Assessing Arsenal’s young professionals- who is closest to the first-team squad?

It does not need to be reiterated here just how harrowing the events at the Coral Windows Stadium were last night for everybody connected to Arsenal Football Club as the Gunners crashed out of the Capital One Cup at the Quarter-Final stage.

The defeat to Bradford does, however, bring an end to the possibility of members of the club’s U21 squad receiving run-outs in the remainder of the competition this season. Last night’s game was, incidentally, the first time since the Carling Cup Final defeat to Birmingham City in 2011 that no players from outside the first-team squad earned a call-up for a fixture in this competition.

It also, as we reach the mid-way point of a hectic season, provides an appropriate time to assess which youngsters are currently closest to breaking into the first-team squad, especially with several members of Terry Burton’s U21 side having featured in the victories over Coventry City and Reading, whilst others have also received run-outs in the Premier League and Champions League.

At present there are 77 full-time players on the club’s books, including scholars. If those currently out on loan are included, then 32 of those players are part of the first-team squad, leaving 35 young professionals and 10 scholars. 

Of the first-team players, six of them (Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Johan Djourou, Emmanuel Frimpong and Nicklas Bendtner) came through the Arsenal Academy and, at present, Serge Gnabry appears likely to be the next player to join them in making the step-up to the first-team with the German winger, who is currently out injured, having featured in all three major competitions for the club so far this season, with the expectation that further senior appearances will follow in the second half of the campaign.

The table on the right lists all of Arsenal’s young professionals in order of how close they appear, at present, to the first-team squad. It is not entirely accurate and is the consequence of much guesswork but is based on team selections this season and each player’s current standing within the club.

Gnabry’s compatriot Thomas Eisfeld can also be deemed to be on the fringes of the first-team squad, even if he wasn’t involved last night, with Wenger stating recently that the former Borussia Dortmund youngster is likely to feature in the Premier League at some stage this campaign.

Others who remain paramount in Wenger’s thinking include young defenders Jernade Meade and Martin Angha, who featured against Olympiacos last week, as well as Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris, who received Premier League minutes last campaign but have both been hampered by injuries this time around.

17 year old striker Chuba Akpom, who has enjoyed an impressive breakthrough season so far as the lead striker for the U21s, has also been spoken about by Wenger in glowing terms recently, with the expectation being that the England youth international, should he continue his progression, could be part of the senior squad as early as next season.

If it transpires, that would spell  bad news for Benik Afobe, another player long admired by Wenger, but who, for various reasons is yet to fully prove his worth out on loan. Chuks Aneke, meanwhile, has impressed on loan at Crewe Alexandra this season, but it is not currently clear whether his performances in League One will be sufficient to earn him a place in Arsenal’s long-term plans.

Midfielder Conor Henderson also still has much promise, but injury is continuing to ravage his career and, most recently, has prevented him from making an impact at Coventry City. Several other loanees who have made first-team appearances for Arsenal, the likes of Daniel Boateng, Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond will likely see their associations with the club come to an end when this season reaches its conclusion, whilst goalkeeper James Shea, despite his impressive form of late, is likely to be let go due to fierce competition, especially from Damian Martinez.

Hector Bellerin, Elton Monteiro, Sead Hajrovic and Zak Ansah have all earned first-team call-ups this season, although, of those, only Bellerin and Ansah seem capable of carving out long-term careers at the club, whilst silky midfielders Jon Toral and Kristoffer Olsson should receive some first-team game time next season, if not earlier. Holland youngster Kyle Ebecilio, currently sidelined, also falls into that category.

Then come the group of youngsters for whom it is difficult to envisage a breakthrough at the club. The likes of Samir Bihmoutine, Josh Rees and Nigel Neita have struggled to earn regular game time for the U21s this season, whilst Jordan Wynter is still working his way back from injury, but will have to compete with the impressive Isaac Hayden for a place in the side. Goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook has quality but, following the signing of Deyan Iliev, also has much competition, whilst Philip Roberts has shone at Inverness Caledonian Thistle but is still a long way from making the grade at the Emirates Stadium.

Wellington and Samuel Galindo, meanwhile, continue to struggle for regular game time out on loan and have had persistent work permit problems, despite the Brazilian in particular possessing considerable quality.

In all, there seem to be four main groups within Arsenal’s young professionals at present- those on the cusp of the first-team squad, players likely to depart in the near future, those who know their chance to shine will come soon enough and others who, at present at least, seem extremely far away from making the breakthrough. As has been shown in the past, however, all this can change rather quickly.





  1. The player I’ve been most impressed with over the past season is Yenarris. He has everything you’d want in a defensive central midfielder or fullback, bar height. A bit similar to Coquelin, perhaps, but he looks like a leader to me – something we could do with at the moment. Still, he’s a strong player who is adept at winning the ball back for his side (as good as any of our fullbacks from what I’ve seen) and has the energy to make attacking runs as well.
    I’m really hoping to see Akpom get some 1st team matches soon. Haven’t seen much of him, but he seems to be heavily involved in every match report. If he is as good as he sounds, it could be curtains for Afobe at Arsenal, but I think Benik is more of a finisher than Akpom, and it’s possible one or both could contribute a lot from the wings.
    Eisfeld looks class as well, but I’ve not been quite so impressed with Gnabry so far. He appears to be ahead of the others mostly because he’s physically strong enough to cope. Time will tell of course and I’m sure there’s more to come from him (not like he’s had a serious crack at the 1st team yet!).

  2. i’m happy to see that yennaris is well regarded…whenever i’ve seen him he has looked quality.

    afobe seems to be dropping away from the first team picture though…i’d like to see him being given a shot. i’d have him in the squad now over chamakh.

  3. I was very disappointed that Eisfeld missed out last night. However, mighty impressed with Coquelin. His best game by far, and unlucky to be taken off when he was? I too hope that Yennaris gets his chance when he clears his injury. Despite lack of height he can leap for headers surprisingly well.
    From the list, apart from those mentioned at the top, I want to see Bellerin develop as a winger. He has pace and trickery. Nice as it is to have that in a full back, I just feel he would be more potent played higher up the pitch, and just use his defending as a bonus?
    Another who should be encouraged to hone his skills as the defensive midfielder protecting the back four is Hayden. That could add to his versatility along the back four.
    I would be sorry to see Charles-Cook lose out based on his recent performances. Many will have to go elsewhere, but if they knuckle down with teams in the lower divisions they could still make it back to the premiership one day.

    1. Agree Coquelin shouldn’t have come off. He was the only one playing with some intelligence. The rest were trying, but ended up running around like headless chickens; Coq was winning the ball and making intelligent, timed runs, which could have been fruitful if allowed to continue. He was our best player yesterday, but it wasn’t his best game. When he played against City in the cup last season there was little to choose between him and the vastly experienced De Jong, and he’s played well in other games against strong opposition as well.

  4. Gr8 read,The only thing having watched the last U21 match ,I would say you should start moving Issac Hayden’s name higher up that list,he’s the DM weve been lacking for years(Even wears Viera’s number#4). My list Gnabry/Meade/Eisfeld/Akpom/Hayden/Toral,theyre built to play in the Premier league right now ,no to mention they have the talent of course(I’m a HUGE fan of Akpom & Hayden)

  5. Whats the story with Wellington? You said he has considerable quality but genuinely, where has he shown it? I’m not being a twunt, I just have not seen him playing.

    1. He hasn’t played a lot at Ponferradina (he’s only started one game there) but when he has featured he’s often been one of the best players on the pitch. That’s in the Spanish second division, though, so difficult to judge if he could transfer that to a bigger stage. He really needs to get his work permit issue sorted out first, though.

      1. Thats what I dont understand, if he is one of the best players on the pitch when he features, why isn’t he featuring regularly? I read something about him being a party animal but that could be just the gutter redtops seeing him come out of a restaurant with his missus

  6. Great point there from Gunner 17 about Afobe. He reminds me of a young Kevin Campbell and thats what we need instead of Chamakh, a young rottweiler coming off the bench, Arsenal through and through that would go through a wall to get on the end of a cross.

    1. THe most impressive part of Afobe’s game that I’ve seen in his 1st team matches are his movement and hold-up play. Generally not too flashy, but can control difficult passes and brings others into play expertly. He needs to transfer the finishing ability he has evidently shown at youth and reserve levels to 1st team matches before he can really be considered a strong candidate for the Arsenal 1st team imo.

  7. Thank you!!!:D Someone mentioned the City match where Coquelin outplayed their midfield!!! I watched the Bradford match (the first half) over again, and I was really impressed with him.

    I know this might sound crazy, but with Diame injured, would we possibly turn to Frimpong, or play Coquelin more if we can’t afford someone like Pedro Obiang or Acqua from Italy??? How has Frimpong been doing at Charlton??? I only saw one review and it said he played well…but I don’t know how much he’s been playing, or if he is even still fit.

  8. have to say, i would have galindo rock bottom of that pile with wellington in 34. neither has done anything to make the home office want to grant them a permit.

    as for the current state of things, even after a record clearout last season, we still have a very poor 32 man first team squad that are not better than a division two side on their day and a huge 45 man academy squad. i have to say as well, i am not overly upbeat about the quality lieing there either.

    i know one result doesnt make a crisis, but when you put out 8 of your best X1 and they cant beat bradford you do have serious problems, especially when the manager comes out and says we could not have done anymore. is he right? cos in a way that is a right dig at the board, from the sly old fox.

    roll on monday, lets hope we can get back in the saddle quickly.

  9. Chamkah will go away and gervinho too. That will make Akpom and Ansah serious contenders. If we use Walcott as the central striker then he better score those goals!

    Afobe is competing against former PL players which is very hard for a young man. But his chances is definitely not over at Arsenal. At the moment we got Ansah, Akpom and Afobe who look really promising. If one of then take the chance that will still make room for others because there is no way in hell a 18-19 years old can even make half a season alone as a striker at Arsenal. Giroud has’t been looking amazing to me.

    We must buy in January. 2 strikers are leaving and one of them will leave in the summer anyway. A new striker is a must have. Walcott, bendtner and Park seems to leave too.. Come on… whoever tried to get quality for Arsenal the past 2-3 years is doing something seriously wrong! We have 1 or 2 real strikers in the team. 2-3 real wingers…. 1 real LB.

    I have been a big fan of Wenger the past 4-5 years but since 2 seasons ago I have had my doubts. when we decide to go plus economically but minus in quality.

  10. To be honest with the amount of terrible players we have in our first team squad i would be insulted if i was one these players on this list who is predicted not to make the first team squad. I can name at least 5 players that will be more effective than chamakh, gervinho, mannone, squillaci, djourou and ramsey on one of his really bad days. After the game against bradford i think some ‘first teamers’ should be looking over thier shoulder.

    1. If you wants to name youngsters than 1 or 2 games doesn’t really matter. Its more about at least half a season. and you really don’t know if they would do a great job unless you play them in the highest division… considering how terrible our youngsters is on loan i doubt they will be great here. But at least give them a chance to prove it, like Eisfield. I can’t believe wenger was so desperate to win the capital one cup that none of our youngsters was in the game.

      I think Wenger should go. Its insane how we manage to keep shit players and only think of their development instead of our performance. We keep terrible players and we play terrible players for too damn long. Bendtner and Arshavin was a joke for too many season now. Walcott is another example.

      I am so tire of this shit. Saying we don’t have the money so lets play the shit players like bendtner. Athletico madrid bought a player worth 35+M. We can afford to bid 30M for Goetze but we can’t spend 15M on a fucking good striker. It makes no fucking sense to me.

  11. Only few wit real potential & patience will make it here or elsewhere 4 me i think gnabry akpom eisfeld olsson bellerin miquel yennaris martinez afobe aneke angha meade hayden toral & BOO are de promisin one bt among them if half can make it dats will be gr8t

  12. I would have Bellerin further up, tbh. Think he has a real chance, especially if Sagna goes. We may as well have Afobe back in January, especially if Henry is the only attacker we sign. Get Afobe and Akpom on the bench, and on the pitch. For me, as much as I like the pair, i just cannot see Yennaris or Meade making it. Yennaris is not good enough in CM, imo, and we have better. He should have made a go of it at RB. Meade is decent at LB, decent at LW, but nothing special in either.
    In conclusion I would say Gnabry, Eisfeld, Bellerin, Afobe, Akpom and Olsson would be my top 6. I like what I have seen of Hayden and Toral, cannot see Martinez making it with Szczesny at the club, Miquel has got injured at the wrong time, could be costly. Out of the other young CBs Angha is the only one who looks half decent, tbh. The rest are not going to make it, or are too new to things to be judged.

  13. Olsson looks a cut above everyone else when he has the ball. His ball retention and distribution skills are nearly immaculate, although at times I’ve seen him try the spectacular when the more simpler play is on, but he should learn from his mistakes and improve that. It’s not that he cannot do the spectacular, but he’ll know exactly when to do it, and when not to.

    1. Olsson and Eisfeld for me are the most naturally gifted footballers we have coming through, for their combination of technique, intelligence and vision. They know when to release it quickly and when to hold back and wait a moment before making the pass. And then the execution is often excellent, timed and angled to give the receiver the best chance of controlling it cleanly and keep the move flowing. They don’t just get the ball from A to B, they show an appreciation for ‘flow’ and manipulating space.

  14. Yeah, I agree…I don’t know if they’ll both make it, but they do seem to be the most technically gifted. I don’t know who scouted Eisfeld, but they found a gem there!!! Olsson as well, but we weren’t the only ones after him. He was a more obvious prospect than Eisfeld. That doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, it just means they came to our attention in different ways.

    1. I think Eisfeld’s injury problems and subsequent patchy form put off a lot of suitors. From what I read he was as highly rated as Gotze was when they played together in the youth teams. I also can’t say with any confidence if either Eisfeld or Olsson will make it, they are very gifted but there must be doubts about their fitness moving forward. Eisfeld was superb in pre-season and when he came on against Reading so it seems he’s being held back for fear of injuring him, he looks perfectly ready in every other respect to me. I’d like to see more of him but if the coaches want to play it safe and keep building his strength, resistance, agility, balance, etc. as much as possible to make sure he can handle that step up, whenever it comes, then I fully support that. Olsson has added some bulk but he’s still slight and he looks like he’ll always be a naturally skinny guy, so his technical ability will have to be fantastic to handle the Premier League if he struggles to hold off opposition players. He also doesn’t seem like the quickest, might be another physical disadvantage he will have to overcome.

  15. Jorge,

    Where does Ryo fit into the picture? Surely his age would have him included among these youngsters. Or was he left off because he’s already considered a first-teamer?

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