An eventful and enjoyable season at youth level is nearing its conclusion, so now seems the best time to reflect on the progression made by the club’s youngsters over the past 10 months.
In the first part we look at the club’s young goalkeepers.
Ever since Wojciech Szczesny made the progression from the youth team to the senior side, there has been an added sense of pressure on Arsenal’s young shot-stoppers given that the Polish international is unlikely to relinquish his position as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper for quite some time.
However, with Lukasz Fabianski set to leave when his contract expires at the end of June and Emiliano Viviano poised to return to Palermo without having played a competitive game for the Gunners, there may well be an opening for a young goalkeeper this Summer.
A senior back-up to Szczesny, along the lines of Chelsea’s signing of Mark Schwarzer last year, would be ideal, but the position of third-choice goalkeeper is open to considerable debate, with Damian Martinez, Matt Macey, Deyan Iliev and Josh Vickers all possessing considerable claims for promotion.
Up until last Summer, Martinez certainly appeared set for elevation to the first-team. The Argentinian has developed well since joining from Independiente, even if his two senior starts for Arsenal in the Capital One Cup last season yielded mixed results. Agile and with good reflexes, Martinez headed to Sheffield Wednesday on loan this season in a bid to further his development. He had a spell in the side at the Championship club, and turned in some impressive performances, but has been edged out in recent months by the experienced Chris Kirkland. Martinez will be 22 in September, which is still a relatively young age for a goalkeeper, but he will be seeking regular football next season and could go on temporary transfer again.
If that scenario occurs, then Macey would appear the most prominent candidate for promotion to the first-team. Signed from Bristol Rovers early in the season following a successful trial, Macey has fended off competition from Iliev to establish himself as Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper at U21 level, making 19 appearances for the second-string in total. If you were to read through the match reports of each of those fixtures, then the phrase “spectacular save” would undoubtedly have been used on numerous occasions. Macey has made a habit of producing phenomenal stops, including many from close range, and has built up a good understanding with his team-mates over the course of the season.
He is still a little error prone and has trouble dealing with corners and crosses, but Macey has much raw potential to work with and a measure of his progress was provided by the fact that he trained with the first-team at Emirates Stadium yesterday prior to the Premier League fixture against Newcastle United.
Iliev’s season has rather petered out, with the Macedonia U21 international hardly featuring in recent weeks. Like Macey, he is a good shot-stopper, but with the caveat that he can sometimes make costly misjudgements. A case in point was his dismissal in the UEFA Youth League defeat to Barcelona which effectively ended Arsenal’s chances of progressing from the tie. Iliev seems as if he will have a future at a relatively high level, but requires some drastic improvements if he is to succeed in the long-term in North London.
Vickers has spent most of the season away from the club on loan at non-league Canvey Island. The move appeared a somewhat bizarre one at the time, but the switch enabled the goalkeeper to play regularly, something which he certainly made the most of. As well as impressing in the Isthmian League, Vickers was outstanding for Arsenal’s youth teams in the cup competitions, with his performance away to Charlton Athletic in the FA Youth Cup particularly noteworthy. He will hope for an opportunity to prove himself for Arsenal at U21 level next season, but, at present, both Macey and Iliev are ahead of him.
England U17 international Ryan Huddart has developed well this season, with the youngster featuring regularly for Arsenal at U18 level. He has conceded a high number of goals, but has never had a consistent defence in front of him and has still performed heroics on occasion, prompting the club to offer him professional terms in March.
Following the departures of schoolboys Harry Girling and Corey Addai, there is a vacancy for a back-up goalkeeper to Huddart at U18 level, which may well be filled by Marcus Beauchamp, the Bristol City youngster who featured for the Gunners against Fulham U18s recently.