This season has been one filled with searching.
In amongst the plethora of disappointment and underwhelming results and performances, we have scoured the earth for positives.
The Premier League has made for unpleasant viewing for quite some time, and winning a trophy has looked like a pipe dream. So going through the campaign requires a light at the end of the tunnel.
That shining beacon of hope has been our array of Academy talent that has bolstered our squad.
Bukayo Saka, Jo Willock, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah. These kids have lifted us when we needed it most with displays that are far beyond their tender years.
When our squad has needed some urgent remedies, they have stepped up and now, our squad looks filled with talent. So much so that when considering potential transfer activity in the summer, we are now considering what new recruits would do to the future of these kids.
They are the future of the club, but are they one season wonders? Or does their talent match their work-rate?
In short, does their future lie as a bona-fide first teamer at an Arsenal that has heir heads craned upward?
They call a first season for a youth product – a breakthrough season. That slightly underplays what Saka has done for Arsenal.
He is our chief assist maker this season, far and away above anyone else. He covers more ground than most and has looked at home in neat interplay around the box with more esteemed players, so his talents are up to scratch.
All this glows brighter when you consider that two thirds of his starts have been at left-back and he is still a teenager.
There are still question marks about his future as this is his first campaign, but surely his figures and his tendency to influence games spell a prominent place for next season under Arteta.
Jo Willock / Emile Smith-Rowe
The midfielder divides opinion, and so does his permanent position. He has split his time between playing as a back up Number10 and a central midfielder – where is he best?
We have seen he has an eye for a pass and we also know that his energy is bountiful enough to play in central midfield, but it won’t be his talent that defines his immediate future.
It will be who he has in front of him. In the centre, we have Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi. They are all ahead of him in the queue. Whereas in the playmaker role, it is only Ozil that really stands in his way, aside from one of his Hale End brethren – Smith-Rowe.
Yep, the kid who is on loan at Huddersfield has made a bigger splash in terms of excitement than Willock and it is perceived that Smith-Rowe has the bigger future. So if Emile can make his loan spell a success, he will return in the summer with a great place on the squad ladder.
Willock though, don’t write him off. His pass success is comparable to not only Guendouzi, but pass master Ozil (84% compared to 88%) and his defensive merits stand up too. Willock has a future, but if he wants to avoid being a bit part – he needs to make an impact in one position.
The striker scored when he played at Leeds during his loan spell – but that wasn’t enough to further his development. He was recalled and he looked to be going on loan to another club, but when Arteta saw him in training, he realized that he was good enough to play.
That says much for the dedicated youngster. He shows a predatory instinct that comes as much with being born with it as it does with development. Nketiah is on the cusp though – he needs to make the most of the remainder of this season.
He has the faith of the boss and has already started since being recalled. He now needs to be dependable, and get some goals. Succeed and he will be our backup. Fail, and another loan or a move to an ambitious club looks to be on the horizon.
The midfielder turned right-back has an old head on young shoulders. He has made a real fist of his stint as Bellerin’s deputy and since Arteta arrived, Maitland-Niles has really stepped up. His stamina is up there with the best and his defensive work shows why he works well as a midfielder.
Trouble is, he has been so good at right-back that seeing him in the centre looks to be far off.
And now the acquisition of Cedric Soares sees him slip down the pecking order. Attributes alone mean he can forge a career at Arsenal in the centre, but AMN has a lot of obstacles in his way in either position…
The winger was fantastic in Germany on loan, but injury has curtailed his seismic performances at Arsenal. He was prevalent under Emery but he is now only feeling his way back.
The difference for Nelson as opposed to the others is that he offers true width. We suffer from a lack of this and if he can get some minutes during the rest of this season, Nelson can leave Arteta feeling like he can be a worthy member of next season’s squad.
The future is bright, but this talented bunch still have plenty of work to do if they want to cement their Arsenal legacy.