Ismael Bennacer arrived at Arsenal from Arles-Avignon in the summer with quite a reputation intact, but circumstances have dictated that the club’s supporters have, so far, only been afforded fleeting glimpses of the cultured central-midfielder in action.
The 17-year-old, who featured in Ligue 2 for his former club last season, has had to be incredibly patient for opportunities to impress at Arsenal. His debut was initially delayed by a registration problem that is a common occurrence with foreign youngsters, then a slight injury affected his progress somewhat.
So far the youngster has only featured fleetingly as a substitute for the U21s and made a solitary start for the U18s. Now, though, he is ready to start afresh, having returned from representing France in their U19 European Championship qualifiers.
Diminutive but extremely skilful and also a very hard-worker, Bennacer is very highly regarded at the club, a point evidenced by the fact that he has trained with the first-team squad on several occasions since making the switch to North London.
A little bizarrely, the club have still yet to formally announce his transfer and he is without a profile page on the official Arsenal website, yet he is very much a Gunners player and will be seeking to make a substantial impact over the weeks to come.
With Ben Sheaf and Glen Kamara forging an effective partnership for the U21s, Bennacer is unlikely to walk straight into the side at that level, but, should he impress for the other age groups, he could be afforded an opportunity to shine with the second-string in the near future.
He could be involved with the U18s initially, where he should help to add a sense of balance to a midfield that has been lacking in cohesion at times this season. The youngster is also likely to be involved in the club’s UEFA Youth League campaign, which continues against Bayern Munich next week.
The most important thing for Bennacer at present is for him to adapt to English football, with the old adage of coping with physical challenges being of paramount importance. Due to his slight frame and fabulous footwork, Bennacer is likely to be on the receiving end of several robust tackles, but he would do well to take a leaf out of Dan Crowley’s book, with the midfielder, currently on loan at Barnsley, having coped well with such problems at youth level in recent years.
All the signs seem to suggest that Bennacer is being earmarked as a possible future first-team player for Arsenal, but, firstly, he needs to undergo a period of adaptation. Once he is fully bedded in, it will be intriguing to see just how far his vast potential takes him.