By Walter Broeckx
Last week I went to see the match between the U19 from Dortmund and Arsenal played a few hours before the real CL match between both teams. Now I’m not going to pretend to have more knowledge about the youth players than anyone else for this. I was lucky to had the chance to see them play and like I said in my article it was a great experience and I have seen some players that I really like.
I have seen players like Zelalem on the field. Zelalem who I was watching in particular. And he is some player in the making. His vision is amazing but that is something most of us have seen in the pre season tour in Asia this summer. Being there in Dortmund was good as it was his first game in months as he has been out with an injury. So I think he was not really top fit yet or completely match fit. But he played the full 90 minutes and showed what a remarkable player he is and still only 16.
Apart from his vision he seems to be a player that always knows where to find space on the field. No matter how tight the angles, no matter how much pressure they put on him by challenging him with 2 or 3 players he always seems to have that extra bit of time on the ball. Not that he didn’t lose it from time to time of course. He is human and not some kind of god.
But you could also see that he had some things to work on. And I think that is only normal when you are so young. At times when he lost the ball he sometimes didn’t go after it leaving the pressure on his team mates. Maybe this was down to not being completely match fit after his injury of course. But I noticed it, so I can only hope that the coaching staff at Arsenal will talk about it with him.
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Another one is Bellerin who I have big hopes for in the future. When he goes forward alarm bells went ringing for Dortmund. He is very skilful and fast and a real attacking right back in the making. A real Arsenal right back. One that will score his goals also from time to time. And one with a good and sharp cross. Sometimes wanting to take too many players on at times but that is what you get when you have a defender that could play as a right midfielder and maybe even as a right winger.
In Dortmund in the second half he struggled with an injury that forced him off and I found that once he had gone we missed his runs on the right flank.
Now yesterday the U21 played against Aston Villa. Not much an affair one could say. After all playing in the youth champions league against Dortmund is more exciting than playing Aston Villa. But 8 of the players on the field for Aston Villa were last seasons winners of the Uefa Youth league competition. We finished in 4th place last season. So it was more than just a youth team visiting Arsenal. This was last seasons best European youth team one could say.
And a few players on show this time for Arsenal that wanted to show something in front of Wenger who was at the stadium.
Gnabry showed that he is too good for this level. Scoring a goal and giving two assists. And with his performances for the first team it really is a bit surprising that given the injuries we have with The Ox and Theo that he didn’t play more games. Because when he played he surely didn’t disappoint. Au contraire. He was amazingly strong.
But this shows that since a few seasons Arsenal had changed. A few seasons ago I think that Gnabry would have been in the team for weeks starting games. But this time even for such a talented kid it is much more difficult to get in the team. Even when Theo and TheOx out injured.
It even leads to people shouting against Wenger for not putting him on sooner at Old Trafford. Probably the same people who were shouting against Wenger when he played too many kids in the past…. Another example of the fact that maybe it was more forced upon Wenger by circumstances (stadium debt) than a real choice? A bit like Wenger not wanting to spend money they said but the same not understanding that Wenger would spend but not just for the sake of spending money.
But back to Gnabry who seems to have a big future in front of him. I would love to see him more but then again I always feel such a joy when we bring our own future super stars in the first team. He is German Gnabry and so we know that we get quality and hard work and he can score goals, create goals… Hell Wenger, why don’t you play him a bit more.
Another player that has gone missing in the youth team for me was Toral. He also made his first game back after a very long injury spell on the side lines. And he scored a goal in Dortmund and gave an assist. Yesterday against Villa he scored two goals and had an assist. One of my friends who was with un in Dortmund is a youth coach at Racing Genk in Belgium and he said that he would take Toral for the first team from Genk in a heartbeat. So he made a big impression on him.
Could it be that Jon Toral will be the next youngster to step up? He is 18 years old and if he can brush of his injury and continue his fine form since then he could be in the picture.
But then again if you look at the players we are going to see back in the next weeks and hopefully after the international break like Walcott, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain the path of these youngsters like Gnabry and Toral looks to be blocked still for a while. So will we have to loan them to get them more experience on a higher level? On the other hand have them playing the Arsenal way is maybe more benefitting for them once they can make the step to the first team.
What do I know what is best for them? What I do know is that what I have seen from them so far is promising. Now it is up to them to make life difficult for Wenger. Give Wenger a headache on how to fit them in, in the future. Better to have such a headache than having to wonder who will be fit for the next game.
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