Everything was going so well for Stefan O’Connor. The defender made his Arsenal first-team debut last season, in the Champions League no less, and was training frequently with the first-team squad.
Just a month after that game against Galatasaray, however, an incident occurred that would alter the course of O’Connor’s Arsenal career, at least in the short term, as the club signed the talented Krystian Bielik from Legia Warsaw.
The Poland youth international was initially seen as a defensive-midfielder, but he has featured increasingly frequently at centre-back, which has hampered the progress of O’Connor.
It is true that the Hale End product has struggled with injuries at times this season, while he also had a short loan spell at York City, but O’Connor has been restricted to just four UEFA Youth League and two U21 Premier League appearances for the Gunners this season.
Taking into account how little he has played this campaign, it is difficult to make a fair judgement on whether O’Connor has progressed over the past year. It has been an extremely frustrating time for the youngster and now, whilst Bielik is on the cusp of the first-team squad, O’Connor finds himself isolated- too old for the U18s, not really under consideration for the U21s and nowhere near the senior side.
With Julio Pleguezuelo likely to go on loan at some point next campaign, O’Connor could well reclaim his place in the side at U21 level. It seems rather strange, however, that the youngster finds himself in this situation considering that he established himself as a key player for the second-string in the first year of his scholarship.
Now time is starting to run out for O’Connor, and the youngster will know that if he is still at Arsenal next season then it will be a crucial campaign as far as his future at the club is concerned. He is effective at bringing the ball out from the back but remains prone to lapses in concentration, and can ill afford any slip-ups next season.