He was not exactly the stellar transfer deadline-day acquisition that many Arsenal supporters had been anticipating last summer, but, as he prepares for what will technically be his first full campaign at the club, goalkeeper Deyan Iliev could find himself closer to the first-team picture than he initially envisaged.
The signing of the 18 year old, who was signed from FK Belastica in his native Macedonia late last August, caused some initial confusion given the large quantity of young goalkeepers on the club’s books at the time, but, with James Shea and Reice Charles-Cook poised to become free agents on Monday, Iliev is now Arsenal’s second-choice goalkeeper at U21 level behind Damian Martinez.
Given that Martinez is likely to head out on loan at some point this campaign, the door is poised to open for Iliev, who has been capped by his country at various age-groups, to establish himself as the first-choice custodian for the second-string, although he will face considerable competition from Josh Vickers, who made his debut at that level against Wolverhampton Wanderers late last season.
Iliev himself has yet to experience U21 action for the Gunners, although he is likely to feature heavily in pre-season, and, depending on what occurs with Martinez (the Argentinian could be promoted to the first-team squad if either Lukasz Fabianski or Vito Mannone depart), Iliev could soon find himself edging ever closer to the senior set-up himself, with a place on the bench in the Capital One Cup this season not beyond the realms of possibility.
His first season at the club can be described as somewhat mixed. The goalkeeper amassed 13 appearances combined in the NextGen Series and U18s, including all three FA Youth Cup ties, but, despite demonstrating his impressive reflexes, it was evident from a very early stage that his distribution requires much improvement.
That is still an area of the game that first-team goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny needs to iron out, but Iliev also has additional problems to contend with; one of the goals he conceded against Chelsea in the semi-finals of the NextGen Series, for instance, should never have been allowed to slip past his grasp from long distance, whilst he will not look forward to taking on new signing Dan Crowley in training, having struggled to contend with the England U17 midfielder during the U18 league meeting against Aston Villa at London Colney.
That said, Iliev did impress on several other occasions, making some memorable stops in the earlier rounds of the NextGen Series, and will look to enjoy a more consistent campaign this time around. With Shea and Charles-Cook out of the frame, it could prove to be an eventful one for the Macedonian.