Arsenal Youth progress report part 3 – from Cottrell to Okonkwo

In our third part of this season’s progress report we look at the development of youngsters at the club who were born between September 2001 and August 2002.

RYAN ALEBIOSU

U23 apps – 18 (1 assist)

EFL Trophy apps – 3

Alebiosu established himself as the first choice right-back for the U23s during his maiden season as a professional player. The Hale End product started the campaign very well as he impressed with his diligent defending but his performance levels dropped a little as the season wore on. Next season he will hope to edge closer to first-team involvement of some description, whether at Arsenal or on loan.

BEN COTTRELL

Europa League apps – 1

U23 apps – 17 (4 goals, 2 assists)

EFL Trophy apps – 4 (2 assists)

Before injury brought his campaign to an early end, Cottrell had made a major impact, with the highlight undoubtedly being his debut for the first-team against Dundalk in the Europa League. The midfielder, who is both skilful and hard-working, featured prominently for the U23s and was one of the club’s standout performers at that level, while he also caught the eye in the EFL Trophy. Cottrell seems set for a bright future and will hope to get further first-team recognition next season, although there is much competition for places regarding talented young midfielders at the club.

TOM SMITH

National League apps (Dover) – 3

U23 apps – 5

EFL Trophy apps – 1

Smith gained further experience of senior football in non-league with Dover Athletic, having had a spell with Salisbury during the previous season. After returning to Arsenal he made a handful of appearances for the U23s, although he failed to keep a clean sheet. The goalkeeper also trained with the first-team but doesn’t appear to have as much potential as the likes of Arthur Okonkwo and Karl Hein.

ARTHUR OKONKWO

U23 apps – 7

EFL Trophy apps – 1

Having missed the whole of the previous season because of a health problem, simply playing again was a major positive for Okonkwo. A disciplinary incident prior to the U23s’ fixture away to Manchester City threatened to derail his campaign, but he was given another chance and took it. Okonkwo produced some impressive displays for the U23s in difficult circumstances and was named on the bench for the first-team on three occasions in the Europa League, including for both legs of the semi-final against Villarreal. It appears that Okonkwo has edged ahead of Karl Hein in the pecking order, and he will look to become more involved with the first-team next season.

JOEL LOPEZ

U23 apps -15

EFL Trophy apps – 3

Lopez was the main left-back for the U23s in the first season that he wasn’t eligible to play for the U18s. In truth the Spaniard wasn’t particularly impressive, with his positioning leaving a lot to be desired, although he did push forwards with regularity and created several chances. The youngster was named on the bench against Slavia Prague in the Europa League, but doesn’t seem quite ready to step up to the first-team yet and a loan spell could be on the cards next season.

KARL HEIN

U23 apps – 9

EFL Trophy apps – 1

It was a memorable season on the international front for Hein, who now has six appearances for Estonia at senior level despite being just 19 years old. Hein also featured prominently for Arsenal U23s and made some impressive saves but he is still rather error prone and his distribution requires much work. The prospect made the bench for the first-team in the Europa League on seven occasions, but appears to have been overtaken by Okonkwo in recent months. Hein could go on loan at some point next season.

NIKOLAJ MOLLER

U23 apps – 18 (7 goals, 3 assists)

EFL Trophy apps – 2

Having joined Arsenal from Malmo in October, Moller quickly established himself as a key player for the U23s, with Folarin Balogun often being deployed out wide to accommodate him. The pair linked up well at times, with the Swedish forward making good use of his aerial prowess. Moller, who had a few games as a right winger, scored seven goals for the U23s, which included three penalties, but there are times where he is a rather peripheral figure in games. Next season he will be aiming to be called up to the first-team at some stage.

OMAR REKIK

U23 apps – 1

Arsenal initially struck to a deal to sign Rekik last summer, but the transfer was delayed until January and the centre-back then suffered an injury which meant that he didn’t feature until May. Rekik finally made his debut for the U23s against West Ham United on the last day of the season and should be a mainstay at that level going forward. It has been notable that Rekik has trained with the first-team on every possible occasion, so a senior call-up may not be too far away if he can avoid further injuries.


This is a group that has already produced Bukayo Saka, one of the academy’s greatest recent graduates, so for another player to progress to the first-team would be a bonus. There are certainly some good prospects in this crop, though, with Cottrell and Okonkwo both having a chance of at least getting into the first-team squad. Recent foreign signings Moller and Rekik are also players to keep an eye on.

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One comment

  1. Looking closely at the keeper situation I found a very interesting fact. All 10 keepers were born in 5 years for example
    Leno v Ryan (born 1992)
    Runarrsson v Iliev (95)
    Hillson v Okonkwo (2001)
    Smith v Hein (02)
    Graczyk v Ejeheri (03)

    I can’t help thinking that as none of these keepers are eligible for under 18 football next season (unless played as over age) the club might look at these duels for a position.

    For me their is a clear winner in each duel and personally think the club should be looking to sell/release or loan at least half of these.

    Personally, I would be looking to bring in a better keeper than Leno and sell him, runarrsson and iliev, buy Ryan. Then choose the clear winner in each duel to go to the u23s ie, Okonkwo, Hein and Grackzyk. With one going on loan, probably Hein.

    Hillson, Smith and Ejeheri could be released

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