It has often been the case in recent years that Arsenal youngsters have made their first-team debuts at the age of 18 or 19, but Julio Pleguezuelo has done it the hard way.
Over five years after joining the Gunners and having made more than half a century of appearances at U23 level, not to mention taking in two loan spells, the 21-year-old Spaniard finally pulled on the red and white shirt in a competitive fixture last night as Arsenal took on Blackpool in the Carabao Cup.
Given the length of time that he has been at the club, Pleguezuelo’s name is rather familiar for many supporters, but some of those who hadn’t previously seen him play were impressed with how the defender performed in the 2-1 victory at Emirates Stadium.
Pleguezuelo was composed aerially and, as he is typically does, played some slick passes. Impressively, given his lack of senior experience, he also demonstrated leadership qualities as he frequently provided his team-mates with words of encouragement.
There were a couple of occasions when Pleguezuelo was caught out but on the whole he was composed and will hope to have done enough to convince Unai Emery that he is worthy of further opportunities in the future.
Just to get to this stage is quite something for Pleguezuelo, who surely wouldn’t have imagined being anywhere near the senior squad at this stage when he was out on loan at Gimnastic de Tarragona in the second half of last season.
For a while it had seemed that Pleguezuelo’s chance of making the breakthrough at Arsenal had gone, especially following the arrival of Konstantinos Mavropanos.
However, Mavropanos’ injury and the continued absence of Laurent Koscielny has provided Pleguezuelo with the opportunity to train frequently with the first-team this season, and he surely must have caught Emery’s eye during those sessions.
When he joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old Pleguezuelo quickly established himself as a regular in what was then the U21 side and stood out with his speed and excellent reactions.
He was part of the team that helped Arsenal to get promoted to the top tier of second string football and surely has to go down as one of the most consistent performers that the club have ever had at youth level.
Although Pleguezuelo featured for the first-team against Boreham Wood in a friendly in 2014, further opportunities were not forthcoming, and the conversion of Krystian Bielik and Ben Sheaf from midfielders into centre-backs didn’t help his cause.
Plegeuzuelo built up some experience of senior football in the Spanish second tier with Mallorca and Gimnastic but never gave up on his dream of getting into the Arsenal first-team.
Despite making his debut, the youngster’s long-term future at the club is far from secure. Pleguezuelo turns 22 in January and his current contract runs out in the summer, while if he does stay he must be listed as a senior player in both the Premier League and European competitions from next season.
The former Barcelona youth player is doing everything in his power to convince Arsenal to keep him on and if a decision had to be made now then the likelihood would be that he would be retained.
However, the overall situation must be assessed and Arsenal certainly have a lot of central defensive options at their disposal at present. Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Koscielny and Mavropanos are all in the first-team squad, while Calum Chambers is out on loan.
Bielik is also on loan and Sheaf is back from injury, while Pleguezuelo must also look over his shoulder at the likes of Zech Medley and Danny Ballard, who are establishing themselves in the U23s – Medley, for instance, made the bench for the first-team in the Premier League recently.
It should also be considered, though, that Pleguezuelo has another string to his bow in that he can play at right-back. It is certainly not his best position, but neither Stephan Lichtsteiner nor Carl Jenkinson are guaranteed to be at the club next season, and Emery could look at Pleguezuelo’s versatility as a useful asset.
Whatever transpires, the situation is certainly looking far more positive for Pleguezuelo than it has done for some time, and he will look to continue his Arsenal journey for even longer.