A couple of years ago the very idea of an Arsenal youngster heading on loan to a non-league club in order to further his development would have seemed a rather alien concept. Now, however, it is becoming an increasingly regular practice, with sprightly winger Anthony Jeffrey heading to Conference South side Boreham Wood on a short-term loan.
Jeffrey certainly made an instant impression. The 19 year old scored on his debut against Berkhamsted in the Hertfordshire Senior Cup last night, whilst also setting up a goal for fellow Arsenal loanee Austin Lipman, who added another goal late on.
In additon, goalkeeper Josh Vickers, who is still in the second year of his scholarship at the club, is, rather than featuring for the U18s and occasionally making the bench for the U21s, receiving regular game time at Canvey Island, with the goalkeeper having turned in some outstanding performances already this season.
For the three youngsters listed above, their loan spells outside of the English Football League system are likely to have a myriad of benefits. They can experience regular football at a relatively competitive level whilst still being able to feature for the Arsenal development teams on occasion under the terms of their youth loan. They are also surely likely to benefit from having to cope with the increased physicality of non-league football and, whilst they are away, Arsenal can hand chances to other youngsters at U21 and U19 levels.
Jeffrey was certainly in need of a loan spell, with the winger having been somewhat isolated from the U21 set-up in recent weeks despite featuring three times at that level in the opening months of the campaign. The Hale End product has found himself usurped by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a player almost three years younger than him, and, despite signing a professional contract in the summer, has been unable to put the experience that he gained during a short spell with Stevenage last season to good use.
Lipman, too, is reaping the benefits of playing regular football. Having greatly impressed for Arsenal in the UEFA Youth League, he has since been handed a starting berth at Boreham Wood, whilst he would still have been behind the likes of Benik Afobe and Chuba Akpom in the pecking order. The fact that Arsenal’s development sides play the majority of their home fixtures at Boreham Wood is also beneficial in terms of alerting that particular club to the potential that some of the Arsenal youngsters have.
With Arsenal possessing so many promising talents at youth level, not all of them can be afforded regular match action, and, as Jeffrey, Lipman and Vickers have shown, non-league loans can offer a worthwhile temporary solution.