The injury to Shkodran Mustafi has sparked debate regarding Arsenal’s centre-back options and, while the club possess sufficient resources to cover their Premier League games without the Germany international, there is a possibility that some youngsters could receive game time in defence in cup competitions in upcoming fixtures.
With Arsenal facing a hectic schedule including games in the Europa League and the Carabao Cup and further injuries surely likely to occur at some point, it could well be the case that members of the U23 squad are drafted in as cover.
Here’s an assessment of which young prospects are most ready to fill in in defence for the first-team.
Were he not injured Krystian Bielik, who already possesses a considerable amount of experience of senior football, would be a surefire candidate for involvement in some capacity.
However, the Polish youth international is set to miss another one or two months with a shoulder injury.
Like Bielik, Ben Sheaf underwent the successful transformation from defensive-midfielder to centre-back, but, like his team-mate, he is also currently sidelined with a serious injury as a fractured vertebrae has prevented the ex-West Ham United prospect from playing any games this season.
Sheaf was on the bench for the Arsenal first-team in the League Cup last season and surely would have featured this campaign were he not sidelined.
Another young centre-back who has endured misfortune with injury is Julio Pleguezuelo, with the Spaniard having hobbled off during the U23 game against Leicester City last month.
It isn’t currently clear when he will return but if he does manage to quickly regain full fitness then the 20-year-old will be one of the main options for Arsene Wenger to consider if he needs a young centre-back.
Josh Dasilva, meanwhile, made his senior debut as a centre-back when featuring as a substitute against Doncaster Rovers in the third round of the Carabao Cup. The Hale End product seems more assured as a left wing-back but he certainly possesses the physical attributes required to play at the heart of the defence and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was to receive further game time there.
Marcus McGuane has featured heavily at centre-back this season despite naturally being a midfielder. He too has had some teething problems in his new position but Arsenal appear to trust his defensive qualities and the youngster made his senior debut against BATE Borisov recently.
Charlie Gilmour is a midfielder yet was mentioned by Wenger as a possible option in defence. Another Hale End graduate, he was on the bench against BATE Borisov, although he possesses limited experience at U23 level.
Chiori Johnson has played several games at centre-back even though he progressed through the system as a right-back, although he is another player who has yet to play this campaign because of injury.
Two other players who are more commonly used as full-backs or wing-backs – Jordi Osei-Tutu and Tolaji Bola – are also capable of playing at centre-back, although it appears that the pair need to gain more experience for the U23s first before they can be considered for senior action.
Joseph Olowu and Zech Medley have also been involved for Arsenal U23s this season and of all the players listed Olowu seems to be the most natural centre-back having been developed specifically in that position. However, these two players are still eligible for the U18s and aren’t yet ready to make the step up to senior football, while neither of them are registered to play in the Europa League.
Tafari Moore, back from injury, could possibly fill in at centre-back but the former England youth international, who had a loan spell at Utrecht last campaign, seems more suited to playing as a wing-back.
Overall, then, Arsenal’s options with regards to young centre-backs who could provide cover for the first-team have, somewhat ironically, been limited owing to injuries, with Bielik, Sheaf and Pleguezuelo not currently available.
Of those who are able to feature Dasilva would appear closest to being involved at centre-back for the first-team, with McGuane and Gilmour the main alternatives.
With lots of games to come, though, there could well be chances for some of the other young defenders listed above to make the matchday squad in the Europa League and the Carabao Cup.