Two blogs in two days. That is what having no sleep yesterday, and having shed loads of coffee today does to a man. Also having booked a day off work, it left not much else then to sit and contemplate yesterday’s performance.
In this mornings blog, I was heavily critical of the Arsenal youngsters that played. Iwobi, Kamara & Bennacer. All clearly out of their depth. Clearly not good enough.
Added to this, Arsenal have not exactly pulled up any trees in recent years in youth competitions, finishing bottom of the U18s last season and only 4 wins from 11 games (and to points off league leaders Chelsea), it is clear we have some issues. Although our U21s are currently played 5, won 5.
If Iwobi, Kamara & Bennacer are the best we have coming through, it is unlikely we will be developing the next Jack Wilshere any time some. It is just as likely that we will not be developing the next Emmanuel Frimpong either, by the standard set of those last night.
Saying that, this is only half the truth. When you actually dig down into Arsenal’s youth set up, including reading Jorge Bird’s Arsenal Youth site, it is perhaps easy to establish that Kamara, Iwobi & Bennacer are not the best youngesters coming through. And last night, the simple fact is, our best youth products were not available for selection.
Going through Arsenal’s loanees page and the aforementioned site by Jorge Bird, there is a list of 9 players all aged 20 or under, who did not play last night. All of whom have a brighter future than Kamara, Iwobi & Bennacer.
Hector Bellerin – I am sure had it not been for his progression into the first team which has seen him become, in my opinion, the best right back in the league, Bellerin would have played last night, and we would all be going on about his potential. Instead, he is the first name on the team sheet (actually, second as the goal keeper go’s first) and we talk about his ability now, rather than his potential. Still just 20.
Serge Gnabry – Kind of the forgotten man at Arsenal. He made is debut in the League Cup competition 3 years ago against Coventry in a 6-1 victory and the season after, looked to be making great strides, playing in 14 games in total, and getting a nomination for European Gold Boy. However, his 2014/15 never got up and running due to that Arsenal curse. Injury. This year, he finds himself off loan at WBA, where Tony Pullis recently said that Gnabry “just hasn’t been for me”. Whether it is Gnabry’s weakness at the breakdown, or because he is not the best scrummager, that has led to him being dropped by Pullis is not clear.
The lad is a clear talent. The effect of his injury has had on him we do not yet, and the year spent playing rugby for WBA will not help his development. But he is still just 20. That is 3 years younger than Joel Campbell and just a year older than Alex Iwobi. He is a stand out talent.
Next season, he will return to the Arsenal squad, probably taking Joel Campbell’s place, providing the back up on the wings for Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain & Walcott.
Gedion Zelalem – Alongside Gnabry, he is another youngster who made his debut a few years ago. After a few solid pre season tours, he found last year, like Gnabry, curtailed by injury. Now on loan at Rangers, he is still just 18. Incredible for a player who has been at the club for so long.
His current loan deal is set to expire at the end of the year, but so impressed with him, Rangers are looking to extend that until the end of the season.
Last night, he surely would have provided the side with the vision and passing it sorely missed?
Chuba Akpom – When we let go Benik Afobe – whom many still complain about – it had nothing to do with Yaya Sanogo, and everything to do with Chuba Akpom. Nearly 3 years young, Akpom had all ready taken over Afobe in terms of talent when he was just 18. With just 3 goals so far this year on loan at Hull, he still has someway to go to fulfill his potential that at one time, had Barcelona sniffing around. He might not make it at Arsenal, but he is better than anything on show last night (and better than Sanogo).
Dan Crowley – Last night, we failed to create anything. I can not remember a single clear cut chance. After Oxlade-Chamberlain went off, it left Flamini as our midfield creator. Still just 18, he is a pocket dynamo. His loan spell at Barnsley was today cut short, with the press reporting this as ‘failing to make an impact’. However, with a lack of midfield options, he might find himself back at Arsenal and with the first team. Think Jack Wilshere. Just not as good.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – He of the very angry mother who last season was banned from the club after a bust up with club staff. If he was not any good, the club would have good rid after the issue – ala Jay Bothroyd – but they kept with him. He became the second youngest player to play for Arsenal in the Champions League last year against Galatasaray, where he played through the middle. Comfortable on the ball, he has power and pace and can pick out a path. Sadly, a loan deal with Ipswich stopped him playing. He has impressed their if you are wondering. And he is still just 18.
Isaac Hayden – At Hull alongside Akpom, the former U21 captain is still just 20. With 2 appearances to Arsenal to his name, the centre back / defensive midfielder would surely have been a better bet (and is a better prospect) than Glen Kamara.
Jon Toral – His future could well end up as being the answer to the quiz question “Which player joined Arsenal on the same day from Barcelona as club legend Hector Bellerin?” But for now, he is simply still a prospect. His career has not taken off as much as Bellerin, but he is a good player. He scored his first senior hat trick for Brentford last year during a loan spell. Currently at Birmingham, he is perhaps another who, whilst might not have a long term future at Arsenal, is certainly better than those who started last night.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide – Up until now, everyone we have discussed has been out on loan. Jeff is different. He is currently playing for France in the FIFA U17 World Cup. Just 17, he was this summers player that Arsenal fan’s over hyped after a few good performances in pre season.
I am sure we would have seen him in this year’s League Cup had it not been for drawing Spurs in the 3rd round, and him being away yesterday on International duty. If you want to see what we missed, he plays tomorrow for France against Costa Rica. I know nothing about him, but YouTube makes him look good.
Also currently at the tournament are 17 year old fowards Kaylen Hinds, Chris Willock & Stephy Mavididi, all of whom are their representing England. Add in the likes of Bielek (17), Dragomir (16), Bola (17), Fortune (16) & Nelson (15), all of whom this years League Cup was perhaps a year or two too early for their development (maybe Bennacer falls into this as well, he is, after all, just 17), we do have some decent youngsters at the club.
Last night was not a good example of the youngsters we have at the club. Due to different reasons, many of our top prospects were not available last night, leaving the likes of Kamara, Iwobi & Bennacer to be the best of the rest. All 3 would struggle to make an Arsenal U21 side. A side which, had it played last night, would probably have gone through to the next round of the League Cup.
Arsenal U21 side:
Bellerin Chambers Hayden Bola
Gnabry Jeff Naitland-Miles
Bench: Huddart, Moore, Bielek, Toral, Willock, Hinds, Mavididi