It may seem like a long way away at present, but Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Asia commences in around three weeks time, and manager Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff will have some difficult decisions to make regarding which youngsters will make the trip.
Arsenal will play four fixtures during the tour, with games scheduled against an Indonesian Dream Team, Vietnam, Nagoya Grampus Eight and Urawa Red Diamonds before returning home to take part in the Emirates Cup.
Arsenal’s first-team squad, including players who have returned from loan spells, currently consists of 30 players, although several individuals are not expected to play a prominent role in the club’s pre-season plans, which could open the door for several of those on the fringes of the squad.
Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Frimpong are currently injured and will miss the trip, whilst Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal are unlikely to be involved as a consequence of their involvement with Spain at the Confederations Cup. In addition, there are serious question marks over the immediate futures of Andre Santos, Johan Djourou, Marouane Chamakh, Ju-Young Park and Nicklas Bendtner, with all five players deemed surplus to requirements, whilst Costa Rican winger Joel Campbell is poised to head out on loan again.
All of the above dictates that, as things stand, and provided no further injuries are ascertained during the first week of pre-season, there are 20 players who seem near-certainties for a place on the plane to Asia:
Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski, Jack Wilshere, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Lukasz Fabianski, Francis Coquelin, Vito Mannone, Carl Jenkinson, Gervinho, Kieran Gibbs, Ryo.
The club usually take around 23 players on the tour, but that number could be extended this year due to an extra game being played. As for the members of the U21 squad hoping to make the trip, Hector Bellerin will miss out through his participation at the U19 European Championships, but Ignasi Miquel, with 14 first-team appearances to his name, is likely to travel, whilst Wenger may wish to provide Chuks Aneke, back from a successful loan spell at Crewe Alexandra, with another chance to shine.
Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom, Nico Yennaris and Thomas Eisfeld, all of whom have been involved with the first-team squad in some capacity in recent months, will all be hopeful of a call-up, whilst Isaac Hayden would be a good outside bet following a highly impressive season that saw him train with the senior side on several occasions.
It will also be interesting to see exactly what plans the coaching staff have in store for Gedion Zelalem. The Germany U16 midfielder featured four times for the U21s towards the end of the season and showed glimpses of his undoubtedly vast potential without ever really dominating proceedings. There had been some suggestions that Zelalem could be promoted to the first-team squad as early as this summer, but his development would probably be best served in the U21s for now.