With Arsenal’s scholarship intake for next season confirmed, we now have a better idea of what the club’s U18 squad will look like.
Ken Gillard’s side didn’t have the best of times in 2019/20 as they were ninth in the southern section when the league was halted; a far cry from when they won the division title in the previous campaign. They were also eliminated in the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup as they lost to Blackburn Rovers.
There will be many changes to the squad ahead of next season. Firstly, the following players are no longer eligible to play for the U18s: Ben Cottrell, Sam Greenwood, Joel Lopez and Ryan Alebiosu.
Here’s a breakdown of who could feature for the U18s in each position.
Rules state that clubs are permitted to field an U19 goalkeeper in league games at this level, meaning Karl Hein, Arthur Okonkwo and Tom Smith could still feature. Hein is highly unlikely to play given that he is the first-choice custodian for the U23s, but Okonkwo could get some much-needed game time as he hasn’t played for over a year due to personal issues. Smith, meanwhile, could possibly be sent out on loan to gain further experience.
Hubert Graczyk is likely to remain as the main shot-stopper for the U18s – he made 12 league appearances this season and will be hoping to earn a professional contract.
Remy Mitchell, who first featured for the U18s as an U15 player, is now a full-time scholar and will hope to get his fair share of action. The Hale End product is a player with much potential.
Ovie Ejeheri, meanwhile, didn’t play at all during his first season as a scholar, with injuries not helping his cause. He will be aiming to get some game time this time around.
In the event that the U18s are short of options in the goalkeeping department, they could turn to either Alex Kovacevic or Jamie Telfer, both of whom have already been called up at this level.
Daniel Oyegoke enjoyed a productive first season as a scholar and is likely to start the new campaign as the first-choice in this position for the U18s.
Oyegoke could progress into the U23 setup (having already featured for them), which would open up a space in the side for highly-rated first-year scholar Brooke Norton-Cuffy. Levi Laing can also be used in this position (as well as at centre-back or in midfield).
Mazeed Ogungbo has been on the fringes of the U23 side and has captained the U18s on occasion. He could partner Alex Kirk, who gave a good account of himself this season and was also called up to the U23s.
Zane Monlouis is now a full-time scholar having gained plenty of experience for Gillard’s team last season and will also be under consideration to start most games.
Other options include Jason Sraha, who was unfortunate with injury in his first season at the club, and new scholars Zach Awe and Taylor Foran, both of whom have caught the eye at schoolboy level.
Ogungbo is capable of playing at left-back, but the more natural option in that position is first-year scholar Henry Jeffcott.
Miguel Azeez is still eligible to feature at this level and could still be involved in the FA Youth Cup, but he has, in the main, stepped up to the U23s.
Charlie Patino, who has already trained with the first-team and is an excellent prospect, should be a regular at the base of the midfield. He could play alongside Mauro Bandeira, who broke into the U18 side towards the end of last season.
Arsenal can also call upon the likes of James Lannin-Sweet and Jack Henry-Francis as creative options, while Luigi Gaspar is capable of providing tenaciousness.
Highly-rated schoolboys Sydie Peck, and Bradley Ibrahim could step up towards the end of the season.
Catalin Cirjan has been promoted to the U23s, leaving a vacancy in the number ten position. That could be filled by Marcelo Flores, who has developed very well since he joined Arsenal from Ipswich Town.
Nathan Butler-Oyedeji gave a good account of himself in his first year as a scholar and will be eager to push on further.
Kido Taylor-Hart will hope to put his injury problems behind him and play regularly, while Omari Giraud-Hutchinson (who can also play as a number ten) and Charles Sagoe Jr are alternatives.
Luke Plange is likely to lead the line, initially at least, as he aims to earn an extended stay at the club. Khayon Edwards and Billy Vigar should also receive opportunities. Schoolboy Kieran Petrie, who can also play out wide, is another option.
Possible strongest U18 team (FA Youth Cup)
Subs: Mitchell, Sraha, Jeffcott, Bandeira, Taylor-Hart, Giraud-Hutchinson, Edwards
Possible league team
Butler Oyedeji-Flores-Taylor Hart
Subs: Mitchell, Sraha, Gaspar, Giraud-Hutchinson, Edwards.