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Arthur Okonkwo commits future to Arsenal by signing scholarship deal

England U17 goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo has committed his future to Arsenal by signing a scholarship deal with the club.

There had been much speculation about the future of the 16-year-old, who was monitotred by RB Leipzig and Celtic, but he will now form part of the new scholarship intake at London Colney.

Last season Okonkwo featured in the FA Youth Cup and the U18 Premier League while he was still a schoolboy and he also produced some fine performances in the Dallas Cup and trained with the first-team.

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How does Arsenal’s academy goalkeeping setup look following recent departures?

It is a summer of considerable change for Arsenal, and that certainly applies to the goalkeeping department as well, with there having been changes in that sector in terms of players and coaching staff at both first-team and academy level.

Here’s a look at how Arsenal’s goalkeeping setup could look for the forthcoming campaign, who the coaches are, and the questions that remain unanswered.

First-team

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Bernd Leno joined from Bayer Leverkusen and will be the club’s first-choice goalkeeper next season, which surely means that at least one of Petr Cech and David Ospina will depart permanently or on loan.

Emiliano Martinez, meanwhile, is back from his most recent loan spell at Getafe, where he barely featured. The Argentine turns 26 in September, so a decision on his long-term future will probably be made this summer.

Coaching staff

Gerry Peyton, Arsenal’s long-serving goalkeeping coach, has left the club, with Javi Garcia, who worked with new head coach Unai Emery at Paris Saint-Germain, taking his place. Garcia has also previously had spells coaching the goalkeepers at Granada, Sevilla and Swansea City. Sal Bibbo, meanwhile, will remain at the club.

U23s 

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There was something of a clearout of goalkeepers at youth level at the end of last season, with Ryan Huddart, Hugo Keto and Alex Crean all being released.

Matt Macey remains at the club and is a candidate to be officially promoted to the first-team squad this summer.

Deyan Iliev showed some significant signs of improvement last season following his lengthy injury layoff and has been offered a new deal by Arsenal, which he is likely to accept. It is anticipated that Iliev could go out on loan at some point next season.

Joao Virginia, meanwhile, is widely seen as Arsenal’s most talented young goalkeeper. The Portuguese youth international is still eligible to represent the U18s as an overage player but he will be aiming to play the majority of his football for the U23s, having broken into the side towards the end of last season, and should also feature in the Checkatrade Trophy.

U18s

Arsenal completed the signing of Estonian youngster Karl Jakob Hein last month, and he will look to play regularly for the U18s.

Daniel Barden had to wait for his chances to impress last season and endured some difficult moments, not least in the 9-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, but the youngster will be looking to earn a professional contract.

Tom Smith, meanwhile, is stepping up from Hale End to become a full-time scholar, but it remains to be seen whether the highly rated Arthur Okonkwo, who is being monitored by Celtic and RB Leipzig, will accept Arsenal’s offer to remain at the club.

Coaching staff

Andy Woodman will remain in charge of coaching the academy goalkeepers, where he will be joined by Chris Terpcou, who was previously at Newcastle United.

U16s

Arsenal have some talented goalkeepers at schoolboy level, with Polish prospect Hubert Graczyk and English youngster Ovie Ejeheim having both been called up to the U18 squad last season.

There could well be further alterations, but here is a look at how Arsenal’s goalkeeping setup could look next campaign.

First-team: Leno, Ospina

U23s: Macey, Virginia

Loan: Iliev

U18s: Hein, Barden, Smith

U16s: Graczyk, Ejeheim

Jack Wilshere – The boy wonder whose Arsenal dream didn’t quite go to plan

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‘He won’t stay in the Reserves for long’. Those were the words of Arsene Wenger, commenting after Jack Wilshere, still a schoolboy at the time, had made a remarkable impact in a second-string game against West Ham United a decade ago.

Wilshere’s stunning strike on that night at Underhill remains one of the most iconic youth team moments in recent history and at that point it seemed rather inevitable that he would go on to not only break into the Arsenal first-team but become a star.

It was thought then that only a serious injury could prevent the Hale End product from fulfilling his enormous potential. Sadly, a plethora of setbacks on the fitness front proved to be a recurring theme for Wilshere, who today announced that, after 197 senior appearances for Arsenal, he will be leaving when his contract expires at the end of this month.

The story of how Wilshere’s Arsenal career didn’t quite turn out as expected has been well documented, but it is worth recalling just how special a player he was at youth level and the excitement that his performances generated.

After commencing his academy career with Luton Town, the prospect joined Arsenal in 2001 and excelled as he progressed through the ranks.

Having broken into the U18 side at the end of the 2006/07 campaign, Wilshere went on to star at that level during the following season, with his quick passing and excellent dribbling setting him apart from players who were two or three years older than him.

A promotion to the Reserves followed and, after a goalscoring debut against Reading, the youngster went on to produce that superb performance against West Ham.

Another memorable display of his came against Derby, when Wilshere set up a goal for Rhys Murphy with effortless ease.

The game just came so naturally to him, and Wilshere went on to be part of Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup winning side in 2009, by which point he was already well involved with the senior squad.

It is a great shame that he won’t spend the rest of his career with Arsenal, but it is hoped that the England international can still go on to impress elsewhere, and he does leave the club having been involved in two FA Cup triumphs.

Whether performing at youth level or for the first-team, it was always apparent that Wilshere cared greatly about the club and he will certainly receive a superb reception when he returns to Emirates Stadium.

It is worth remembering just how impressive Wilshere was at youth level, because, despite the array of talented players currently in the club’s ranks, it might be some time before we see something quite so scintillating in the academy sides.

Mertesacker pleased as Arsenal U21s elect to compete in Checkatrade Trophy

An Arsenal U21 side will compete in the Checkatrade Trophy from next season in another change for the academy setup.

The club had previously turned down the opportunity to participate in the tournament in previous campaigns but new academy manager Per Mertesacker feels that Arsenal’s involvement will be hugely beneficial for the academy players.

This tournament will give youngsters the opportunity to test themselves against senior players from League One and League Two.

Mertesacker told Arsenal.com:

We’re pleased to be entering our Under 21s in the Checkatrade Trophy this forthcoming season.

“We feel it’s important to provide our young players with a variety of experiences in their development and we certainly felt that by entering the Checkatrade Trophy, the players will face different challenges from strong club sides.

“With many of the players in this age group destined to go on loan soon in their careers, the experiences from this competition can act as a very good link between academy and first-team football.”

Yassin Fortune joins FC Sion after rejecting new Arsenal deal

Yassin Fortune has signed for Swiss side FC Sion in a permanent move after turning down the offer of a new contract at Arsenal.

The Frenchman, who can play out wide or up front, endured a frustrating 2017/18 campaign during which his playing time was significantly restricted.

Fortune joined Arsenal three years ago but leaves without having made a first-team appearance, with injuries having hampered his progress.

Arsenal are waiting to see whether Vlad Dragomir, Josh Dasilva, Tolaji Bola and Deyan Iliev will accept the contracts offered to them.

Arsenal confirm appointment of Freddie Ljungberg as new U23 coach

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Arsenal have confirmed that Freddie Ljungberg will be the club’s new U23 coach.

Ljungberg, who enjoyed an illustrious playing career with Arsenal, helped to coach the U15s and the UEFA Youth League side two seasons ago.

The Swede also gained experience as an assistant coach at Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, where he worked with former Arsenal academy manager Andries Jonker.

The appointment of Ljungberg means that it is likely that Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman will be leaving, with the pair having been suspended following accusations of bullying.

 

Joel Lopez signing set to solve left-back problem for Arsenal U18s

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Arsenal are reportedly close to signing talented left-back Joel Lopez from Barcelona and if the deal, as expected, goes ahead then it would certainly make plenty of sense.

The 16-year-old has produced some impressive performances for Barcelona at youth level and would go straight into Arsenal’s U18 squad on a scholarship contract which will become a professional deal when he turns 17.

With Dominic Thompson and Tobi Omole, who have both been offered professional terms, no longer eligible for the U18s next season, Arsenal currently have a lack of options at left-back at that level.

Bukayo Saka often plays as a left-back for England at youth level but the starlet, who will sign scholarship terms this summer, is most often deployed as a winger for Arsenal.

Mazeed Ogungbo, who will still be a schoolboy next season, featured for the U18s towards the end of last season but lacks experience, and Lopez would certainly be first-choice if he was to join.

Lopez would also be part of Arsenal’s squad in the FA Youth Cup as the young Gunners look to go a step further than their most recent campaign, when they were beaten in the final by Chelsea.

Arsenal’s U18 squad appears well stocked at present in all positions bar left-back, and the arrival of Lopez would solve that issue, but, more importantly, the Barcelona defender is an excellent prospect for the long term.

A host of prospects have made the move from Barcelona’s La Masia academy to Arsenal in the past. Some, such as Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin, have been rather successful, while others, including Fran Merida, Julio Pleguezuelo and Jon Toral, have found it difficult to carve out a career at Emirates Stadium.

Lopez will hope to push into Arsenal’s U23 squad in the second half of next season and perhaps even train with the first-team if he impresses sufficiently.

In the immediate, term, though, he is a necessary signing to fix a problem position for Arsenal U18s.