Most of Arsenal’s youngsters have already been in pre-season training for a couple of days but tomorrow the preparations for the new season will intensify when they are joined by a selection of players from the first-team squad.
Thirteen members of Arsene Wenger’s squad, those who didn’t have any international commitments over the summer, are due back at London Colney tomorrow, with Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, Gabriel, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini, Danny Welbeck, Emiliano Martinez, Yaya Sanogo, Francis Coquelin, Krystian Bielik and Hector Bellerin all falling into that category.
With the first batch of international players not set to return until the following week, there should be plenty of opportunities over the next few days for some members of the U21 squad to train with the first-team players. One player who will almost certainly be involved is Wellington, with the winger eager to kick-start his Arsenal career after five loan spells in Spain. The Brazilian faces an important summer as far as his development is concerned with Wenger having to decide whether to retain the youngster and name him in the 25-man Premier League squad for the new season.
Others have more time on their side. Dan Crowley, for instance, is yet to earn a first-team call-up, but the young midfielder will be seeking to impress sufficiently to earn himself a place on the plane to Asia for the next stage of pre-season. The former Aston Villa player doesn’t turn 18 until August but he was outstanding on some occasions for the U21s last season and will be hoping to make inroads into the first-team set-up this year.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been strongly linked with a loan move to Ipswich Town in recent weeks, but such a move is yet to materialise and he is set to start the week training with Arsenal. Another player who shone at U21 level in 2014/15, the Hale End product should be involved in the early sessions, where he could be joined by Julio Pleguezuelo, Alex Iwobi and Stefan O’Connor. Goalkeepers Matt Macey and Deyan Iliev could also train with the seniors.
It is an important pre-season for some of the more established youngsters, too, with Gedion Zelalem seeking to assert himself, whilst Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden will be looking to do likewise, although they may be given a little longer off after they represented England U20s. Jon Toral will be seeking to prove his worth after featuring on loan for Brentford last season.
One of the most intriguing aspects of pre-season is that there are usually one or two younger players who are unexpectedly involved in first-team proceedings. Last year, for instance, Chris Willock featured in the opening friendly against Boreham Wood, and he will be hoping to be called upon again. Tyrell Robinson, Kaylen Hinds, Chiori Johnson and Tafari Moore have a chance of at least being involved in some of the senior training sessions.
New acquisition Vlad Dragomir will start training tomorrow and it will be interesting to see how French youngsters Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Yassin Fortune adapt to English football. Those players, though, are expected to train with the youth team initially and could make their debuts in the friendly against Bournemouth on July 11th.
Chances to impress for youngsters during this pre-season may well be scarce, with the bulk of the squad set to return in time for the club’s participation in the Asia Trophy. The uncertainty over the futures of some players (such as Lukas Podolski and Sanogo) may provide some chances for youth players to impress, but, barring a multitude of injuries, Wenger should have most of his squad available for the majority of pre-season, with the notable exceptions of Alexis Sanchez, David Ospina and Calum Chambers.
Arsenal usually operate with a training group of 23 players. With 13 members of the first-team squad due to be in attendance tomorrow, that means that there are likely to be ten spaces for youngsters, including two goalkeepers. Who will fill those positions? An educated guess would suggest that the players most likely to be involved are Macey, Iliev, O’Connor, Pleguezuelo, Robinson, Maitland-Niles, Toral, Crowley, Wellington and Iwobi, although, as alluded to, several others are also in contention.
Some difficult decisions will have to be made the following week when 12 further members of the squad report back for training, with only the youngsters who have impressed the most standing any chance of travelling with the squad to Asia.