Arsenal Youth season review- Part 3- Midfielders

Source: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Europe

Source: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Europe

When assessing Arsenal’s young midfielders it seems appropriate to commence by focusing on a player who is already part of the first-team squad. Gedion Zelalem has just one senior appearance for the club to his name, and the Germany U17 international has experienced some complications during his first full season in North London, but he remains an incredibly talented prospect for the future.

At times Zelalem has struggled to adapt to being deployed in a deeper-lying midfield position than he was previously used to. Games have passed him by, with his lack of strength and, at times, tactical understanding causing problems for both himself and his team. Towards the end of the season, however, the 17 year old appeared to return to something approaching his normal self, playing killer passes, the kind of which so captured the attention during the pre-season tour of Asia, with increasing regularity.

Although officially a first-team squad member, Zelalem is still some way off becoming regularly involved in the senior side. Next season he will seek to make his Premier League and, hopefully, Champions League debuts whilst continuing to develop for the U21s. Patience will be needed, but a bright future still appears to be on the cards for the youngster.

Chuks Aneke is another player who possesses much potential, which he demonstrated during an exceptional season on loan at Crewe Alexandra in League One. Whether the powerful midfielder is capable of performing to the same standards at Premier League level remains open to debate, as does Aneke’s immediate future as it is still unclear whether he will still be at the club next season. The best solution for all parties would probably be for Aneke to sign a new deal and then spend the season with a Championship side in order to gauge just how far he can take his considerable talent.

Thomas Eisfeld, meanwhile, has not received anywhere near as much first-team game time as he would have expected in his two and a half years as an Arsenal player. The German scored in the Capital One Cup win over West Bromwich Albion, but, despite impressing at times for the U21s, he has struggled to break into Arsene Wenger’s team. Already 21, it is something of a mystery as to why Eisfeld hasn’t yet been loaned out, but that is likely to change next season, with such a spell hopefully providing an indication as to whether he can make the breakthrough.

Jack Jebb has had to be incredibly patient for opportunities at U21 level, but he should receive plenty of opportunities to impress at that level next season. A renowned free-kick specialist, Jebb will be aware that, given the amount of talented young midfielders at the club, he will have to take every chance that he is afforded.

Jon Toral showed signs that he is returning to his best having endured an injury nightmare for most of his Arsenal career to date. The former Barcelona player has usually been deployed on the left flank for the Gunners, but is a prime source of inventiveness for the U21 team, and is also a clinical goalscorer at that level. Toral will hope to follow in the footsteps of his close friend Hector Bellerin by featuring in the Capital One Cup next season.

Kristoffer Olsson has continued to develop well and is now much improved tactically in comparison to when he joined the club. Possessing excellent technique, the Swedish midfielder does have a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long at times. Having already made his senior Arsenal debut, Olsson will be seeking to gain more experience of first-team football next season, and he is another candidate for a loan spell in the Championship.

Samuel Galindo is the forgotten man at Arsenal, with the Bolivian international having not represented the club at any level since 2011. A potential loan move to Colorado Rapids fell through, with the 22 year old having not played a single minute of competitive football this season. He still has a year left to go on his contract at the club.

Glen Kamara was a regular at all youth levels for Arsenal this season, with the defensive-midfielder continuing to develop well. The Finland youth international should become a key player for the U21 side during 2014/15. The same cannot be said for the injury-prone Alfred Mugabo, who has struggled in numerous positions and is likely to be let go this summer.

Dan Crowley, despite suffering some injury problems, performed well during his maiden campaign at Arsenal, and the former Aston Villa youngster will look to become a regular for the U21s next season. An excellent passer of the ball, Crowley does have some improvements to make on the physical side, but all the signs are there for a promising future.

You can read more about the development of Renny Smith here.

Isaac Hayden has impressed greatly, even if he still prone to making reckless challenges at times. The midfielder made the bench for Arsenal in the Premier League and started in the Capital One Cup. He is another player who should go on loan at some point next season.



    1. Hector Bellerin has been mainly deployed as right back rather than midfield.
      I know that you rate Isaac Hayden, but at this stage I do not see anything in him that he will make a first team regular at Arsenal. Yes he can be vocal and a good leader at U21 level, however at senior level he would need playing quality. He is tenacious central midfield, but he is also reckless. His lack of tactical awareness led him to brutal challenge to recover lost balls. He is a sub Lee “Clatter mole” Cattermole without the long pass.
      Zelalem has been overhyped. His fragile frame and complete lack of defensive awareness means that he is not ready to play deep lying playmaker. He needs at least one extra year before going on loan at league 1 level. The problem is that he rely on others teammates to make those runs. At league 1 level, they may not be good enough to see the pass and therefore making those runs. Why make such run if you don’t think that somebody will send you the ball?
      Regarding Aneke, his loan has been a success story. However Arsene Wenger may think that he will never become good enough to displace Cazorla or Özil. That is the required level to play at Arsenal now. IMHO, properly coached and played in a lower hybrid role, he could become as good as Yaya Touré. The only question is does he has the stamina for that Box to Box role at premiership level.

      1. Disagree with hayden. He’s only been reintroduced to the midfield role recently and is still finding his footing and if you look at his red cards most have been from a midfield role rather than cb. Long term think he’ll make a great cb though he should be able to competently fill in midfield if need be but I would still like to see how he developed in that role given he’s still pretty young.

        Jeorge’s solution for aneke seems ideal and I would hope that were to be the case but I’m not sure how much patience aneke would have to agree to that.

      2. Zelalem also suffered a serious knee injury and was out for 8 weeks. That surely has affected his performances. He is a natural talent, so his future at Arsenal is bright. Good for Arsenal that they have him.

  1. Zelalem also suffered a serious knee injury and was out for 8 weeks. That surely has affected his performances. He is a natural talent, so his future at Arsenal is bright. Good for Arsenal that they have him.

  2. @A86
    Isaac Hayden is not a centre half anymore, he is a defensive midfield player. He may have some of the attributes to play in defense, but Arsenal see him as a DM. As a central defender you tend to see the whole game in front of you. As a midfield danger may come in front but also sideways. Because he does not have that natural instinct to always look sideways, as a DM he notices the danger too late. Because he is late at spotting the danger he dives in recklessly too often. Maybe he needs a loan to iron those faults, but right now even at U21 level he commits at least one red card challenge per game. I also think that he needs to improve his long ball distribution. I am just expressing in more forceful terms the same opinion that Jorge. He is not ready, he needs a loan. Hopefully that loan will be a success and he will come back to replace Arteta/Flamini in our midfield. Realistically, only one player per year will make it at Arsenal. Personally I believe that it will be Akpom rather than Hayden.

    Regarding Zelalem, I am not saying that he won’t come good. I am saying that he is not yet ready to play as a deep laying midfield. Deep laying midfield is a very difficult position. Very few players (Pirlo, Busquets, Fabregas, Marvin Martin …) are consistently brilliant at it. A lot are just average: Carrick, Cleverley, Obi Mikel, Denilson… During pre-season when Arsenal faces poor team, it is easy to look good. However in the league, when defenders close you down quickly, technique and vision is not enough. You also need physicality and tactical nous. Right now, he does not have yet the physical attributes nor the tactical nous. I know that a lot of people don’t want to hear that, but At U21, a certain number of our defeats can be attributes to Zelalem losing the ball in dangerous territories. The good news is that both physically and tactically he is going to get better. The bad news is that People keep asking him to go on loan, however in view of his style of play, I’m not convinced that a loan is the right thing for him. He relies on intelligent runs behind the defence. There are very few team in League 1 that have players who do that. Moreover very few team would give such an important role to a young loanee. One more year with Arsenal may be necessary for his development. The season after next, the academy will then have to be very careful whom do they loan him to. He will need playing time in a team that does not just hoof the ball forward.

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