It has been quite a memorable week or so for Serge Gnabry. The German youngster, who enjoyed a superb debut season at Arsenal following his move from Stuttgart, made his comeback for the Reserves against Stevenage at the weekend following a lengthy injury layoff and came close to scoring on two occasions, before it was confirmed today that he has signed his first professional contract having recently turned 17.
Foreign recruits do tend to be offered deals automatically, but in Gnabry’s case he surely earned his upgrade on merit as well. Having excelled in the under-18s, scoring seven goals in seven Academy League starts, he then broke into the Reserve side where he found the net twice in six appearances. His directness, skill and power have endeared him to regular watchers of Arsenal’s youngsters and, whilst it is true that there are occasions, such as the FA Youth Cup defeat to Derby County last season, where he can be rather ineffective, Gnabry’s promise, overall, is very high indeed.
This season, although still eligible for the under-18s, he is likely to play the majority of his football for the second string, as well as being heavily involved in the NextGen series. It is not completely out of the question that there will be some first-team involvement, either, with a place on the bench in the Capital One Cup not beyond the realms of possibility.
Manager Arsene Wenger spoke last week of the younger players at his disposal, saying: “We also have younger players who are 16 or 17, who are not with us on [the Asia] tour, who will certainly appear this season. We are faithful to what we want to do whicih is to promote young players and give them a chance at that level.”
You do not need a decoder, to use another of the Frenchman’s phrases, to work out that Gnabry is likely to be in the mix, with others possibly including the likes of Hector Bellerin, Jon Toral and Kris Olsson, with the latter having already featured at first-team level in the Markus Libeherr Cup this pre-season.
Another possible, and perhaps somewhat surprising candidate for a run-out at some stage is Chuba Akpom. The 16 year old first year scholar impressed as a schoolboy last season and, under new coach Terry Burton, has been used heavily for the Reserves so far this pre-season, edging out the likes of Sanchez Watt and Philip Roberts. Akpom still has much to work on in terms of his finishing, and was a victim of frequent fouling against Stevenage on Saturday, but is highly rated at the club for his blend of skill and directness.