by Tony Attwood
Arsenal have an incredibly interesting group of youngsters in the club at the moment. Consider these players who already have first team squad numbers…
In defence there are three
Tolaji Bola, Zech Medley, Bukayo Saka
In midfield there are seven
Ainsley Maitland Niles, Joe Willock, Matteo Guendouzi, Robbie Burton, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli,
And as forwards we have three.
Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli
That makes 13 so far and we must add William Saliba, a centre back who in the analysis of the top 50 young players in Europe came in at number 10. So that is 14 players.
Next we have the first piece of summer transfer business seemingly already done, by signing the trialist George Lewis from Rwanda who is 19 and who spent a fortnight training with the team in March. Make that 15.
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Out on loan we have had Emile Smith Rowe who has been playing for Huddersfield and getting very positive reviews.
Moving along and making the 16th interesting young player is Tyreece John-Jules who, having been training with the first team went on loan to Lincoln City. Arteta said that John-Jules had come “this close” to appearing for the first team, adding, “I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen from him in training, I really like him and I think for the last minutes the other day it was a perfect fit.”
But he got injured after a good start, however if lower league clubs do get going again he could go back and get some more matches.
Folarin Balogun has been playing centre forward very effectively this season for the under 23s getting 10 goals and four assists.
We won’t expect to see a junior keeper rise up the ranks this season, but it is good to know that in Karl Hein we have one who is being highly talked up for the future. Much depends on how long Emi Martinez will stay as understudy.
Matt Smith was Premier League 2 player of the month back in January and has trained with the first team squad this season – he had three assists in nine games for the under 23s and 14 in 22 games for the under 18s last season.
Miguel Azeez is also in the list – a deep lying playmaker who can shoot accurately from distance and a youth international. It is said that Arsenal even changed their standard contract to ensure they don’t lose him to a club prowling around and “guaranteeing” youngsters first team football “now” by putting the option of an extra two years in his three year contract.
This was the lad who played alongside Paul Pogba and David Beckham in an Adidas advert last summer.
We are now getting to the younger players – Catalin Cirjan who is next on the list is 17, but he was playing in the Romanian third division at the age of 13, which might seem bizarre but nevertheless is quite an achievement.
And then to round it all off, Adil Aouchiche is a 17-year-old attacking midfielder who is with PSG and we are supposedly about to buy. So what sort of list does that make?
- Tolaji Bola,
- Zech Medley,
- Bukayo Saka
- Ainsley Maitland Niles,
- Joe Willock,
- Matteo Guendouzi,
- Robbie Burton,
- Reiss Nelson,
- Eddie Nketiah,
- Gabriel Martinelli,
- Reiss Nelson,
- Eddie Nketiah,
- Gabriel Martinelli
- William Saliba,
- George Lewis .
- Emile Smith Rowe
- Tyreece John-Jules
- Folarin Balogun
- Karl Hein
- Matt Smith
- Miguel Azeez
- Catalin Cirjan
- Adil Aouchiche
Of course many will leave, others will tragically get injured and not return to former form, some will simply fade away. But the fact is that there are 23 players in that list and two are already established and others have made occasional appearances.
It would be a brave person who would suggest that none of them will make the grade.
So in conclusion let me take you back to the piece I published earlier today. It contained four stories
- Story 1: Arsenal are buying, and they are going to buy big.
- Story 2: Arsenal are not going to buy anyone but instead will be selling.
- Story 3: Arsenal will focus on bringing in young players.
- Story 4: Arsenal are going to wind up their youth teams in a cost cutting exercise.
Looking at the list of 23 players above I think we can say that story 4 is completely wrong, story 3 is unlikely, story 2 is possible if the player sold is being replaced by one of the youngsters, and story 1 is maybe possible if a player is leaving and the youngster is seen as a suitable placement.
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