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May 2021

Who is ready to step up from the Arsenal U21s and loanees? The Season End Report – Part 1

by Andrew Crawshaw

A year of measurable progress from our U21 team as they gained promotion back to the top tier of football at this level after a couple of years in the second division.

It would be churlish to belittle this achievement as being due to the presence of some of the first team players in the two play-off games.  All of the goals were scored by the ‘real’ U21 players and only one assist was down to Santi Cazorla.

For the most part the youngsters were at their most fluent when the seniors weren’t involved in passing moves, they have played together as a group all year and knew where each other would be.  For all of the extra skills of the senior players the lack of instinctive knowledge of the abilities, preferences and movements of the rest of the team at times was telling.

The Villa goal in the play off final came from just such a misunderstanding – Chambers under pressure passed the ball back to Macey, but to his left hand side.  Macey is strongly right footed and by the time he had moved the ball he was under severe pressure from the Villa attackers and only just cleared the ball before being caught in possession.  The clearance went straight to a Villa player who was able to shoot past Macey.  The normal U21 players when playing a back pass were very careful to do so on Macey’s right foot.

Who have been the Hits and Misses at this level this year and who might we see making an impact on the first team next year (or the year after)?

Part 1 – The Loanees

Gedion Zelalem Central Midfield (d.o.b. 26:01:1997 American but counts as home grown) has spent the season at Rangers and has assisted them in regaining promotion to the Scottish Premier League and to the final of the Scottish FA Cup.

Gedion is of Ethiopian descent and will never become a powerhouse midfielder.  He will always be slightly built (70kg and 1.8m tall) and have to find an alternative way of dealing with bigger and stronger opponents.  A year in the second tier of Scottish football would be a good test of his ability to withstand physical opponents.

This is a test that by and large he seems to have passed.  He made 15 (+6) League appearances plus 5 (+1) Cup appearances, scored no goals in regular play (he scored a penalty in the Cup semi final against Celtic) and received no bookings.

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The Cup final is on 21 May against Hibernium.  Overall Gedion can be pleased with his season and will be looking forward to pre-season back with Arsenal to try and press his claims for a first team place.  He has retained his eye for a delightful pass but will probably admit that he should have been more productive in terms of goalscoring.  I have a feeling that a second year out on loan will probably be the order of the day, quite possibly back to Rangers.  A definite ‘keeper’.

Jon Toral Central Midfield (d.o.b 5:2:1995, Spanish born but with an English mother counts as home grown)

Jon has spent the season at Birmingham City and has made a real impression there winning three awards at their end of season bash.  He got goal of the year, player’s player of the year and supporters player of the year.  He has made 28 appearances this year with 8 goals and 4 assists.

He is over six feet and well built, something that would be welcome in our midfield at times, an ex Barcelona academy player who joined at the same time as Bellerin.  Technically very accomplished and a real goal threat from midfield but has suffered from knee problems.

He is another player who will be looking forward to the Arsenal pre-season and one who I would definitely expect to make the first team squad for next season although with our plethora of central midfielders he will have to really stand out  in pre-season for that to happen.  My money is on him succeeding.  He looks to be a ready made replacement for Rosicky.

Isaac Hayden (English) (DM/CB) – spent the year on loan at Hull City in the Championship.  He is 1.87m tall and weighs 79kg.  He has made 17 appearances, scored 1 goal and been given 5 yellow cards.  Steve Bruce has said he would like to keep him so he must have something about him.  I would still like to see him in pre-season before we make up our minds on his future

Glen Kamara (d.o.b. 28:10:1995 Finland but counts as home grown) (DM) – spent the latter part of the year on loan at Southend United, played 6 games with one assist.  Probably another loan spell.

Wellington (Brazil) Winger – Spent the year on loan at Bolton and had an unfortunate time with injuries and the physicality of Championship football.  I can’t see him having a future at Arsenal.  A probable departee.

Anthony Maitland-Niles (d.o.b.29/8/1997)  Mid/Wing English on loan at Ipswich Town in the Championship.  Anthony has made 23 appearances this year scoring two goals.  Likely to be out on loan again next season.

Chuba Akpom (d.o.b. 9:10:95) Forward English  He has made 34 appearances this year and has scored 3 goals and one assist, has been given 2 yellow cards.  A rather disappointing season, he would have hoped to have done better.  Will have to have a stellar pre-season to earn a place in the senior squad for next season, more likely another loan spell.  Far too soon for us to give up on him.

Matthieu Debuchy  – unlikely to return, we haven’t really missed him since he left for Bordeaux.  A probable departee.

Emiliano Martinez GK – on loan at Wolves but not necessarily first choice – my guess is that we would consider selling him if the right offer came in – we have too many goalkeepers on our books

Wojciech Szczesny GK – on loan at Roma.  He is almost certainly part of the Club’s longer term plans, seems to have had a good loan spell and would probably welcome a second year there.  If Ospina leaves this summer will certainly be recalled as backup/pressure on Cech.

Yaya Sanogo – on loan at Charlton and hasn’t exactly set the world on fire there.  Unlikely to have a future at Arsenal.  A probable departee

Apologies if I’ve left out anyone and yes I’m well aware that some of these players are over 21, it just seemed logical to have included them all in the same place.

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9 comments to Who is ready to step up from the Arsenal U21s and loanees? The Season End Report – Part 1

  • WalterBroeckx

    A few years ago I went to the Youth league game in Dortmund as a warming up for the real match that we won later that evening with a goal from Ramsey.
    In that youth league match we had Bellerin on the right flank and Toral in the middle.
    A good friend of mine who is a youth coach at a top division club in Belgium (home club of Courtois, De Bruyne,…) was very much under the impression of Toral saying he had it all. Good skill, good balance, impressive stamina,… I was completely under the impressure of Bellerin who tore Dortmund apart on the right flank time and time again. I said he was the one to look out for.

    One year later… again in Dortmund. Bellerin made his (not really great) debut against Dortmund in the first team. I always feel rather good with myself that I spotted that better than him. Even though I will admit that Bellerin was a bit lucky to have a few injuries working in his favour to get and take his chance.

    But I did spot the amazing talent, that is something nobody can take away from me. NAH. 😉

    But I sure hope that my friend from Arsenal Belgium will be proven right about Toral.

  • Hashim

    Of all these players, I think Jon Toral, Wellington Silva, and Isaac Hayden should be given an opportunity in the first team next season. With the injuries Arsenal have, it would be good to have some really good, and hungry youngsters as backup. Sanogo will be leaving for sure and Akpom is till not the finished article yet. There is also Gnabry who has already represented Arsenal and has made an impression.

  • Robert

    Silva and Sanogo are 23, so I guess it’s now or never for them.

    Toral turned 21 this year, so he’ll still count as an under-21 for the coming season – and won’t take up a precious slot in the official PL Squad of 25 if he’s given a place in the Arsenal First Team.

    The remaining outfield players are all under 21.

    Both goalies – and Macey – are home grown over-21 players.

    Last summer we released 8 youngsters (Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Semi Ajayi, Jack Jebb, Josh Vickers, Austin Lipman, Renny Smith, Elliot Wright, George Dobson) and recruited 8 (Vlad Dragomir, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Yassin Fortune, Jordi Osei-Tutu, Kostas Pileas, Donyell Malin, Ismael Bennacer, Joao Virginia)

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    The fans and players awards at Birmingham say a lot to me. He came with very high expectations from Barcelona and was hampered by injuries meaning he didn’t progress as quickly as Bellerin. He is a good size for the Prem at just over 1.8m tall (6ft1in I think) and sturdily built. His volley that was judged goal of the season was an absolute belter. I would certainly have him in the squad (as I said he looks to be a ready replacement for Rosicky)

  • Good job Andrew. We will surely be having one or two revelations in the EPL next season, wearing the red and white. All these indicates that the future is indeed bright. The naysayers can go ahead and eat their hearts out.

    Say, what about Mat Willock?

  • Hisham

    I say of the lot you have mentioned thus far, I’m rooting for Jon Toral to make the grade next season. We will have 3 midfield seniors leaving the Club this summer, so Jon will have this window of opportunity even if we do go an buy a “world class” player in this position.

  • Top Guns

    @stan the man you sound like you are quite new to the party. There have been many false dawns regarding young talent at the club, I am not particularly excited by the current bunch of players

  • Andy Mack

    I don’t think we had our full ’25’ registered players last year, so although we will (IMO) be buying a couple, I’d guess we have room for 2 or 3 over 21s to come up.
    Toral seems to be top of the list of likely ones, and I’d say Hayden and Wellington as well. They won’t get much game time but they all need to be training with the first team.

    Silva did pretty well in such a poor Bolton team and was man of the match a few times which is good for such a young guy in his first season in a new country/league/weather etc. I think he needs to feel some connection with AFC whilst his game (with the ball at his feet) is (IMO) the closest to Alexis that we have. On his day the opposition never know what he’ll do next (maybe he doesn’t either) and he makes things happen.
    Having said that, he plays in a position which we have plenty of competition for, so we’ll see…
    Hayden has the ability to be DM or CB which our manager likes. But I think the coming season will be his ‘make or break’.
    Akpom needs another year in a good club with supportive fans rather than our lot that’ll give him grief if his first lay-off doesn’t go where it’s supposed to. He has loads of potential but the top of the PL isn’t the place for him to develop.
    Similarly AM-N could do with another year and Zelalem as well, but I’d look to move him to a ‘lesser’ PL or top championship team with a promise to use him at least 20 times in the season. The SPL just isn’t good enough for his continued development.
    Not sure about the rest but Kamara has been very unimpressive on loan and Sanogo just hasn’t kicked on from ‘lots of potential’ so it wouldn’t surprise me if they both got moved on.

  • Andy Mack

    Stan, do you mean Chris? If so, he’s still bit to young for the 1st team squad even though he’s very good in the U21s.