contention but I feel that another full season loan is more likely. As a midfielder there are currently too many players ahead of him. Another year and Santi may well not be playing every game giving him more chance. He will, however, make a good signing now for any Championship or lower Premier League team.

    Zelalem needs to look at Özil and Santi regarding their work ethic on the pitch. He has the ability but not always the application or the ability to avoid being robbed of the ball too easily. Once he has those he will be a fabulous player. I wonder if he will choose a MLS team at a relatively young age though..

    A long shot for this coming year is Dan Crowley, probably a year too soon but he will definitely be banging on the door of the first team dressing room within the year.

  • TailGunner

    I’d take Hayden, but will he be fit to face West Ham at home for first match. Just my unsubtle way of going OT without going OT

  • nicky

    If only there was a special competitive league for EPL reserve teams, where the players would train and be coached alongside the first team squad and not be loaned out to learn bad habits from clubs in lower divisions (at the expense of getting regular games). Once signed by Arsenal they would wear the shirt and their HQ would remain the Emirates. 😉

  • bjtgooner

    It looks as if Podolski and Campbell will move on this summer – a pity in one sense, but there are only so many places.

    It might be slightly too soon for Akpom & Bielik, but both are exciting prospects.

    For the others – time to try their utmost to breakthrough.

    I had a brief view of Sky this morning (don’t usually have time, but I was trying to catch up on the new EPL fixtures) – Ray Wilkins (apologist for the Odious One) commented that Arsenal probably play the best football in the league!! (Expect him to be fired by Sky! 🙂 )

  • Andy Mack

    Which of the ‘juniors’ becomes a ‘senior’ depends on 4 things;
    1) who we buy
    2) how they play in pre-season
    3) us staying in the TinPot Cup for more than 1 game.
    4) injuries (and some luck).
    Last season too many of our seniors had a shockingly bad game when we got knocked out of the TinPot Cup, and that reduced the juniors game time so they didn’t get a chance.
    When we needed Hayden due to injuries, he was injured.

    I have a feeling that AW will stick with Hayden as I think he sees a talented lad that has the dual ability AW likes. He can play CB or DM. Hopefully he’ll be fit when he gets his chance in the coming season.

    I’d love to see Sanogo fit and playing. He has massive potential but could end up never showing the fans that can’t appreciate his technical qualities over his size (which is also useful). If he doesn’t make the step up this season then I think AW will decide we can’t wait for him to become injury free and he’ll be moved on next summer

    Wellington certainly appears to have the tricks to be an excellent winger but can he make the step up against PL defenders? If he does and takes Alexis as a role model then he could be awesome…. could be…

  • Al

    Akpom looks really good and like he combines the best of both qualities from both Theo and OG; explosive pace and presence. And Gnabry looked like he had already arrived before his injuries. I would like to see both stay and feature this coming season.

  • rich

    Still a bit gutted about Hayden’s injury this year. I really felt he was likely to take his chance if he got it. Harder now with Gabriel’s signing and Coquelin’s emergence.

    With Gnabry, the Euro’s are likely to tell us how things stand at the moment. I tried not to read too much into how he played in the u21 game they showed on the website, but it was hard not to be a bit concerned : he still didn’t look himself. However, after that I’m pretty sure he picked up in the final game or two of the year.

    Iwobi’s an interesting one. He didn’t just score a lot of goals at the end, most of them were good goals, and unusual with it.

    Akpom is still probably my biggest hope of the lot. Pace, power, skill, heading ability and a willingness to shoot off either foot. There simply aren’t many strikers who tick all the boxes like that. The determining factor will be how he uses those attributes and works on his game.

    Signs are fairly encouraging , but there’ve also been a few clear indications of how he’ll need to up his decision making. In Toulon ,at an important stage of a game they needed to win, he took on a daft shot from way out when he wasn’t properly set to shoot. It stood out as something you just wouldn’t see from a top senior player.

    Andy Mack’s four points are surely key. With our excellent squad now it has to be harder for anyone to get a look in. Giving a youngster a place on the bench ,even, means leaving out someone as good as Rosicky.

    Worth noting also, with talk of Maitland-Niles going on loan (later, ma) is that though we all want to see the youth teams getting good results, the club will rightly make many decisions which weaken the chances of those good results. The u21s could conceivably lose 3-5 of the best players to loans. U18s will move up accordingly. Player development has to come first

  • rich

    I’ll go for


    Also think we might be in for a bit of pain from Afobe. I think he’ll go even better this year. Must admit, I didn’t expect it to happen as I thought injuries had permanently taken away something from him. Glad he’s doing well and completely understand the decision to sell him, but nevertheless it’ll sting a bit if he’s soon in the prem and doing well there.

  • finsbury

    Andy mack
    I too used to think staying in the LC was important for fringe or reserve players but after the exit against Southampton I’m not sure 🙂

    Coquelin (LB), bellerin, Hayden and chambers all impressed against a full strength and dangerous opponent. After watching belle tin opposite Mane I was confident he’d be ok. The pelanty came about after hector found himself out of position and Rosicky felt he had to commit and mane bought the pen, if that incident had occurred later in the season I’m sure Rozza would’ve known that hector had the legs to recover his position.

    Overall we want them to stay in the LC not just to see those who are breaking through but the others too.
    I felt Hayden had a flawless performance that day opposite an in form Pelle, a shame he had an injury setback I hope that he can recover and catch up.

  • Oliver

    Gnabry, with Walcott likely to be playing central a bit more it opens up some room for the wide forward positions.

    As for the other, who knows!?

  • nicky

    @Andy Mack,
    I share your view on Sanogo’s potential.
    Next season I hope he will be fit and ready to join the first team squad as a regular member.
    More time at Colney rather than another loan spell, please. 😉

  • GoingGoingGooner

    What do you think of the schedule? It’s not too bad, IMO. The tough matches seem spread out and the winter fixtures look doable. Our first few matches are definitely winnable.

  • gunnerson

    I can’t remember how many times I called out for Hayden’s name last season.the previous season,I saw him playing in DM and I felt this guy is too dirty to be an arsenal player when he made a rash challenge in the league cup which earned him yellow card.but last season in the first league cup game,I was ashamed cos I wrote him off without giving him a chance.but for me,he is “the one!”

  • Andy Mack

    I expect Akpom (maybe Zelalem and/or Crowley and/or Iwobi and/or Bielikas well) to all go out on loan.
    They need to play senior football and championship (maybe Div 1) play adult football which the reserves don’t. If we’re out of the TinPot early and Per, Kozzer and Gabby are fit then I think Hayden may go on a loan as well.

    Finsbury, we can’t risk resting 1st team players just to give the juniors game time in the CL, PL or FAC, so the TinPot Cup takes on even greater significance. The only chance they get to play 1st team other than covering for injury which usually means both the youngster and the rest of the team have extra pressure put on them.

    Gnabry is now 1st team and will be a bench regular as soon as he’s back to his pre-injury level.

  • Gord

    Gunners news, slightly delayed. Sorry.

    While Mesut Ozil noticed that Serge Gnabry was to suit up today, the German U21 manager decided no. The bench was enough. Germany tied.

    WWC 2015 – Spain versus South Korea

    Both Arsenal players in the starting X1. At half time, Spain is up 1-0.

    WWC 2015 – England versus Columbia

    I think the only Gunner to start was Stoney (recent MBE). Nope, Jordan Nobbs is also a Gunner. Sanderson came on in the second half. Chamberlain (backup goalkeeper) and Alex Scott stayed on the bench. My apologies if I missed a Gunner. England are through to the next round, finishing in 2nd in their group.

    I wish the news about this guy in Nigeria buying Arsenal would go away. It sounds like his ideal Arsenal team is George Graham’s with a 1-0 score.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A team just for the League and FA cups that not only include the above mentioned players , but also as well as some of those ‘ regular’ players of the EPL /CL squad who need some playing time or those coming back from injury , and we can really be able access them .
    Wouldn’t it be great if our second stringers win both ? And the seniors win one or both of their cups !