As four outstanding young talents have recently been promoted to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal first team, we take a look at their respective chances of making an impact this season.
With the Gunners’ season well underway following a Community Shield triumph over Chelsea, and a lucky 4-3 Premier League victory against Leicester, news has recently emerged that the Gunners have called upon four youth team players to assume a position in the ranks of the first team squad, namely Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Cohen Bramall.
The aforementioned players have all enjoyed a brilliant preseason campaign, and while they seem likely to make a name for themselves in years to come, which of them will manage to perform this season?
Arsene Wenger’s side performance against the Foxes highlight not only a defensive vulnerability but also a display of tactical indecisiveness, as what started as a back three gradually transitioned into a makeshift back four, including three fullbacks, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drafted into an unusual right-back role.
While the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were absent from that game, it would appear as though the Gunners boss is keen to add even more depth to his team, and with heavy squad rotation on the horizon courtesy of Europa League participation, there will be ample opportunity for some of Arsenal’s younger contingent to force their way into Wenger’s plans in the near future.
1 Reiss Nelson
Having been with Arsenal’s Hale End Academy since 2007, Nelson finally had the chance to feature for the Gunners first team during pre-season, with Wenger heavily using the classy young winger.
The 17-year-old was undoubtedly the star of the north London side preseason, with his brilliant and skillful performances earning him a substitute appearance during the Community Shield against Chelsea. This alone reveal that, of all of the youth players having received first team calls, he is likely to be given the best chance in the first team lineup.
Fans have been comparing him to a young Theo Walcott, Nelson is not just a talented right-winger. His pace is impressive, yet he has a confidence and creativity on the ball that beat that of a young Walcott.
His versatility ensures that Nelson is likely to feature in the Gunners form of attacking midfield role when squad rotation necessitates a change. He has also mentioned that he views Mesut Özil as a mentor, which makes perfect sense when you look at the calibre of his assist for Arsenal in the Emirates Cup against Benfica.
Conclusion: I predict Reiss Nelson will feature in frequent matches for Arsenal, as he has everything needed to impress. He is the most exciting player to come from the Gunners youth teams in quite a while.
2 Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Maitland-Niles is different other youth at the Emirates on this list, in that he has actually accumulated significant playing experience at a high level already in his short career. Currently playing on loan at Ipswich Town in the Championship during the 2015/16 season, Maitland-Niles cemented a starting role on the right-hand side of Arsenal midfield for the majority of the season, playing 30 games, managing a goal and 3 assists.
Arsène Wenger predicts him playing an entirely different role at Arsenal, having used him at the right-hand side of his back 3 during the pre-season. He doesn’t possess the attacking quality to outshine Reiss Nelson on the right of the midfield but looked confident nonetheless while used at centre-back.
With a fully-fit squad, the centre-back role may become somewhat saturated, and with Oxlade-Chamberlain capable of providing cover for Hector Bellerin at right-wing back, it may be a somewhat frustrating season for a very talented young player.
Conclusion: Wouldn’t start ahead of the likes of Rob Holding, may be assisted by the potential departure of Calum Chambers.
3 Joe Willock
Here’s another youngster who has managed to make the headlines this season, centre-midfielder Joe Willock looked convincing in pre-season, competent on the ball, hard-working, with a superb excellent passing ability.
Reminiscent of a developing Jack Wilshere, Joe Willock, the youngest of three footballing brother, will be hoping for a better fate.
While the north London side seem to suffer from a chronic lack of depth in certain positions, the Gunners current depth in midfield options will surely mean that he will find it difficult to break into Arsenal first team in any competition other than the League Cup. At 17, he still has plenty of time to develop further.
Already an energetic and athletic box to box player, Willock is an exciting prospect, and his versatility will see him eventually making it into the Gunners midfield despite the unlikelihood of such a thing happening this season.
Conclusion: Joe Willock is very unlikely to get much of a chance to showcase his impressive abilities.
4 Cohen Bramall
Bramall is a promising and pacy left-back, who joined Arsenal following a successful trial in January this year. Moving to the Emirates from non-league outfit Hednesford Town at the age of 21, he is a reasonably late-bloomer and is the oldest of the youth quartet joining the Gunners rank. With Kieran Gibbs heading towards the exit door at the Emirates, Bramall now appears to be the third-choice-left-back.
With Arsene Wenger choosing to go with a back 3, alongside 2 wing backs, towards the end of last season which same has been utilized in their first two matches of the season, new challenges present themselves for fullbacks seeking to find a place in the starting lineup. While playing centre-back or wing-back differs from the traditional fullback role, this may work to Bramall’s advantage.
Nacho Monreal has often played on the left-hand side of Arsenal’s back 3, with Sead Kolasinac assuming the role of left wing-back. Should Kolasinac need to be rested, Bramall’s particular set of attributes just may see him become the preferable substitute at wing-back, as his pace and energy is arguably superior to the seasoned but ageing Monreal.
Verdict: Would probably be given a chance this season, should Kolasinac pick up an injury.
(UPDATE – Bramall has joined Birmingham City on loan and will be hoping for regular Championship action this year)