It has long been known that Arsene Wenger takes considerable interest in the development of Arsenal’s many youngsters, but, this season, it seems as if the Frenchman has been affording opportunities to impress to a wider range of prospects than before.
There are always a batch of players who are on the cusp of the first-team squad, with the likes of Isaac Hayden, Chuba Akpom and Hector Bellerin currently falling into that category, but, this campaign, several other players have been invited to train with the senior side.
It was the turn of right-back Tafari Moore this week, with the 16 year old receiving a deserved reward for his performances for the club’s development sides this season. Still just 16, Moore has amassed six appearances for the U21 side, whilst also featuring in the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup.
Earlier this season winger Ainsley Maitland-Niles, another player who has made considerable progression during his first season as a scholar, trained with the first-team, with the hugely promising schoolboy Chris Willock doing likewise last month.
In addition, versatile attacker Alex Iwobi made the bench for the first-team’s Capital One Cup victory away to West Bromwich Albion in September, whilst centre-back Semi Ajayi has been a regular in Wenger’s training sessions since joining the club following a successful trial.
Wenger certainly seems to be taking a close look at each and every player coming through the ranks at the club, but it is Ajayi who could make the quickest elevation into the first-team. The 20 year old, who spent the majority of his formative years at Charlton Athletic, has started all 15 games at U21 level since joining the club and could be a genuine contender for a place in the senior squad next season, particularly given that the club is currently short of cover in his position.
A strong physical presence and a good reader of the game, Ajayi is not the most adept technically, but he has been rather impressive in his performances to date and, should he continue his progression, the Nigeria youth international may well be promoted next season, particularly if Ignasi Miquel departs.