Clearout needed: How will Arsenal reshape their U23 squad ahead of next season?

Arsenal U23s are due to return to pre-season training next month and, while there will be much focus on the identity of the successor to Steve Bould as coach, there is also the considerable task ahead of shaping next season’s squad.

U23s football is generally an amalgamation of players at various stages of their career – first-team players dropping down, some individuals who should really be out on loan and prodigious youngsters who are playing above their age group.

The core group of the U23 squad, however, should consist of players between the ages of 18 and 21 who are looking to edge closer to the first-team.

Arsenal have something of a problem in that regard as they have 33 players on professional contracts who, as things stand, will be fully fledged members of the U23 squad. Then you have to factor in the five second-year scholars – Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, Ovie Ejeheri, Mazeed Ogungbo, Daniel Oyegoke and Kido Taylor-Hart – who have all been offered professional deals. In addition there could also be some new signings.

Overall, it is clear that Arsenal need to reduce the size of their U23 squad ahead of next season as the group should ideally be made up of around 20 players, but how will they go about that task?

Firstly, the club will have to wait and see whether the five aforementioned youngsters and goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo accept their contract offers. If any of them decline then it would be a source of frustration but would bring the squad size down a little.

Then Arsenal have to start the clearout. 26-year-old goalkeeper Deyan Iliev will be allowed to leave if a suitable offer is made, while Ben Sheaf could join Coventry City permanently. Tolaji Bola and Jordi Osei-Tutu are both now at the stage of their career where they need to move on, even though the latter has been rather unfortunate with injuries.

Last year Arsenal got around the problem of having too many U23 players by loaning half the squad out. It wouldn’t be too surprising if a similar scenario occurred this time. Folarin Balogun could be promoted to the first-team, but Daniel Ballard, Zech Medley, Trae Coyle, Harry Clarke, Tyreece John-Jules, Mark McGuinness, James Olayinka, Matt Smith and Zak Swanson could all go on loan again having already experienced spells of varying degrees of success. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that some of them could depart permanently.

Others could go on loan for the first time – the likes of Jonathan Dinzeyi, Tim Akinola and George Lewis didn’t exactly set the world alight during their maiden season at the club and there is no need for them to stay and potentially prevent younger players from getting minutes in the U23s.

There are further players who could go on loan, too, with left-back Joel Lopez falling into that category. Jordan McEneff, who was given a contract extension recently, may also be sent out on temporary transfer for the first time.

The goalkeeping situation also needs to be resolved. There is no need to have Iliev, Okonkwo, Karl Hein, Tom Smith, James Hillson, Hubert Graczyk and Ovie Ejeheri all competing for a place in the U23s. One of Okonkwo (if he stays) and Hein should be loaned out, with the other remaining, while Graczyk and Ejeheri could provide cover. Smith and Hillson should be sent on loan.

If all of the above occurred, it would leave Arsenal with a core U23 squad that would look something like this:

Goalkeepers: Okonkwo, Graczyk, Ejeheri

Right-backs: Alebiosu, Norton-Cuffy*

Centre-backs: Rekik, Monlouis*, Kirk, Oyegoke

Left-backs: Ogungbo, Jeffcott*

Midfielders: Cottrell, Azeez, Cirjan, Patino*, Flores*, Henry-Francis*

Wingers/Attackers: Moller, Salah-Eddine, Taylor-Hart, Butler-Oyedeji, Ideho, Hutchinson*, Richards*

* = still eligible for U18s

This way Arsenal would have quite a young U23 squad, which would enable more of the talented crop of U18s to become increasingly involved as the campaign progresses.

There are others who will be hoping for more chances at this level, too, such as Zach Awe, Khayon Edwards, Luigi Gaspar, Taylor Foran and Charles Sagoe Jr, who have all previously been called up to the squad.

In the second half of the season the likes of Ben Cottrell and Miguel Azeez could be loaned out which would allow opportunities for players such as Mauro Bandeira.

In conclusion, there is certainly a lot of work for Arsenal to do this summer with regards to their U23 squad as they look to accelerate the development of their various young prospects.

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One comment

  1. You have got it sorted Jeorge. Job done. Did you copy the loans guys in the post? If not then get on it stat.
    Don’t you think that Azeez and Cottrell should also be out on loan?
    Some questions should be asked on what method was used to bring players like Akinola and Lewis in last summer.
    The older guys should all be out on year long loans.
    On Bola, if no back up LB comes forward, I would not mind seeing him given a run at the back up spot. The little that I have seen of him, he does have some talent going forward but seem to lack pace to recover. That can be fixed with coaching…not much to lose.
    Thanks as always.

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