It was a hugely disappointing season for Arsenal U18s in terms of results, but one of the positives to emerge from the campaign was that several schoolboys gained valuable experience of playing at that level, albeit in difficult circumstances.
The majority of those U16 players will form the bulk of Arsenal’s new scholarship intake for next season. One player who won’t be joining them is goalkeeper Brad House, who has joined West Bromwich Albion having been told earlier in the season that he would be let go.
As well as being named on the bench four times for the U18s this season and a further four times for the U19s, House also played in the league defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur as well as the UEFA Youth League loss away to Anderlecht.
However, with Hugo Keto progressing well and George Phillips and Jordan Perrin set to provide cover next season, Arsenal are well stocked in the goalkeeping department at youth level.
House joins Owen Moore, Rugare Musendo, Tyler Hayles, Mich’el Parker, Kwai Marsh-Brown and Brooklyn Beckham in leaving the club. Moore and Musendo have already secured deals with Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton respectively, whilst Parker has joined Liverpool.
Where does that leave Arsenal’s scholarship intake? At present there will be seven Hale End products who will become full-time from July 1st, although it is worth bearing in mind that any of them could still leave before that date.
Arsenal’s new scholars:
Front row- (l-r) – Marcus Tabi, Nathan Tella, Charlie Gilmour
Back row- (l-r)- Tolaji Bola, Joe Willock, Edward Nketiah, Josh Da Silva
This is an intriguing group, but it must be said that, whilst it contains an abundance of attacking talents, Bola is the only defensive player included.
All seven players have been involved with the U18s this season and you can read more about each player below:
TOLAJI BOLA- Defender- Born: 4.1.99
A youngster who plays at centre-back or left-back, Bola, who is of no relation to fellow Arsenal defender Marc, already possesses experience of U18 football.
Good on the ball although occasionally a little rash in his decision making, Bola has been capped by England at U16 level.
JOSH DA SILVA – Striker- Born: 23.10.98
Capable of playing as a central striker or as an attacking midfielder, Da Silva has been a mainstay for the U18s this season and also made his UEFA Youth League debut as a substitute against Galatasaray.
A frequent goalscorer for the club at U16 level, he has found goals harder to come by for the U18s but he did find the net against Norwich City and will be hoping to score with more regularity next campaign. He is strong physically and possesses good link-up play.
CHARLIE GILMOUR- Midfielder- Born: 11.2.99
Once described by Liam Brady as one of the club’s most promising schoolboys, Gilmour has represented both Scotland at England at youth level.
A central-midfielder who is tidy in possession, he still has much to learn tactically, but he has been slowly bedded in to the U18 team this season and will hope to become a regular during 2015/16.
EDWARD NKETIAH- Striker- Born: 30.5.99
A diminutive but hard-working striker who has impressed for the U16s this season, Nketiah broke into the Arsenal U18 team midway through the season and has often been used on the left wing by coach Frans De Kat.
Very good technically, Nketiah scored whilst representing the club at the AlKass International Cup.
MARCUS TABI- Midfielder- Born: 2.2.99
Arguably the best performing Arsenal schoolboy this season, Tabi, who can play in central-midfield or out wide, has recently returned for the UEFA U17 European Championships, where he started all of the Republic of Ireland’s group stage matches.
He has also impressed for Arsenal U18s, notably scoring a good goal against Blackburn Rovers. Next season he is set to receive further game time at that level and may even push into the U21s as the campaign progresses.
NATHAN TELLA- Winger- Born: 5.7.99
A right-winger who fended off competition from Brooklyn Beckham to earn a scholarship deal, Tella turned in some commendable displays for the U18s in the second half of the season.
Quick and an intelligent decision maker, Tella was hugely impressive at the AlKass International Cup in Qatar.
JOE WILLOCK- Winger/central-midfielder- Born: 20.8.99
The younger brother of young professional Chris, Joe Willock will be hoping to show that he is an excellent talent in his own right.
A winger or central-midfielder, he scored for England U16s earlier in the campaign but has had to be patient for opportunities to represent Arsenal at U18 level. That should change next season, however, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to playing at a higher level.
These seven players will be a major part of next season’s U18 squad. They will be joined in that regard by some of the current first-years- Keto, Ilias Chatzitheodoridis, Kristopher Da Graca, Ben Sheaf, Harry Donovan, Savvas Mourgos and Aaron Eyoma.
The likes of Stephy Mavididi, George Dobson, Chiori Johnson, Kaylen Hinds, Marc Bola, Tyrell Robinson and Chris Willock will still be eligible for the U18s but should be more heavily involved with the U21s. Ryan Huddart will still be eligible to feature for the U18s in league matches as an overage goalkeeper.
Then there is a group of players- Reiss Nelson, Robbie Burton, Tobi Omole, Josh Benson, Perrin, George Phillips, Rob Howard and Emile Smith-Rowe- who will still be schoolboys next season but will hope to play at least some games for the U18s (Nelson should be heavily involved).
That could still leave Arsenal’s U18 squad looking a little light in some areas, though, which is where the potential new signings come in. Kostas Pileas, a Cypriot youth international centre-back who has impressed on trial at the club, is likely to join, whilst this week there were (as yet unconfirmed) reports that French attackers Yassin Fortune and Jeff Reine-Adelaide will also sign.
There still hasn’t been any word whether Martin Graiciar, a highly regarded striker from the Czech Republic, will indeed be joining the club, despite a deal appearing close to conclusion earlier this year. Arsenal have also included two further trialists from their Elite academy in Greece in their squad for the Geneva Cup, an U16 tournament which gets underway today.
Konstantinos Balagiannis and Marko Divkovic have linked up with the team for the tournament.
With the above information in mind, Arsenal’s U18 squad for next season could look something like this:
JOHNSON – DOBSON – DA GRACA- M. BOLA
Eyoma – Omole-T. Bola-Chatzitheodoridis
DONOVAN – SHEAF
HINDS- C. WILLOCK- ROBINSON
Tella-Nelson- J. Willock
This is the strongest possible squad and will inevitably be much weaker for many U18 league fixtures.