In the last few seasons, despite the loss of talented individuals such as Daniel Crowley, Chris Willock and Serge Gnabry, a lot of work has been done to ensure those worthy enough are able to smoothly transition from the youth teams to senior level.
The past three seasons have seen both Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi become firm figures in the first team whilst Francis Coquelin, once of the academy, was able to make use of his loan experiences and come back a useful ball-winning alternative player. This season should see the opportunity of game time increase with the Europa League potentially throwing up some ‘easier’ European ties.
“I will always play a team that has a good chance to win the next game. In the Europa League, if we can afford sometimes to rest some players, we will do it. But we have to adapt to the level of the competition and see first what kind of group we play in.” – Arsene Wenger speaking on his sides upcoming adventure in the Europa League
A few youthful faces on the fringes will be raring to grasp an opportunity if one comes their way. Reine-Adelaide featured in domestic cup competitions last season but will need to really tie down his talents and ensure consistency if his long term future is to be in red and white. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was another player who played in cup competitions but only featured for one singular minute of Premier League football, against Sunderland. His ability to play wingback and in midfield will see him pushed further up the pecking order with the new 3-4-3 system utilised by Wenger; Maitland-Niles acting as a more than viable option if Oxlade-Chamberlain is sold or if injuries deplete the squad.
Whilst Krystian Bielik and Cohen Bramall seem to be edging towards well needed loan deals, two youngsters that made the step up in pre season both impressed the boss. Wenger, speaking after his sides pre-season victory over Sydney FC had this to say about Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson, “It’s a bit early but what they have shown tonight is they have a chance to be very, very close to the first team.”
The upcoming season should see Joe Willock, younger brother of the now Benfica owned Chris, remain in the youth set up having featured mainly for the U-18s. The increase in quality is too much at this early stage but mixing with the U23s can only be a benefit. Reiss Nelson on the other hand is an imperious talent. Nelson, an attack minded 17-year-old, featured heavily at wingback in the Gunners pre-season schedule and was arguably the most impressive of the lot. The London born teenager is more than used to playing above his age range, playing over 1000 minutes for the U23s last season and heavily influencing Arsenal’s run in the UEFA Youth league. It wasn’t just fans heaping praise on to Nelson with Wenger describing the winger as “A young player from our academy and he has had an encouraging pre-season. He has shown that he can dribble, go past people and he isn’t fazed by the occasion.”
Wenger looks set to utilise the academy amidst the organised chaos of playing in four competitions including the much maligned Europa League. “We have some young players who will join the squad next season” he said, “Like Reiss Nelson, like Ainsley Maitland-Niles already. So they are two players. So we have quality players who might have a chance next season and hopefully we will be able to do that again because that’s part of the DNA of the club as well.” Nelson and Maitland-Niles will be hopeful of chances this season as Bellerin and Iwobi were in the not so distant past; combining with Wilshere, Gibbs and Coquelin, a strong academy presence rings through the squad. No-one can predict the future but opportunities and support will have to be grasped upon if it is to be as bright as possible.
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