Pre-season always provides a select group of youngsters with an opportunity to impose themselves on the first-team set-up. With the initial batch of senior squad players returning to London Colney today, there will be some members of the U21 team who will have realistic aims of impressing Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff over the next few weeks.
One player who falls into that category is Julio Pleguezuelo, with the Spanish centre-back having now been an Arsenal player for two years since his switch from Barcelona’s renowned La Masia set-up.
Pleguezuelo made serene progress during his first season in North London as he quickly established himself as a regular in Arsenal’s U21 team, demonstrating his calm nature on the ball, which, allied to his speed across the ground, has led to many earmarking him for future success.
Through no fault of his own, though, Pleguezuelo was unable to develop much further during the 2014/15 campaign, with injury wreaking havoc with his season. The youngster returned for the final few months of the season and, after a couple of uncomfortable performances at right-back, he looked far more at home in his preferred position at the heart of the defence.
The 18-year-old already has some fleeting first-team experience under his belt after he featured in a pre-season friendly against Boreham Wood last summer. However, having long since returned to full fitness following his injury troubles, Pleguezuelo will be hoping for some more substantial involvement this time around.
He may have to be patient for opportunities, however. Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel are all expected to play a full part in Wenger’s pre-season plans, whilst Krystian Bielik and Isaac Hayden, despite primarily being defensive-midfielders, can also operate at centre-back if required. The situation is complicated further by Wenger wanting to give Calum Chambers some minutes at centre-back, although the former Southampton player isn’t due back until a little later than most of the other players following his involvement with England’s U21 squad.
There is the possibility that Pleguezuelo could be drafted into Arsenal’s squad for the Premier League Asia Trophy as a right-back, but, as alluded to earlier, that clearly isn’t his best position and his compatriot Hector Bellerin will be heavily involved in proceedings along with the experienced Mathieu Debuchy.
Perhaps Pleguezuelo, if he fortunate enough, will receive at least some run-outs for the first-team during their condensed pre-season programme. He certainly deserves the opportunity, both for battling through his problems with injury and for his excellent development so far.
The Spaniard still has plenty of time on his side and, even if he isn’t involved this pre-season, he shouldn’t be disheartened as his time will surely come eventually. It would be interesting, though, to assess his capabilities in a first-team environment and to move a little closer to gauging whether he will be able to go a step further than Ignasi Miquel, another centre-back plucked from Barcelona, and establish a career for himself at Arsenal.