When the likes of Elton Monteiro, Sead Hajrovic and Jernade Meade departed the club last Summer, there were concerns regarding Arsenal’s lack of defensive options at youth level.
The disastrous trial spell of Ramy Bensebaini didn’t help matters, but the club eventually provided at least a temporary answer to the problem when they recruited Semi Ajayi from Charlton Athletic. A tall and physically imposing centre-back who has been capped by Nigeria at youth level, Ajayi scored on his debut against Blackburn Rovers whilst still a trialist and went on to play every minute of every remaining fixture in both the league and the U21 Premier League Cup.
Ajayi also trained with the first-team on numerous occasions, although that was mostly due to the fact that the club currently possess only three senior centre-backs. Ajayi is entering the final year of his contract at the club and next season a decision will be made on whether he has the attributes to succeed at Emirates Stadium in the long-term. He is certainly a good reader of the game, but his passing ability is a little concerning and the 20 year old is prone to lapses in concentration at times. Some appearances in the Capital One Cup, and maybe a loan spell thereafter, could dictate his long-term future at the club.
It seems as if there will be another defensive clear-out this Summer, with Daniel Boateng, Zach Fagan and Leander Siemann all likely to depart. Boateng will turn 22 in September and has been unable to command a place in the starting line-up at loan side Hibernian, whilst Fagan remains prone to both errors and injuries. Siemann has featured regularly for Arsenal across all youth levels this season, but, despite demonstrating some signs of improvement, the young German remains far from convincing.
Ignasi Miquel is another player whose future is the subject of some debate, with the Spaniard having hardly featured as much as he would have anticipated during his loan spell at Leicester City. Miquel has played for Arsenal in all four senior competitions, but is approaching the point in his development where he can no longer be considered a youth player. His contract expires in the Summer and it wouldn’t be a complete shock if he was to be let go, although much may depend on whether the first-team still require an additional centre-back.
Miquel’s compatriot Hector Bellerin, in contrast, seems primed for senior involvement of some sort during 2014/15 having enhanced his development via a short loan spell at Watford. The former Barcelona player has also been named on the Arsenal bench in the Premier League in recent weeks, and, with speculation mounting that Carl Jenkinson could go on loan next season, Bellerin could be elevated to the position of the club’s second-choice right-back even if Bacary Sagna leaves.
Another La Masia product has made huge strides this season, with Julio Pleguezuelo stepping straight into the U21 side and delivering some commanding performances. Despite being relatively short for a centre-back, he is quick across the ground and, with some development on the physical side, could be a genuine prospect for the future. He is still a little raw in some aspects of his game, such as his decision making under pressure, but another season at second-string level should help to iron out those flaws.
Two Hale End products, right-back Tafari Moore and centre-back Stefan O’Connor, have also featured regularly for the U21s in their first seasons as scholars. Both players have potential, but also have aspects of their respective games that require improvement, with O’Connor comfortable in possession but capable of making some rash decisions. Moore has been caught out of position a few times but is always determined even in adversity.
Left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, meanwhile, has undergone an alarming lapse in form over the past few months, with the youngster struggling to deal with some difficult opponents, most notably Chelsea’s Alex Kiwomya. Ormonde-Ottewill has trained with the first-team several times in the past, but will hope to rekindle his previous performances when he steps up to U21 level on a permanent basis next season.
Arinse Uade and Elliot Wright, meanwhile, have regularly featured for the U18s this season. Uade has improved a little after some disastrous performances last season but it is still not certain whether he will receive a professional contract, whilst Wright has developed well as the campaign has progressed and will be hoping to step up to the U21s at some point next season.