Rumours circulated yesterday that Arsenal youth players Chuba Akpom and Semi Ajayi had both decided to make themselves available to play for Nigeria. It is likely that both will be called up to the Super Eagle’s potential January friendly.
Having failed to make the 2015 African Cup of Nations, Nigeria have looked to refresh their squad. Out with the old, in with the new. Akpom and Ajayi are set to be joined by former Arsenal trainee Chuks Aneke – now playing for S.V. Zulte Waregem in Belgium – in the new look Nigeria squad.
This decision by Akpom and Ajayi is likely to see there Arsenal career’s ended before it has even started.
For a long time, Arsene Wenger has not been a fan of the African Cup of Nations. Held every two years, it takes players away from clubs for 6-8 weeks. It then usually takes the club another few weeks to get players match fit again after the tournament – inadequate training regimes and the climate result in players losing fitness during the tournament.
Interestingly, in Arsenal’s current squad, they do not have a single African player. This shows a conscious decision by the club to not be disadvantaged by the African Cup of Nations by not having any African players in their side.
Now if a player was a global star – Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Nwankwo Kanu – you could take the hit on the chin. Lose the player for 2 months, knowing you get his talent for the rest of the year.
But if the player is a bit part team member – Gervinho, Alex Song, Obi Mikel – it is just not worthwhile carrying him, and losing him for key periods of the season where he can be rotated in.
Nigeria have failed to make the 2015 competition. By 2017, Akpom and Ajayi could both be key members of Arsenal’s first team squad, providing quality back up to the starters. It is unlikely that Wenger will be too happy with both swanning off to Africa for 2 months just as the season is hotting up.
The likely solution? Ajayi and Akpom will be moved on, and replaced by 2 players who won’t leave every 2 years for 2 months.
At this point, neither youngster might not realise the consequence of their decision to declare for Nigeria, but I am sure in this summer, they will soon find out.