There are still some key issues to be addressed for Arsenal at youth level this season, with the U21s seeking to earn promotion back to the top tier, whilst the U18s will hope to avoid the ignominy of finishing bottom of the lowest section for their age group.
Soon after the campaign is over, however, there will, as has become customary at this time of year, be an announcement regarding which of the club’s youngsters will be let go this summer.
As ever, there are some prominent candidates for departure. Semi Ajayi, for instance, has already been informed that he is set to leave when his contract expires at the end of June. The imposing centre-back is currently on loan at Cardiff City but is yet to represent the Championship side at first-team level and is likely to be on the lookout for a new club in the near future.
Another loanee who could find his Arsenal future under threat, but for rather different reasons, is goalkeeper Josh Vickers. The Hale End product has impressed on loan at non-league side Concord Rangers this season, adding to the valuable experience he gained at Canvey Island last campaign. However, with fellow shot-stopper Deyan Iliev having recently signed a new long-term contract with the club, Vickers’ chances of making the grade at Arsenal have been hurt somewhat, despite his considerable talent.
Perhaps the most high-profile young Gunner who is out of contract this summer is midfielder Jon Toral. The Spaniard, who has been an Arsenal player for nearly four years, has provided some tantalising glimpses of his undoubted potential whilst on loan at Brenford this season, but he hasn’t been a regular for the Championship side, and, at the age of 20, he will be looking for first-team opportunities as soon as possible.
The likely option is that Toral will be offered a new one-year deal ahead of another possible loan spell next season, but he will find it difficult to make it in the long term at Arsenal with several midfielders ahead of him.
That is a problem that also faces Jack Jebb, a player who clearly has talent but has seen his progress hampered by several injuries of late. Jebb, who once drew comparisons to Jack Wilshere, is currently on loan at League Two side Stevenage, but it remains to be seen whether he will be offered a new deal at Arsenal.
Austin Lipman, a player who progressed steadily through the ranks at the club’s Hale End academy, is likely to be let go. The hard-working striker spent time on loan at Boreham Wood earlier in the campaign but, despite a goalscoring return against Newcastle United, has recently lost his place in the U21 squad to first-year forward Stephy Mavididi and could see his time at the club come to an end. Lipman represented Charlton Athletic at U21 level this week in their game against Brentford.
Left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, another who has struggled with injuries this campaign, also finds himself out of contract. However, despite persistent concerns about his positioning, the former England youth international should recieve a new short-term deal ahead of a maiden loan spell next season.
Finally, it appears that the club have already made up their minds regarding the two remaining second-year scholars- Renny Smith and Elliot Wright.
Smith, a versatile Austrian youth international, has been told that he is likely to leave and recently spent time on trial with Charlton, whilst defender Wright, who has been with the club for many years, is also set to be released.
In summary, it seems likely that Ajayi, Vickers, Lipman, Smith and Wright will all leave, with uncertainty over the future of Jebb, whilst Toral and Ormonde-Ottewill should be granted extended stays.
Wellington Silva, who finally received his Spanish passport this week, is set to return to the club this summer and link up, initially at least, with the first-team squad.
If all of the above changes take place, then Arsenal’s U21 squad could look something like this next season:
Moore- Hayden*– O’Connor-Ormonde Ottewill
*= already member of first-team squad
Players in italics are likely to go on loan at some point next season
Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers and Serge Gnabry will still be classed as U21 players next season but are likely to be with the first-team squad.