Then there were seven. It was always anticipated that, given that the vast majority of first-team squad members will be available for the entire pre-season programme, there would be fewer opportunities than usual for youngsters to impress this summer.
That certainly appeared to be the case yesterday when just seven members of the U21 squad were selected to train with the senior players at London Colney.
Several of the selections were expected. Wellington, for instance, is 22 and can no longer really be classified as a youth player, whilst others, such as Jon Toral, Julio Pleguezuelo, Alex Iwobi and Dan Crowley, have trained with the first-team regularly in the past.
There were two slightly less experienced youngsters who accompanied the first-team in their training session yesterday, with new signing Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Hale End product Chris Willock both being called upon.
Reine-Adelaide, who usually operates as an attacking midfielder is an exciting prospect and has developed very quickly, as evidenced by the fact that he was called up to the Lens first-team squad towards the end of last season. That he was involved with Arsenal’s senior team yesterday indicates that he is highly rated and will most probably play the majority of his football this season for the U21s as opposed to the U18s.
Willock, meanwhile, is no stranger to a first-team environment having trained with the senior team as a schoolboy before featuring for Arsene Wenger’s side in a pre-season friendly last summer just weeks after signing his scholarship deal.
Willock has developed very well since then and the England youth international, who is usually deployed on the left flank, broke into Arsenal’s U21 team last season and also produced some impressive performances in the UEFA Youth League.
Several other prospects in his age group have been training with the U21s over the last couple of weeks, but Willock, whose younger brother Joe recently signed scholarship terms with the club, is a player that Wenger has been aware of for some time.
Quite how lengthy his stay with the first team this summer will be is open to debate. The absence of Alexis Sanchez and to a lesser extent Serge Gnabry for the majority of this pre-season means that there may well be space for a young winger to earn a place on the first-team’s flight to Asia.
Wellington would appear to be in pole position to fill that void at present, whilst Iwobi is another option, but, should he impress sufficiently over the next few days in training, then it isn’t out of the question that Willock could make the cut.
The 17-year-old, despite still being somewhat slight physically, has made tremendous strides in recent years and, even if he doesn’t end up going to Asia, the mere fact that he was selected to train with the first-team is testament to his development.
It seems that Willock will be afforded a prolonged opportunity to prove himself in a first-team environment when the time is right. It may seem a little unlikely at present, but that opportunity could well arrive sooner this was initially expected depending on how he fares in training.