We may only be two days into pre-season, but already we have been afforded some clues regarding which youngsters are closest to breaking into the first-team squad.
Nine members of the U21 setup trained with the senior side on Thursday and Friday, with Damian Martinez, Ignasi Miquel, Gedion Zelalem, Chuba Akpom, Thomas Eisfeld, Kristoffer Olsson, Chuks Aneke, Serge Gnabry and Nico Yennaris all hopeful of earning a place on the plane for the club’s pre-season tour of Asia.
However, with another batch of first-team players due to return to training on Monday, it is unlikely that all of those listed above will make the trip, with Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff instead being faced with the difficult task of deciding which of the promising starlets should be left at home and which should be granted further time in the first-team environment.
Hector Bellerin would have been a near-certainty for the trip were it not for international commitments, but Damian Martinez and Ignasi Miquel look set to be included. Who else makes the trip is, at present, anybody’s guess, but Zelalem’s continued selection to train with the first-team despite only just becoming a first-year scholar speaks volumes about how highly the 16 year old is regarded at the club.
Olsson was frustrated at his lack of first-team opportunities last season and perhaps deserves a chance to prove himself this time around off the back of an impressive campaign, whilst Akpom’s superb season, added to the fact that Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh and Ju-Young Park will most probably not travel, could enhance his chances of making the cut.
For those left at home, attention will immediately turn to the first U21 friendly of the summer, away to Sutton United on Friday. The Blue Square South side will welcome an Arsenal team that could include Wellington, who has been training with the second-string this week. The 20 year old Brazilian winger has yet to receive a work permit enabling him to play competitively in England, but is still allowed to play domestic friendlies. Samuel Galindo is also back at the club and could be involved in some capacity, but Benik Afobe and Jon Toral are still recovering from injuries sustained last season.
Given the relatively small size of the U21 squad following the release of several youngsters over the summer, some members of the U18 set-up are likely to be called upon to face Sutton. Alfred Mugabo, who recently became a full international with Rwanda, could start at right-back in the absence of Bellerin. Isaac Hayden, who surprisingly hasn’t been called to train with the first-team this week, could also be involved at the Borough Sports Ground.
PLAYERS LIKELY TO TRAVEL ON ASIA TOUR:
Goalkeepers: Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski
Right-back: Bacary Sagna, Carl Jenkinson
Centre-back: Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen
Left-back: Kieran Gibbs
Defensive-midfield: Mikel Arteta
Centre-midfield: Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky
Right-wing: Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Left-wing: Gervinho, Ryo
Striker: Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski
Plus 4/5 of: Damian Martinez, Ignasi Miquel, Gedion Zelalem, Kristoffer Olsson, Thomas Eisfeld, Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry, Chuks Aneke, Nico Yennaris.
International/rest: Yaya Sanogo, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal
Undecided future: Nicklas Bendtner, Ju-Young Park, Joel Campbell, Marouane Chamakh
Injured: Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Frimpong
Loan: Andre Santos, Johan Djourou, Francis Coquelin