For a player who only made one substitute appearance in the Premier Academy League last season, this campaign has been a significant step up for the precocious talent that is Alban Bunjaku.
Bunjaku graduated from the famed Hale End Academy with a reputation for possessing superb technical ability and an excellent passing range. Naturally, many were eager to see how the Romford-born youngster would perform on the under-18 stage.
They were made to wait considerably longer than expected, however, as an injury picked up late last season continued to trouble Bunjaku over the summer and eventually resulted in him missing the first couple of months of the new campaign.
When he eventually recovered, however, Bunjaku’s impact was almost instant, as he found the net against Chelsea in just his second start, before further underlining his talents with a goal against Portsmouth and a hat-trick against West Ham. He has since gone on to score nine times this season, making him the under-18s joint top scorer along with Josh Rees.
Statistics, though, do not in themselves do justice to Bunjaku’s overall ability or the glimpses of genius that he has displayed on several occasions. His ability to carve open defences with acute through balls is remarkably canny to Jack Wilshere’s style and, although he may be lacking a little in terms of pace and physicality, he is capable of playing passes that some of his team-mates can only dream of.
In the first part of the season, Bunjaku usually operated as the playmaker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, similar to Cesc Fabregas’ role for the first-team, whilst, of late, he has been deployed just behind the two main strikers at the tip of a diamond midfield, where he is particularly effective as the freedom of the role, given that he has three midfielders to cover behind him, provides him with the space to weave his magic. Bunjaku has also played on the left flank on occasion, although he is less effective in that role as he possesses a natural tendency to cut inside which can leave his team vulnerable to counter-attacks.
Among the first of the current batch of first-years to be offered a scholarship, Alban now has his sights set on securing a professional contract at the club, a reward which will surely come his way if he continues his current rate of progression.
Yesterday he was able to tick off another box in his development as he made his debut for the Reserves against Wigan Athletic. Although the circumstances were not ideal, with the Gunners having gone down to ten men following the dismissal of Ignasi Miquel, Bunjaku was still able to gain valuable second-string experience, although, given the talent that he has displayed this season, it is somewhat surprising that such a feat did not come earlier in the campaign and even more puzzling still to ponder why he was overlooked for the FA Youth Cup.
Perhaps part of the thinking behind those decisions was to keep his feet on the ground given the hype that surrounds him, but Bunjaku’s talent is one that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Providing all goes well, he could be involved in the final two fixtures for the Reserves before heading off to America for the Dallas Cup. Following that, he would be entitled to enjoy a long summer break and, as far as next season is concerned, it is difficult not to see him laying down a case for a regular starting spot for the Reserves.
There are still some aspects of his game that require improvement, and he was particularly wasteful in front of goal for the under-18s against Tottenham last week but, in terms of his all round zest and ability, much can be expected of Alban Bunjaku in the future.