There was so much going on at the Matchroom Stadium last night, as a spirited Arsenal XI fought their way back to draw 4-4 with Leyton Orient, that it was difficult to summarise everything succinctly, but one of the most significant sub-plots involved some of the youngsters who weren’t on show.
Of the eight players who travelled to Asia with the first-team squad, four of them: Chuba Akpom, Thomas Eisfeld, Kristoffer Olsson and Chuks Aneke, were involved last night, whilst the remaining quartet, consisting of Gedion Zelalem, Damian Martinez, Serge Gnabry and Ignasi Miquel, didn’t feature, suggesting that they will instead remain with the first-team for this weekend’s Emirates Cup fixtures against Napoli and Galatasaray.
There is also the possibility, meanwhile, that right-back Hector Bellerin could be involved in some capacity over the weekend following Spain’s exit from the UEFA U-19 European Championships, but it remains to be seen whether the 18 year old will be given extra time to rest following his international commitments.
It has been clear from the beginning of pre-season that Martinez and Miquel are two of the players who are closest to the first-team set-up, given the frequency with which they have trained with the senior side, but German youth internationals Gnabry and Zelalem will also receive additional chances to impress before the new campaign in the hope of earning a permanent promotion later this summer.
At first glance, Martinez and Miquel, provided there are no acquisitions in their respective positions, could be allocated a place in the first-team squad, with the Argentinian goalkeeper set to provide back-up to Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski, whilst Miquel, particularly in the absence of Thomas Vermaelen, will provide another option at centre-back, despite the fact that regular right-back Bacary Sagna has also been deployed in that position during pre-season.
Gnabry, too, could feasibly become a member of the squad, but he may first have to dislodge Ryo, with the Japanese youngster already officially part of the senior side. Manager Arsene Wenger spoke just last week about how he intends to keep Ryo at the club until January at least rather than sending him out on loan again, but, should Gnabry shine this weekend, then it is not beyond the realms of probability that the former Stuttgart player could usurp Ryo to provide a back-up option on the left flank.
Zelalem’s talent, meanwhile, is unquestionable following his composed displays in Asia, but, in terms of first-team options, he has the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla in his way at present. Wenger is certainly not averse to deploying youngsters in the senior set-up at the age of 16, however, and, regardless of whether he is promoted this summer or not, the midfielder will certainly see some senior game time this season in the Capital One Cup and possibly beyond.
As for those who find themselves on the fringes, perhaps the most unfortunate is Chuba Akpom, with the striker, who, it must be remembered is still technically a second-year scholar, having scored four goals in as many matches during the Asia Tour only to find himself back in the U21s following the signing of Yaya Sanogo. If Akpom remains patient, however, he will get his chances and the England U19 international could still have a prominent role to play in the club’s Capital One Cup campaign this season.
Eisfeld impressed in patches during the Tour, but, at the age of 20, is not as young as some of his contemporaries, and appears to be in need of a loan spell that could dictate whether he succeeds at the club in the long-term or not. Aneke, meanwhile, was impressive during the draw with Orient last night, but, with the midfield situation at the club so congested, not just in the first-team but with regards to players coming through the ranks, may have to head on loan for the third season in succession, possibly to a Championship side this time around.
Olsson, too, possesses much talent but will probably have to be content with a run in the Capital One Cup, with the same situation probably applying to Isaac Hayden, whilst Nico Yennaris will go out on loan.
For the quartet of Martinez, Miquel, Gnabry and Zelalem, however, first-team promotion could be well within their grasp.