It is around this time of year that plans begin to be drawn up regarding Arsenal’s U18 squad for the following season.
Every year the coaching staff are faced with difficult decisions on which home-grown youngsters should be let go, whilst the club’s scouting network scours the globe for foreign youngsters who could form part of the next scholarship intake.
Firstly you have to look at the current batch of first-year scholars and, as the club made the decision to take on a large number of players this year- 15 in total- there may be fewer players than usual in the class of 2015.
Some of the current first-years, though, will most probably be heavily involved for the U21 side in the second year of their scholarship, with the likes of George Dobson, Chris Willock, Kaylen Hinds, Stephy Mavididi, Marc Bola and Chiori Johnson having already featured at that level.
Some decisions can also come down to positions. For instance, if there is a shortage of talents at centre-back, then the club may take on a youngster who is comfortable in that position even if they’re not the most talented.
So, who will form next year’s scholarship intake? Some names will be very familiar indeed, particularly that of Brooklyn Beckham, who was widely reported to have signed a deal with the club last month. A right-winger like his esteemed father, Beckham has featured for Arsenal’s U16 side this season and looks likely to progress to the U18s for the next campaign, all going well.
His every move for the club at youth level will inevitably attract much media hype, but if the club do elect to offer him a scholarship deal then it will certainly be because of his talent in his own right rather than his famous surname.
With regards to internally-produced players, Joe Willock, who was born in August 1999, only just about qualifies for inclusion in next year’s set of scholars, but he could be one of the standout talents of the batch. Willock, the younger brother of current first-year Chris, caught the eye when playing for England U16s recently and prefers to operate in the number ten position.
There are plenty of others to consider. Marcus Tabi, an exciting prospect who has become increasingly involved with the U18 side in recent weeks, seems a near-certainty to get a scholarship deal. A clever user of the ball, Tabi’s work ethic has impressed coach Frans De Kat and he has started twice for the U18s in recent weeks despite still being a schoolboy.
Striker Josh Da Silva has found goals harder to come by at U18 level than he did for the U16s, but he will enter his scholarship having accumulated considerable experience of Academy football. Likewise, the club are also likely to take on defender Tolaji Bola and defensive-midfielder Mich’el Parker, both of whom have featured for the U18s this season.
Goalkeeper Brad House, meanwhile, has played at U18 and U19 level, and would provide back-up to Hugo Keto next season if he was offered a scholarship.
Owen Moore, who has featured occasionally for the U18s, is capable of playing at right-back or in central-midfield and will hope that his performances for the U16s will be enough to earn him an extended stay at the club. Nathan Tella, who tends to operate as a winger, made his debut for the U18s against Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend and is another candidate for inclusion.
Charlie Gilmour, who has represented both England and Scotland at youth level, was previously described by Liam Brady as the club’s standout schoolboy, but the midfielder surprisingly hasn’t been called upon for the U18s so far.
There are others that haven’t featured for the U18s yet, such as defender Kwai Marsh-Brown, midfielders Tyler Hayles and Rugare Musendo, and striker Edward Nketiah.
In total there are 14 players competing for scholarship deals, not to mention any players that the club may recruit from elsewhere. With 15 first-years already on the books, there will inevitably be some players who are let go early in the New Year. It is often a tough decision when choosing which players should be released, but it is a necessary process and we should discover the outcome in the near future.