Arsenal U18s reached the Semi-Finals of the FA Youth Cup this season for the first time in half a decade before being comprehensively outplayed by Chelsea in both legs, but what does the immediate future hold for the squad of 2013/14?
The goalkeeper was one of the major stars of the Youth Cup run as he made numerous spectacular saves, particularly during the victory away to Charlton Athletic. An uncharacteristic error enabled Chelsea to score on Thursday, but Vickers remains a hugely promising shot-stopper. He has spent the season on loan at Canvey Island, for whom he has been largely impressive, and will hope to feature regularly for Arsenal at U21 level next season, although he will face competition from Matt Macey and Deyan Iliev.
Another promising goalkeeper who signed his first professional contract with the club recently, Huddart was on the bench for all six of Arsenal’s Youth Cup ties this season. The England U17 international should be the first choice in this competition next season, whilst continuing to feature regularly in the U18 league games.
Another England U17 international, right-back Moore has made considerable strides this season, featuring for the U21 side as well as playing every minute of the Youth Cup run. Determined and possessing quick reactions, he does have some improvements to make tactically, but has a lot of raw talent and is also a threat in an attacking sense. Still eligible for the Youth Cup next season, he will also seek to establish himself as first-choice for the second-string, and is likely to sign a professional contract in the Summer.
Pleguezuelo has slotted in seamlessly at Arsenal since making a Summer switch from Barcelona. The centre-back is rather diminutive in stature but is quick across the ground and is an excellent reader of the game. He requires some development physically, but the Spanish U18 international is already a key player for Arsenal at U21 level and should receive plenty of further run-outs for the second-string next season.
Siemann has featured regularly for the various youth teams this season, amassing over 30 appearances in total, but the defender, who can play at right-back or centre-back, has largely struggled to convince. He had experienced a brief upturn in fortunes, but made several errors in the second-leg against Chelsea before being withdrawn. His contract expires in the Summer and is unlikely to be renewed.
Surprisingly overlooked for a place in the starting line-up for both legs of the Semi-Final, Hale End product O’Connor has also gained experience in the U21 league and the UEFA Youth League during the first year of his scholarship. A centre-back who is comfortable in possession, he is prone to occasional lapses in concentration, but should still step up to the U21 team on a regular basis next season.
For so long regarded as one of the club’s best prospects, Ormonde-Ottewill’s status has fallen a little recently following some disappointing performances. He has struggled defensively in recent weeks both positionally and in the timing of his challenges, although he is a considerable threat in the opposing penalty area. Already an U21 regular, he should continue at that level next season.
The stylish defensive-midfielder, who has represented Finland at U19 level, caught the eye in difficult circumstances against Chelsea on Thursday with his ability to break up play and also weave his way out of difficult situations when on the ball. He should be rewarded with a professional contract shortly, having made a combined total of 38 appearances for the various youth teams this campaign. A regular place in the U21 squad next season seems a certainty.
Promoted to the first-team squad at the age of 16, Zelalem has already made his competitive debut for the senior side, but some of his performances at youth level this season have left much to be desired, with the midfielder often a peripheral figure in games. His vision and ability to unlock defences with precise passes is clear, though, and it is hoped that, as he becomes a little stronger, we will see him dominate games more regularly. He looks set to feature in the Capital One Cup next season and could also be involved in other competitions, depending on his progression.
Another key performer in the Youth Cup run with three goals in the early rounds of the competition, winger Maitland-Niles has been one of Arsenal’s most consistently impressive players at youth level this season. Quick in his decision making and also willing to track back defensively, he has developed very well in the past twelve months. He will still play in the Youth Cup next campaign but will hope to be regularly involved with the U21 side.
A renowned set-piece specialist, Jebb has had to be patient for opportunities this season, with the likes of Zelalem and Dan Crowley often being preferred. He has caught the eye at times with his precise passing, but it remains to be seen how he will adapt to the rigours of playing at U21 level. No longer eligible for the U18s next season, he will be hoping to prove his ability at a higher level.
The England U17 international has enjoyed a hugely eventful season, featuring regularly for all the various youth teams and also earning a surprise call-up to the first-team squad for the Capital One Cup fixture against West Bromwich Albion. With his scholarship coming to an end, Iwobi, who possesses good technical ability and can play across the attacking line, should sign a professional contract soon.
The striker has seemed a level above some of his team-mates recently, having drawn on the experience gained during loan spells at Brentford and Coventry City. Having already featured, albeit fleetingly, in the Premier League and the Capital One Cup, Akpom could gain more first-team minutes next season, although he would also benefit from a loan to a Championship side. Now much stronger physically to add to his technical attributes, he will be seeking to develop even further next season.
The hard-working striker has not featured as regularly for the older age groups as he would have liked given the prowess of Akpom, but he he shown glimpses of his quality, particularly in the UEFA Youth League. A loan spell at Boreham Wood also helped his development, with the England U17 international now seeking to become a major part of the Arsenal U21 side.
The midfielder, signed from Aston Villa, has missed large parts of the season through injury, but, at times, has demonstrated his superb technical ability. He will be a key player in the Youth Cup side next season, but, as the campaign progresses, will also hope to establish himself more regularly in the U21 side.
The winger featured fleetingly in the Youth Cup run, setting up a goal away to Charlton, but has had to endure numerous injury setbacks during the course of his scholarship. He will hope to still be rewarded with a professional contract in the Summer, having shown his technical ability and considerable pace whilst featuring in the U18 league.
Recently afforded a trial spell at Sheffield Wednesday, versatile Rwanda senior international Mugabo looks set to be leaving Arsenal. Most comfortable as a defensive-midfielder, he is another player who has been plagued by injury problems and has yet to really demonstrate what he could be capable of.
A centre-back in the first year of his scholarship, Wright is developing well for the U18 side, and made the bench in the Youth Cup this season. He should be a regular in the competition next campaign as he strives to earn his first professional contract at the club.
The Nigerian defender has made some costly errors at U18 level, but has shown some signs of improvement in recent weeks. Whether it will be enough to earn him a professional contract remains to be seen.
The promising schoolboy, who is usually deployed as a defensive-midfielder, was the only U16 player to feature for Arsenal in the Youth Cup this season. He should be heavily involved during 2014/15, having already established himself in the U18 league.
Another schoolboy with much potential, Willock has already trained with the Arsenal first-team and made the bench for the Youth Cup tie against Everton at Emirates Stadium. There has been some concern, however, about whether he will accept the club’s offer of a scholarship for next season.