French midfielder Ismael Bennacer has confirmed via social media that he is now an Arsenal player, with the prospect becoming the club’s seventh acquisition at youth level this summer.
Bennacer, who featured six times in Ligue 2 for Arles-Avignon last season, joins Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Yassin Fortune, Kostas Pileas, Vlad Dragomir, Donyell Malen and Jordi Osei-Tutu in signing for the club during the pre-season period.
The sheer number of acquisitions in one summer is unprecedented for Arsenal at youth level and can be seen as evidence of Academy Manager Andries Jonker seeking to make amends after the club suffered the ignominy of finishing as the worst-placed team in the Premier Academy League last season.
It is telling that all but one of the new signings is from abroad, with Jonker seeing to add more flair and dynamism to Arsenal’s youth sides.
Reine-Adelaide has already made a substantial impact for the first-team in pre-season, whilst Fortune, Pileas, Dragomir and Osei-Tutu have all settled in well with the U21s.
Bennacer adds to Arsenal’s crop of central-midfielders and he could well feature prominently for the second-string if Jon Toral and Dan Crowley go out on loan.
It is commendable that Jonker has decided to act decisively in the wake of the disappointments of last season, but the club still remain short of defensive options at youth level, particularly in the U18 team.
There may still be further signings to come, with Portuguese goalkeeper Joao Virginia having been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal of late.
As for the players who have already signed, it will be very interesting to see how they adapt to life in North London. Some of the recent signings from abroad, such as Ilias Chatzitheodoridis and Kristopher Da Graca, have struggled greatly, but there have also been notable success stories like Hector Bellerin and Serge Gnabry, who both fitted in immediately.
It has been a summer of considerable change for Arsenal at youth level. It started with several long-serving players, including Jack Jebb, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Austin Lipman and Josh Vickers, being released and over the past few weeks we have gradually seen next season’s youth squads begin to take shape.
There are already some promising talents in the system, such as Hale End products Chris Willock, Kaylen Hinds, Tyrell Robinson and Stephy Mavididi. It is hoped that some of the new signings will help to make Arsenal a force again at youth level, whilst also eventually providing Arsene Wenger with further options to supplement his first-team squad.