Most of you won’t know me, but I’m an aspiring sports photographer covering the first team (warm ups) and the Youth team matches. Through photographing the youth team I have obviously picked up opinions and noticed things that those who may have only watched YouTube videos can not, Finally I want to express that I’m in no way a writer, nor do I have any intention of being a writer, I am simply expressing my opinion on the 5 youth players I think with the greatest chance of playing for The Arsenal Football Club in the future.
Firstly for me is a name that has been on everyone’s lips, fingers and screens, Daniel Crowley, a 16 year old signed from Aston Villa for somewhere around £800,00 in the Summer of 2013. Considering we paid between £400,00 and £600,00 for Thomas Eisfeld who was 3 years older at the time show you how high a hope Arsenal have for Crowley. The First thing you notice about Dan Crowley from afar is that he’s very short for a Centre Midfielder, however, not dissimilarly to a certain Jack Wilshere.
Crowley can make it work. He may be short but he’s definitely very determined and powerful when running with the ball. Often he is being pulled back and pushed yet still keeps his balance perfectly. Not being the fastest he doesn’t often beat someone and sprint away but tends to beat the same person 2 or sometimes even 3 times before releasing the ball. 99% of the time he is moving forward in a positive way. That’s the thing about Daniel Crowley, he’s one of the most positive players I’ve ever seen – reminiscent to Tomas Rosicky – he has impeccable vision and can easily pull of almost anything he wants.
I can definitely see Crowley going on any pre season tour Arsenal have (especially since its world cup year), having escalated from the U18’s to the U21’s in less than a 6 month period. I think had he been signed in January of last year he would’ve been on last summers one! Next season I expect Crowley to make cup appearances in the League Cup and possibly the FA Cup, if he carries on at this rate I wouldn’t even be surprised if he makes a Premier League appearance next season.
Gedion Zelalem appeared out of nowhere for most Arsenal fans. Most hadn’t heard of him until this summer and the Asia tour where he definitely made a name for himself, coming on in the game against the Vietnam XI having only made his U21 (and Arsenal) début 3 months earlier versus Liverpool.
In his first game of the Asia Tour, Zelalem showed everyone exactly what he was about with cutting edge passes that nobody in the stadium would have seen apart from him. He appears to have this absolute knowledge of where players are and will be before they are. Most of the time watching highlights of him back on Youtube he hasn’t even looked where he’s going to be playing the pass, he just pulls it off, and that definitely isn’t something that can be taught.
Coming from Ethiopian parents, being born in Germany and growing up there for only a few years before moving to America you can’t exactly say he has a rich heritage of football. He is 100% natural talent, the only bad thing about Zelalem is the fact he is so very thin, physically he’s definitely not ready for the Premier League, he even struggles at U21 level against very physical teams, however, at 6 foot, if he were to beef up considerably you could expect some very solid performances out of him.
He is excellent technically and ability wise, the only issue I’ve ever seen with him is caused by his weight, he has a very good attitude, keeps his head down, and just gets on to play. That’s all you can ask for in a player at this age really.
One of the least known names on this list, Kristoffer (Kris) Olsson is a central midfielder from Norrkoping in Eastern Sweden. Olsson has made a single competitive appearance in the League Cup against West Bromwich Albion where he took (and converted) a penalty with possibly the most nervous run up ever seen.
Many see Olsson as a direct Mikel Arteta replacement – myself included. He is a very calm and graceful player, a very good all rounder, and, unlike a few in the U21’s Olssons fitness is impeccable. He can easily dictate play when picking up the ball. One of the aspects the young Swede has notably picked up in his game is how to gain time on the ball. Previously he would get caught on the ball and lose it, however now I think he has improved this aspect of his game a lot. He seems to always have an age to spend on the ball where he very often picks a pass which leads to a goal directly.
There have been rumours recently that he believes he is ready for first team football and at only 18 to be thrown in the middle of the park in the Premier League may be tough, but as shown by the more or less explosion of Serge Gnabry into the Arsenal squad, age doesn’t have to influence as much as many think. Rumours have also been circulating that Ipswich town approached Arsenal with a loan offer for Olsson but this was flat out rejected.
Currently on loan at Watford, Hector Bellerin made an appearance in our League Cup campaign earlier in the season. An U19 international is the first of two featured in this article currently out on loan. When playing for Arsenal Bellerin has often contributed with assists and even the occasional goal, most notably against Wolves and Manchester United last season.
He has been one of the most consistent performers in our youth sides. I’ve been watching the U21’s for almost a year now and can only remember him ever struggling with one player, Jordan Ibe of Liverpool. Currently at Championship side Watford where he has been nothing short of exceptional, Bellerin’s debut ended bittersweetly as Watford lost 3-0 at home to Yeovil. Bellerin was, however, a stand out performer in this game shown by the amount of Watford supporters who showed their support for the young Spaniard on many social media sites.
Currently Bellerin has been deployed mainly on the right wing for Watford, but at Arsenal was primarily deployed as a Right back. Nobody is particularly certain where Bellerin will finally be deployed if he is to make it into the Arsenal first team and may just be used a utility player (especially considering his debut vs West brom he played as a centre midfielder after an injury to Arteta).
Personally I am of the belief that Bellerin will return in the summer from his loan, and then next season will be the backup right back to either Bacary Sagna or a new purchase with Carl Jenkinson going out on loan.
Another name that many people will know is Chuba Akpom. A young striker who last season excelled at U21 level scoring 13 goals in 20 games. He also made appearances on the Asia Tour of 2013 and made one Premier League appearance this season against Sunderland coming on as a substitute.
Akpom is a pacey, physical striker. When in form he has the ability to bully defenders and make them look like absolute idiots with his skill. Unlike his predecessors such as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Sanchez Watt, Akpom has a fantastic attitude. His only desire is to play games for Arsenal, he always gives 100% for the shirt and he is definitely a player I want to see on the team sheet. I think he would make the first team more consistently in the future, due to not only his talent, but the heart and passion he would inject.
Recently Akpom had hit a bit of a dry spell, however he has been imperious form recently scoring a hat trick against Peterborough United in the FA Youth Cup which had a team including many who had made first team appearances for Peterborough. Recently Akpom went on loan to Brentford in order to start playing Men’s football, he missed the first game due to illness but will probably be hoping for an appearance this weekend against Walsall.
Finally, is a recent acquisition from our youth feeder club (haha) Barcelona. Julio Pleguezuelo is a highly rated Spanish centre back. When he first arrived in London he wasn’t able to immediately play due to FIFA regulations and the ability to gain International Clearance. Once this was sorted and he started to play, he took to English football like a duck to water. He is short player for a centre back, at roughly 5’11, but at only the age of 16 he has time to grow more. A lack of height at a young age has however improved his reading of it (in the same way Mertesacker’s lack of pace does).
The young Spaniard first impressed me with a) His technical ability; b) His strengt;h and c) How quickly he was able to adjust to English and overcome the language barrier. I remember in one of the warm ups he was caught out by the coaches and he distinctly said “my english is no very good” and then a few weeks later, I could see and hear him having full blown conversations and commanding others on the field!
If i were to compare him to anyone in the current Arsenal first team, without a shadow of a doubt it would be Laurent Koscielny, like Koscielny; Pleguezuelo loves to get forward and exploit space in the middle of the park His close control when running with the ball and under pressure is simply second to none in the rest of the Arsenal defence. The U21’s have often rotated the defence recently with Isaac Hayden often being drafted in from his more comfortable Defensive Midfield position. The U21’s also have to choose from newly acquired Semi (pronounced “Shemi”) and someone who is as good as out of the door only having featured twice at home this season Daniel Boateng. The defensive pairing of Julio Pleguezuelo and other 16 year old Stefan O’Connor has often been chosen by U21 manager Steve Gatting and to great effect. Results have often been consistent and ended positively when O’Connor has Paired the Spaniard.
When talking about the youth set up “One for the future” definitely tends to be a cliche and often incorrect phrase, from this list I’ve compiled I personally see the younger 3 of Crowley, Pleguezuelo and Zelalem making the most out of their careers, but anything can happen in football.