Many transfers, even regarding youth players, tend to have some build-up in terms of speculation, but that wasn’t the case with Joao Virginia yesterday as the goalkeeper, rather out of the blue, secured a permanent switch to Everton.
Virginia, who joined Arsenal as a schoolboy three years ago, was widely regarded as the Gunners’ standout young goalkeeper and the 18-year-old produced some excellent performances at academy level last season, including in the run to the final of the FA Youth Cup.
Despite being short in stature, Virginia possesses superb reflexes and it was anticipated that he could eventually break into the first-team squad.
However, having assessed his options, Virginia, who won the U19 European Championship with Portugal recently, has decided that he has a better chance of making the breakthrough at Everton.
From his point of view, the switch is understandable as had he remained at Arsenal this season Virginia would have had a battle for game time in the U23s with Deyan Iliev and most probably wouldn’t have been involved with the first-team save for the occasional training session.
At Everton it seems likely that he will be a regular for the U23s and could potentially get on the bench for the first-team should an injury occur to one of the Toffees’ senior shot-stoppers.
With Arsenal having signed a rather young goalkeeper in Bernd Leno, who, at the age of 26, has much time on his side, Virginia could be forgiven for thinking that getting into the senior squad was something of an impossible task, especially when he also had the likes of Petr Cech, David Ospina, Emiliano Martinez, Matt Macey and Iliev ahead of him.
It is a major blow for Arsenal to lose Virginia, but only time will tell whether they will regret allowing him to leave.
Regarding the ramifications for Arsenal’s U23 team, Virginia’s departure leaves Freddie Ljungberg’s side rather short of goalkeeping options.
Iliev is still there, but a host of young goalkeepers have left this summer, with Macey going on loan, while Hugo Keto, Ryan Huddart and Alex Crean were all released.
In hindsight, if Arsenal knew about Virginia’s willingness to leave, they may well have offered Keto a new deal.
Now, though, Iliev is the only established goalkeeper for the U23s and it looks as if Ljungberg will have to rely upon some of the U18 goalkeepers as back-up throughout the campaign.
Karl Jakob Hein, who signed from Nomme United in his homeland of Estonia, featured as a substitute in the friendly win at Hornchurch, and, at present, seems set to be second choice.
Daniel Barden, meanwhile, is now a second year scholar and made the bench for the U23s last season, and the highly rated Arthur Okonkwo is another option along with Tom Smith.
There is also a possibility that Martinez, should he stay at the club, could drop down to the U23s on occasion to get some playing time.
However, the situation certainly isn’t ideal and an injury to Iliev could lead to Arsenal having to field a 16-year-old goalkeeper against senior players in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Regardless of that, Virginia’s departure is massively disappointing and he will certainly be determined to prove to Arsenal that he made the correct choice in leaving.