Stefan O’Connor signed his first professional contract last week, with the centre-back being rewarded for an impressive start to the season.
It is quite a turnaround for O’Connor, a player who Arsenal were considering releasing when he was a schoolboy. In the absence of the injured Julio Pleguezuelo, however, he has established himself as a key part of Steve Gatting’s U21 set-up and even trained with the first-team squad earlier this month.
O’Connor’s short-term future is now secure, but the three remaining second-years are yet to be provided with assurances regarding whether they too will be awarded professional contracts.
Even though such a deal is yet to be confirmed, Ainsley Maitland-Niles seems certain to receive one, with the winger having enjoyed a tremendous first season as a scholar. Like O’Connor, Maitland-Niles is now regularly involved in the U21 set-up and has also been utilised in central-midfield in recent weeks.
The futures of Elliot Wright and Renny Smith appear less clear, with both players having yet to make a sustained breakthrough into the U21 set-up. Both have delivered some impressive performances for the U18s, with Wright particularly impressing against West Ham United last weekend, but the pair have several players ahead of them in their respective positions.