When Arsenal released a plethora of youngsters in the summer, questions were raised regarding whether the club would even be able to field a side capable of performing at U21 level, but Tuesday’s victory over Aston Villa demonstrated that coach Steve Gatting still has a whole range of options to choose from when selecting his second-string squad.
Against Villa, Gatting was able to call upon a starting line-up with a combined total of 33 appearances for the Arsenal first-team to their name, whilst regulars such as Chuba Akpom and Kristoffer Olsson were restricted to places on the bench.
When it is also considered that Zak Ansah and Zach Fagan are both still injured, whilst Anthony Jeffrey, Daniel Boateng, Gedion Zelalem, Hector Bellerin, Jack Jebb, Glen Kamara, Deyan Iliev, Tafari Moore, Leander Siemann, Renny Smith, Alex Iwobi and Jamaal Raage were all either on international duty or left out of the squad entirely, the strength in depth that the club possesses at this level becomes apparent.
Part of the reason for this surfeit of talent is the fact that, in comparison to previous seasons, the club have rather few players out on loan at present, with Ignasi Miquel, Damian Martinez, Chuks Aneke, Wellington, Josh Vickers and Austin Lipman the only players from outside the first-team squad who are currently on temporary transfer.
The loan transfer window for Football League clubs closes on November 28th, and, with Arsenal’s participation in the Capital One Cup over, it seems likely that some of the more experienced U21 players will go out on loan in the next couple of weeks.
One outstanding candidate for a loan spell is Thomas Eisfeld, with the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder having turned in a commendable performance against Aston Villa. Now regularly deployed in an attacking midfield role, the German is becoming increasingly involved in the build-up play as well as regularly contributing with goals and assists. That said, he will turn 21 in January and still lacks any experience of English league football, with a loan spell, perhaps at a Championship club, being the perfect opportunity for him to prove his worth.
Nico Yennaris, meanwhile, would also benefit from a spell elsewhere. The defensive-midfielder’s time with Notts County in 2012 was curtailed by illness, and, now 20, he is in need of regular football. It has been notable that Yennaris has trained with the first-team regularly this season since recovering from injury, suggesting that he still remains highly regarded by Arsene Wenger, who handed the youngster his Premier League debut against Manchester United two seasons ago.
Benik Afobe, perhaps once he has completed a couple more U21 matches, is also capable of playing at a far higher level, and has already experienced his fair share of loan spells with lower-league clubs. There have been some suggestions, however, that it would be preferable for Afobe to stay at Arsenal until January at least in case he is required for the first-team given the current lack of striking options.
Another player in need of a loan spell, but for rather different reasons to those listed above, is defender Daniel Boateng, who has entered the final year of his contract at the club and will be released in the summer. Boateng started the season in the starting line-up for the U21s, but has been increasingly marginalised in recent weeks, with 16 year old centre-back Julio Pleguezuelo being preferred to start instead. Boateng, who barely featured during spells with Swindon Town and Oxford United, will be seeking to find a club where he will be guaranteed regular game time in the hope of earning a permanent move next summer.