Arsenal’s youngsters will have little time to reflect on last night’s commendable victory over CSKA Moscow at Emirates Stadium, but, before thoughts turn to Chelsea and Lake Como on Friday, time should be taken to reflect on the progression of a player who has developed rather under the radar since signing his scholarship deal at the start of last season.
Isaac Hayden does not always attract the same level of attention as the likes of Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom and Hector Bellerin, but, should he continue his current rate of progression, the 18 year old stands a very good chance of at least being provided with an opportunity to prove his worth in the first-team. His versatility is a certainly one of his key assets, with the England youth international featuring at centre-back last night, forging a resolute partnership with Sead Hajrovic, but also having featured as a defensive-midfielder, a right-back and, somewhat unusually, as a makeshift playmaker, over the past couple of seasons.
A decision will eventually have to be made regarding which of those positions suits Hayden best, but it seems at present that centre-back is perhaps the best option, given his composure on the ball, his intelligent reading of the game and his ability to lead the side from the back. The vast majority of Hayden’s performances this season, particularly in the NextGen Series, have been highly impressive, and a far cry from the tame individual who first came to the attention of the wider public by turning in a disappointing display on his debut for England U16s two seasons ago.
Whether it was just nerves that got to him on that occasion is difficult to prove, but it is hardly relevant now, such has been the progression of the former Southend United youngster since then. He was rewarded for his good form in the U18s last season with his first professional contract shortly after turning 17 and, this campaign, has slotted in seamlessly at U21 level whilst also training with the first-team on occasion as Arsene Wenger has become alerted to his development.
Success in the NextGen Series would be the perfect way to cap off the campaign for Hayden, but, whatever happens in the promised land of Lake Como, he will be able to look back on a hugely successful season and one that he will seek to build upon even further next campaign.
* Arsenal U21 goalkeeper James Shea is currently training with American side Colorado Rapids with a view to earning a permanent move at the end of the campaign. Shea, who has made the bench for the Arsenal first-team in all four senior competitions during his time at the club, is out of contract in the summer and is expected to be released alongside the likes of Conor Henderson, Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond. Having signed a scholarship deal in 2007, Shea attracted criticism early in his Arsenal career for his poor organisational skills, but developed into an impressive shot-stopper, making a memorable save against Manchester United Reserves at Old Trafford in 2011. He spent time on loan at Southampton and Dagenham & Redbridge, but made just four appearances, all with the latter club, during a short stay last season, and will seek to continue his career at Arsenal’s former link-club in America.