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The Arsenal youngsters who will break through in 2019/20

Only Fulham gave more minutes to teenagers this season than Arsenal.

This would be a surprise to some of Unai Emery’s critics who have moaned that he has not given youth enough of a chance this season.

The figures are misleading, however, as the majority of those minutes were played by a single play, Matteo Guendouzi.

The only other 3 teenagers to get game time this season played a grand total of 134 minutes between them.

Whilst Emery has not given academy graduates much game time in the league, there have been plenty of minutes handed out in the cups.

Against Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League, there were 9 academy graduates in the match day squad, many of whom were local lads.

Arsenal finished 2nd in the Premier League 2, following up from being champions last season. The U18 team topped the Southern Division, before losing the final to Derby.

The Arsenal Academy is certainly in good health, even if not too many got their chance this season. Against Burnley we saw Joe Willock get a start, and Eddie Nketiah come off the bench and score.

Here we analyise what to expect from some of the best and brightest youngsters next season.

Reiss Nelson – After an exciting start on loan at Hoffenheim, Reiss Nelson’s form dropped off after the Bundesliga winter break. Discipline problems led him to fall out of favour and he ended up spending most of the season coming off the bench.

Nelson is clearly a talented kid, and a few fans got a little too excited over his performances in Germany – even calling for him to return to Arsenal in January and be parachuted straight into the first team.

He is probably still some way from being a first team regular at Arsenal; remember he could not break into the Hoffenheim XI with just 5 starts.

His development will continue at Arsenal next season where he likely to play a similar role that he did at Hoffenheim. Cameo roles off the bench. As the season progresses, he will get more game time, especially if he put sin some solid performances in the League Cup.

Eddie Nketiah – With Danny Welbeck leaving, Nketiah will find himself as 3rd choice striker between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang & Alexandre Lacazette.

If Emery decides to play with a 2 up top, Nketiah will the sole striker on the bench.

He does not have much time to break in to the Arsenal first team squad as Tyreece John-Jules will be itching for game time.

The one to watch out for is Folarin Balogun. The 17-year-old striker scored 25 goals in 18 games in the U18 league and at some point, he will be pushing for the game time in the cups that Nketiah craves.

For next season, Nketiah will be 3rd choice striker with John-Jules likely to go on loan and Balogun to be promoted to the U23 team.

Emile Smith Rowe – Like Nelson, Smith Rowe has been on loan in Germany, joining RB Leipzig in January. Injury has restricted him to a couple of fleeting substitute appearances lasting barely a minute.

The feeling is that he is likely to remain at Leipzig next season.

He was injured prior to going to Germany, so the logical reason for him leaving Arsenal was to spend a few months acclimatizing to a new country and living on his own. Still just 18-years-old; a year playing in Germany will see him return for 2020/21 with real chances to break into the first team squad.

Joe Willock – A year ago Willock’s future at Arsenal looked bleak. He struggled to make an impact in his Europa League appearances and the feeling was that he would not make it.

This season he has kicked on and reinvented himself as a goal scoring central midfielder. He grabbed himself 3 senior goals in the cups.

Willock turns 20 in August so has missed the window for a season long loan deal. He will be promoted to the 1st team squad, where he will provide cover for all 3 positions behind the striker and give Emery a 5th central midfield option.

The feeling is he could be a contender to be Aaron Ramsey’s replacement in the long term.

Xavier Amaechi – Next in line after Reiss Nelson in Arsenal’s stable of young, fast wingers is Amaechi. The 18-year-old saw his progress restricted this season due to injury.

Due to the injury, he has lost about 6 months of development meaning he is probably not yet ready for first team football on loan. Expect him to be ripping up the U23 league next season.

Bukayo Saka – Amaechi’s loss was Saka’s gain as the talented youngster stepped up from the U18’s to the U23’s to replace his elder team mate. Performances at this level saw him get his chance in the first team, making 4 senior appearances in total.

Like with Nelson, some have gone a bit OTT with Saka, already calling him to make regular first team starts next season. One Tweeter went as far as to say that we did not need to sign a winger for next season such is his talent.

There is no doubt Saka is talented, but there is a huge step up from U18 & U23 to the senior side.

He is still just 17-years-old so it is important that we do not rush his development.

Saka has probably now jumped ahead of Amaechi in the pecking order and could well find himself as 5th choice winger next season (behind a new signing, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan and Nelson).

His star could shine the brightest of the lot.

Keenos

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Emile Smith Rowe to remain at RB Leipzig next season

At the end of the January transfer window, Arsenal youngster Emile Smith Rowe joined German Bundesliga outfit RP Leipzig on loan for the rest of the season.

It was reported after the loan deal went through that Smith Rowe was suffering from a groin injury and it was unlikely that he would restart full training until March.

At the time I found it odd that Arsenal had sent an injured player out on loan to gain first team experience. He picked up the groin strain whilst training with Arsenal in December.

Smith Rowe’s recovery has been slower than expected and it was only this week that he finally returned to full team training.

With just 7 Bundesliga game left to play, it would be surprising if 18-year-old Smith Rowe sees much game time with Champions League chasing RP Leipzig, who currently sit 3rd.

Recently Smith Rowe sat down with Arsenal’s official YouTube channel to discuss his experience so far in Germany.

“The Bundesliga is a really good league,” Smith Rowe told Arsenal’s official YouTube channel. “There are a lot of good players here and big teams as well. It’s like the Premier League really. Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig, Hoffenheim, Schalke – all big teams, all Champions League teams really. I think it’s a great opportunity.”

“I can’t wait to play in front of the fans,” he admitted. “I think it will be really good. Obviously the stadium is really big and it’s a great atmosphere. When I first went to one of the games, the fans were just always singing. Obviously that happens at Arsenal as well, but over here it’s just crazy.”

“I think it’s definitely a big step at such a young age, but I think that’s a great experience,” he explained. “Seeing Reiss and other young players take the step, obviously doing well and enjoying themselves, that has really boosted my confidence.

“It really gave me the impression that this was something I wanted to do and I obviously took the risk. I just can’t wait to get fit and play.”

As it stands, it feels like sending Smith Rowe abroad has been a big waste of time. That the only thing he would have gained is an experience of living abroad for 4 months, and that he will return with less than 100 Bundesliga minutes under his belt.

Whilst at Arsenal, he had played 6 games this season across the Europa League and League Cup; scoring 3 goals. He had also been on the bench for a handful of Premier League games. He was progressing well.

It is then very odd that Arsenal would agree sending him out on loan, knowing that he was injured and unlikely to play.

The logical conclusion is that Arsenal plan to leave Smite Rowe at RB Leipzig next season as well.

The club knew he was out injured, and would unlikely feature for Arsenal in the run in – especially following the signing of Denis Suarez. So  a decision was made to send him to Germany early to allow him to acclimatise.

Whilst he has not played for RB Leipzig as of yet, he has spent every day at their training facility, under the eyes of their coaches, living in Germany.

It would mean that were he to go on loan next season to Leipzig, he would not need a couple of months acclimatising. He could do a full pre-season for them, and be ready to joining their 1st team squad for the first game of the season.

A full year playing week in week out in a top league will do wonders for the playmaker, and it makes sense for him to spend next season in Germany.

If he is going to be at Leipzig next season, it then makes sense that he joined in January despite it being unlikely that he will play.

Many at Arsenal see him as a long term replacement for Aaron Ramsey in the squad. Next season will be a year too early for him. But in 2020 he would return to the club with a full Bundesliga season under his belt and having only just turned 20.

 

Keenos

Unai Emery’s developing a new “British Core” at The Arsenal

December 2012, London was floating in a post-Olympic boom. Arsenal announced new contracts for 5 young British players.

Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as signed a new contract on the same day (in front of the cameras at least). The message was clear.

After years of Arsenal being the foreign legion of English football; the future was English (and Welsh, like the cricket team). Theo Walcott made it a Dirty Dozen of talented players under 25-years-old.

The success for Arsenal based on the British core; and success for England would surely be built around 5 of the 6 players.

Roll forward to 2019 and, with Aaron Ramsey set to leave on a free transfer, only one man remains. Carl Jenkinson. I wonder what odds you would have got back in 2012 that the former Charlton trainee would outlast his more talented colleagues.

In the cup competitions this season, the League Cup, Europa League and last weekend in the FA Cup, Unai Emery has given a whole host of young players a chance.

It may still be early, but Emery is developing his own British Core.

Emery inherited two first team British players in Rob Holding and Alex Iwobi.

Prior to his injury, Holding was Arsenal’s most improved player this season. He has been sorely missed since his injury, testament to his development. He has put himself into contention to be long term first choice centre back. The talk amongst many is that we now need to buy Holding a partner. We no longer need to buy two starting central defenders.

Whilst he now plays for Nigeria, the country of his birth, Iwobi is certainly British.

Born in Lagos, he moves to London at the age of 4. Now 22, he has spent 18 years in the capital. His London twang and swagger. He is as much a Londoner as he is a Nigerian. He has paved the way for the flood of further Londoners coming through.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles has now been in and around the first team for a couple of seasons. In recent weeks he has shown his quality and utility. Playing left back, right back, central midfield and on the wing. Still just 21, he has a future for Arsenal and England as a James Milner-type utility man.

A whole host of other youngsters have also got game time in the cup competitions.

Eddie Nketiah was unlucky not to get a hat trick against Blackpool in the FA Cup. Anyone that has watched him at youth level would have been surprised by his misses. He is a clinical finisher.

With Danny Welbeck set to leave at the end of this season, expect Nketiah to lead the line in the cup competitions next season.

Whilst Nketiah missed his chances yesterday, Joe Willock scored two.

The youngster stalled last season, and struggled in his senior games. This season he has gone from strength to strength, and now has 3 goals in his 3 senior games.

He is developing into a box to box midfielder, becoming a very smart player able to get forward and back at speed. His ability to find space in the box reminds you of Aaron Ramsey. Should Arsenal replace the Welshman from within?

Currently returning from injury is Emile Smith Rowe. He has been the standout youngster of this season. A classy attacking player who can play in all 3 positions behind the front 3, he has a big future at Arsenal.

Dropping down an age group now is two very talented kids.

Bukayo Saka could be the best of the lot. Just 17-years-old, he has pace, power and technique.

Arsenal should consider sending him down a similar route as Reiss Nelson. A year in Germany getting plenty of game time, he would come back a different player. This lad is going to be quality.

Finally we have Zech Medley.

I have been frustrated that during Arsenal’s defensive injury crisis, Emery has gone for Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichsteiner in defence rather than give a chance to 18-year-old Medley.

Medley, like Nketiah, was on the books of Chelsea before joining Arsenal at 16-years-old. He looks to have it all.

A towering centre back, he showed bravery and strength in the air with one challenge against Blackpool. He pairs his height and power with fabulous ball playing ability. Alongside speed across the ground, he has it all to become a modern ball playing central defender.

To top it all off, he is left footed. A left sided central defender seems like the holy grail in the modern game.

He probably will not start challenging for the first team on a regular basis for another 2 and a half seasons – 2021/22. This might seem a long time away, but Medley would be barely 21-years-old.

Certainly one to leave in the box, playing youth team level and keep an eye on for the future.

Some of these lads might make it at Arsenal, some might not. One thing is for certain, however; they have all lived the dream playing for The Arsenal.

The highlight of 2018/19 so far has been watching so many local boys getting their chance.

Keenos