The circumstances in which Jack Henry-Francis made his debut for Arsenal U23s yesterday were rather unusual, with the midfielder benefitting from the fact that Miguel Azeez and Catalin Cirjan were unavailable having started in the FA Youth Cup on Saturday.
In addition, with Ben Cottrell, Jordan McEneff and Charlie Patino all out injured, Steve Bould had little choice but to call upon Henry-Francis for the clash against Everton.
The 17-year-old soon demonstrated, however, that he wasn’t in the side to make up the numbers as he finished the game as one of Arsenal’s standout performers.
Deployed alongside Tim Akinola at the base of the midfield, Henry-Francis was a key source of creativity for Arsenal, especially in the second half, as he played some excellent passes.
One such ball found Folarin Balogun, who couldn’t quite find the net on that occasion, while Henry-Francis also demonstrated that he is capable of breaking up play effectively.
There were a couple of occasions when he dwelled on the ball for a little too long, but for a first competitive outing at this level it was a very good performance overall.
The only problem for Henry-Francis now is that he may have to be patient for further opportunities at this level.
Although he is a regular for Ken Gillard’s side in the league, at present the Hale End product doesn’t get into the strongest XI for the U18 in the FA Youth Cup, as demonstrated by the fact that he was brought on as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers.
However, if further Youth Cup games clash with U23 fixtures then Henry-Francis could find himself called up again for the second-string.
Next season more opportunities may present themselves if Cottrell goes on loan and Azeez gains further experience of senior football in some capacity.
Breaking through as a central midfielder at Arsenal certainly won’t be an easy task given his similarly-aged competitors, but Henry-Francis demonstrated yesterday that he deserves to be considered as an impressive prospect.