Arsene Wenger has made it very clear who his options at centre-back will be this season. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are the established first-choice partnership, whilst Gabriel and Calum Chambers will act as the back-up options.
It would appear, then, rather difficult for a young centre-back to break into the first-team squad at present, but it is still worth assessing the potential options in reserve in case of a possible emergency.
One of the youngsters in question, Stefan O’Connor, already has some fleeting experience of first-team football under his belt, having featured as a substitute against Galatasaray in the Champions League last season. A mainstay of Arsenal’s U21 side last campaign, O’Connor is a strong physical presence and is working hard to improve the weaker areas of his game, such as his passing.
At just 18, there is still plenty of time on O’Connor’s side, although he could be loaned out at some stage this season to further his development.
Julio Pleguezuelo, meanwhile, has been tipped for a bright future ever since he made the switch from Barcelona’s La Masia academy two years ago. Also capable of playing at right-back, but far more comfortable at the heart of defence, Pleguezuelo has had to endure numerous injury setbacks during his time in North London but he has still managed to produce some impressive performances for the U21s and will have designs on featuring in the Capital One Cup this season.
Of all Arsenal’s centre-back’s below first-team level Pleguezuelo seems to be the one with the greatest chance of becoming an established first-team player, with his speed and decision making his key assets.
Kristopher Da Graca, meanwhile, struggled greatly during his first season at the club but still has plenty of time on his side in order to improve. The youngster was often caught out of position last season but this time around he will be seeking to demonstrate that he is now more accustomed to English football.
Looking a little deeper into Arsenal’s youth ranks, the signing of Cypriot youth international Kostas Pileas this summer was a necessary one, especially given that the club have struggled defensively at U18 level in recent times. Efficient at making well-timed interceptions, Pileas could well establish himself in the U21 team before the end of the season.
There is another young centre-back amongst Arsenal’s new scholarship intake in Tolaji Bola. Also capable of playing at left-back, Bola has been capped by England at U16 level and is another player who is comfortable in possession. Strong physically, Bola will be seeking to gain further experience of U18 football at club level this season as he works toward his aim of earning a professional contract at the club.
There are, of course, other players in Arsenal’s youth system who are capable of playing at centre-back, such as Krystian Bielik and Marc Bola, but they have primarily been used in other positions (defensive-midfield and left-back respectively).
From those listed above, Pleguezuelo appears the brightest prospect for the future and the Spaniard will be hopeful of challenging the first-team quartet in time, whilst Pileas, to judge from the initial signs, also looks set for a bright future. As far as the others are concerned, there is still much time for them to improve and eventually stake a claim for senior inclusion.