Arsenal’s Youth: Who is HOT and who is NOT

Against Portsmouth, we started with 5 academy products, with another one on the bench. 6 of the starting XI we under 21, with 2 teenagers

It has been the story of our season. Youth, and in the main locally produced youth, have got their chance.

But who is actually good enough to make it at Arsenal? Who is in line to be a first team regular, and who will be looking to play at a lower level to get regular football?

It is dangerous to write off players so young, but there is also a tendency to overhype youngsters. So who will make it at Arsenal?

Bukayo Saka – 18-years-old

No player has grabbed their chance this year more than left-winger Bukayo Saka, although his impressive performances have mainly come from left back.

No Arsenal player has more assists in all competitions, and he seems to have a good mix of physical and technical ability.

A good crosser of the ball, he can beat a man in tight spaces and has pace to burn. Although his simple passing does not improvement.

He is a winger, not a left back. Once Kieran Tierney is back fit, Saka should play the rest of the season on the left wing. He could save us millions in the summer.

It would not be too hard to make a case that for the 2020/21 season, Saka should be 1st choice left winger.

Verdict: Will be a star

Gabriel Martinelli – 18-years-old

Like Saka, Gabriel Martinelli is also just 18.

He signed from Brazilian side Ituano last summer and was expected to go into the U23 side, but his performances led him to quickly become a regular member of the match day squad.

10 goals this season is an impressive haul; although just 3 have come in the Premier League.

For his 1st year in England, at such a tender age, Martinelli has been superb.

Martinelli reminds you of Luis Suarez.

He works hard for the team, and can play anywhere across the front 3. The variety of his goals has been impressive.

We have seen him act as a goal poacher – appearing in the 6 yard box for a tap in. We have seen him bend one into the top corner from outside of the box. We have seen him beat a couple of man and slot one in. We have seen him score with his head and both feet.

He does need to work on his build up play, and he is probably better down the middle than on the wing.

His impressive performances this season could lead Arsenal to cash in on Alexandre Lacazette.

Verdict: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s understudy. Could become his long term replacement.

Eddie Nketiah – 20-years-old

Often in football one players fortune is another’s misfortune. You can only play XI players at one time. You can not progress every youngster. And that is the case with Eddie Nketiah.

He was sent on loan to Leeds for the 1st half of the season, only to be recalled following lack of playing time under Marcelo Bielsa.

It is his time away that gave Martinelli the time to shine in the Europa League and League Cup.

Nketiah has started a few games recently, and showed his poaching ability against Portsmouth. But there are question marks around his all round game.

The fear with Nketiah is he is an old school footballer. A goal poacher who needs to play up top in a 2. Beyond scoring goals, he contributes very little.

He is not great at holding the ball up, he is reluctant to get involved in the build up play, and he struggles as a teams sole striker. These are the reasons why Bielsa opted for Patrick Bamford upfront.

The other problem Nketiah is facing is Arsenal have a whole host of youngsters on his tail.

Martinelli is already ahead of him, despite being 2 years younger. The club also has Tyreece John-Jules and Folarin Balogun performing well in the academy.

Nketiah will be 21 in May. The feeling is he has one more season to prove his worth.

2020/21 John-Jules and Balogun will be sent out on loan. If they perform well, it might be time for Nketiah to step aside and Arsenal focus on those 2 years his junior.

If he does leave Arsenal, a mid-lower table team would snap him up, and Arsenal would get a good price for him.

Verdict: On borrowed time

Matteo Guendouzi – 20-years-old

It is incredible to think that Matteo Guendouzi is still just 20-years-old.

He has been criticised by some this season, and even written off by others, but that is unfair.

On his debut season he was fantastic. A real talent. A gem. But he has perhaps flatlined this season. But the potential in him is great.

There are not many other central midfielders across Europe doing what he is doing. But he needs to get his head down and work hard.

Under Unai Emery he was over played and under coached. In Mikel Arteta he should have the perfect manager who knows his position.

One problem for Guendouzi is no one is really sure what sort of midfielder he will become. Is he defensive? Or does he excel when he has a defensive midfielder behind him? Allowing him to roam the pitch pressing?

There are concerns around his petulance, and he seems to have this annoying habit where he is looking for the foul in the middle of the park rather than pass the ball on quickly.

He needs to listen to Arteta, take on advice and work hard on the training ground. He has the world at his feet, but it is up to him to take it.

Verdict: Work hard and he could achieve anything

Reiss Nelson – 20-years-old

Reiss [Nelson] is a special player and can eliminate players one on one. He’s been out for a while but he’s back now and he showed what he’s capable of doing.

That is what Mikel Arteta said about Reiss Nelson following his solid performance against Portsmouth.

2019/20 has been a frustrating one for Nelson.

After a successful season on loan at 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany, he has found his chances limited this season.

At the start of the season, he was never going to get a shot with £72million Nicolas Pepe ahead, and has picked up a few niggling injuries. He has not had the opportunity that Saka or Martinelli has had. But his talent is equally as big.

As a right-footed right winger who loves getting chalk on his boots, he offers us something completely different to Pepe.

The Ivorian is always looking to cut inside, to get the ball on his left and drive into the box. Nelson meanwhile looks to beat the man on the outside, and put a cross into the box.

In the short term, Nelson will find himself as understudy to Pepe. A different option to bring in when chasing the game. Someone who would stretch teams out wide.

Verdict: Has a future at Arsenal

Joe Willock – 20-years-old

What is Joe Willock?

Is he an attacking midfielder? Is he a wide midfielder? Is he box to box?

He is clearly a good athlete, and a good player, but it is a struggle to see where exactly he fits in at Arsenal.

As a 10, he does not have the eye for a pass of Mesut Ozil, the technical ability to play in tight areas. But then he does find space in the box to score goals.

Out wide, Arsenal simply have better young options in Saka and Nelson.

If Willock has a future at Arsenal, he probably needs to reinvent himself as someone that plays deeper, in the  number 8 role. That way his athleticism and driving forward with the ball can be better utilised.

He could probably do with a season out on loan, playing central midfield in the Premier League.

Verdict: Needs a loan deal

Emile Smith Rowe – 19-years-old

The one on the list who is not currently at the club, Emile Smith Rowe is currently performing well at Huddersfield.

Smith Rowe is one reason why Willock needs to reinvent himself as someone playing deeper.

Whilst he does not have Willock’s athletic attributes, he is a more technically gifted player, and you can certainly see him as an understudy to a senior number 10 (whether Mesut Ozil or someone else) next season.

He certainly deserves a chance back at Arsenal, and at 19-years-old still has plenty of time on his side.

Verdict: 1st team squad next season


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