Last season’s FA Cup success is still fresh in the memory, but there are now just 25 days until Arsene Wenger’s squad, or at least those players that are available, are due to reconvene at London Colney to commence their preparations for the 2014/15 campaign.
There will be a considerable number of absentees owing to the World Cup, meaning that several members of the U21 side are likely to be afforded an opportunity to prove their worth during July. There is no Asia Tour this year, but Arsenal are travelling to face New York Red Bulls, followed by a training camp in Austria that will precede the Emirates Cup. Attention will then turn to competitive matters, with the Community Shield fixture against Manchester City taking place in August and the two-legged Champions League qualifier to follow. There is the possibility that further games may be arranged at short notice, but, nonetheless, there will be plenty of chances for promising youngsters to catch the eye.
No fewer than 12 Arsenal players- Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Joel Campbell, Johan Djourou and, depending on injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, will represent their respective countries in Brazil.
That means that the following first-team squad members will be available for the entirety of pre-season, provided they are fully fit- Wojciech Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Yaya Sanogo, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Gedion Zelalem and Abou Diaby. It is not currently clear exactly when wingers Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Ryo will return from their respective injuries, whilst Wenger will have to make a decision on the future of Francis Coquelin, who is due to return from a frustrating loan spell at Freiburg.
With just eleven senior players, not including any potential new signings, poised to be involved from the offset, there could be spaces for up to twelve youngsters to train with the first-team, with those who are involved at the World Cup likely to be given an extended period of rest once their international excursions are over.
So, which prospects could fill the remaining places? With Szczesny the only goalkeeper fully available, Damian Martinez, back from his loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday, would appear a clear candidate for inclusion as he seeks to finally be promoted to the first-team squad on a permanent basis. If the Argentine fails to seize his opportunity then Matt Macey, who has impressed since joining from Bristol Rovers last year, may also be given a chance.
As far as outfield players are concerned, the majority of the club’s young professionals should feel that they are in with a chance of at least participating in some training sessions with the senior side. Some will need the chance to impress more than most, with Ignasi Miquel and Benik Afobe approaching a decisive point in their young careers. Miquel may well be required to play regularly in pre-season, with all three first-team centre-backs at the World Cup.
Semi Ajayi, who trained regularly with the first-team throughout last season, will be hopeful of some involvement, whilst the likes of Chuba Akpom, Thomas Eisfeld, Isaac Hayden and Kristoffer Olsson already have some, albeit very limited, experience of senior football. Jon Toral, having finally recovered from his numerous injury setbacks, should be involved at some point, whilst Hector Bellerin’s inclusion hinges on whether his Spain U19 side qualify for the UEFA European Championships at that age group. If Spain beat Germany in their final group game this evening, then they will progress to the final tournament, meaning that Bellerin would miss most of Arsenal’s preparations for the new campaign.
Wellington, whose loan at Real Murcia hasn’t quite yet reached its conclusion, would relish the opportunity to represent the senior side, albeit in a non-competitive fixture, whilst there could yet be a surprising selection, with Julio Pleguezuelo, Alex Iwobi, Jack Jebb, Tafari Moore, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dan Crowley all possessing an outside chance of being involved.