One of the prevalent criticisms of the Arsenal Academy is the perceived preferential treatment afforded to foreign youngsters, but, in the case of 17 year old Julio Pleguezuelo, the club can be lauded for prising away one of Barcelona’s most talented prospects from their La Masia set-up.
Signed amidst considerable publicity last summer, Pleguezuelo’s first performance in an Arsenal shirt did not exactly go to plan. Paired with the hapless Algerian trialist centre-back Ramy Bensebaini, he was part of a young side that suffered a 7-0 defeat to Luton Town in a pre-season friendly at Kenilworth Road.
A week later, however, Pleguezuelo began to underline his true credentials when an Arsenal XI travelled to face Colchester United. His side was once again on the receiving end of a heavy scoreline, with Colchester prevailing 5-1, but the Spanish defender demonstrated glimpses of his undoubted ability as he brought the ball out well from the back and also made a couple of impressive defensive interventions.
Injuries have slowed his progress a little so far this campaign, but, when possible, it seems clear that the club are determined to afford him as many opportunities as they can at U21 level, with Pleguezuelo being preferred to the likes of Zach Fagan and Stefan O’Connor.
After an injury-interrupted debut against Aston Villa, Pleguezuelo has now racked up four appearances for the second-string, with another outing set to follow when Southampton visit London Colney tomorrow afternoon. Despite not being the tallest, the youngster, who can also play at right-back as well as in his preferred central-defensive position, has coped very well so far, particularly standing out during the U21 Premier League Cup victory away to Chelsea last Monday.
For a player in the first year of his scholarship, and when his spell on the sidelines earlier in the season is taken into account, Pleguezuelo’s progression during his first half a season in North London has been mightily impressive. It is not just at club level that he has made great strides, however, as he has recently stepped up to represent the Spanish U18 side, claiming an assist this week in their 1-0 win over the United States.
Pleguezuelo is expected to sign his first professional contract in the near future. That would have happened regardless of his progression, but, in truth, is just the latest in a series of milestones for the former Barcelona player.