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Spotlight on Youth Progress

Freddie Ljungberg’s move to Assistant Manager from his previous role as Under-23’s boss heralds a shift in focus for our club.

The statement that accompanied the Swede’s move to Unai Emery’s bench chose to underline this, mentioning that Ljungberg’s intimate knowledge of our youth system and the products that have rolled off the conveyor belt recently was the reason that Freddie has taken Steve Bould’s role – with Bould going in the opposite direction.

It is this hands-on, daily intel that Ljjungberg possesses, that gives him the best position to determine who can move up from the Academy and bolster our squad.

With our self-sustainability model in full effect, the dream situation for our club hierarchy and our bank balance, would be finding the answers to bolstering our squad within our current ranks – unearthing the latest rough diamond and polishing it in front of our very eyes in the stands.

Freddie is meant to be the conduit between the kids trying to make that step up, to the ear of Unai Emery, who knows that his budget will leave him hindered in his attempt to reclaw our Champions League prospects back, after last season saw us confirm we will miss out for a third consecutive season.

With Champions League omission comes a shrunken budget, so Ljungberg moving up to provide Emery with another eye, perhaps the most important eye amongst our coaching personnel, means that Emery can have a true gauge on whether our prospects can supply the fillip that our first team and squad we so desperately require.

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Jo Willock and Eddie Nketiah spring immediately to mind in regards to who will make the step up, but there are others who will be in with a shout.

Bukayo Saka and Tyreece John-Jules are others who are in with a shot, and Emile Smith-Rowe, along with Reiss Nelson, are champing at the bit to get the nod.

Much like last season, Emery’s first, we can tell a lot from Emery’s team selection for the supposed ‘friendly games.’ He rotated heavily, and with a hectic warm-up schedule, thanks in part to sponsorship deals, games were thick and fast. That meant plenty of chances for the kids to impress, but what will also help these kids show that Freddie’s testimonials were all true – is squad strength.

There has been talk of Arsenal going in for Keiran Tierney in a bid to boost our defensive strength, and it is obvious that our backline is in dire need of reinforcements.

So, with Freddie swooping in and having Emery’s ear in regards to what kid can help out in our hour of need, or who has what it takes, our kids could well be the salve that eases the burn on our backline.

Freddie is meant to help the transition between the youth and first team sides, and with our defence on its knees last season, Ljungberg will be instrumental in ensuring the likes of Calum Chambers, Zach Medley and Jordi Osei-Tutu, currently on loan, make the big leap from boy to man in terms of football.

Whether the Swede truly has enough sway to ensure Emery listens to him regarding our players is another matter intirely, but it is irrefuteable that our club would enjoy a ‘signing’ that came straight from our youth team.

We can only wait and see if Ljungberg is starting to have an effect on proceedings. With the precociousness’ of youth also means we should remember that they will have to be given a little flex in order to weed out the mistakes their game demands they make in order to learn vital lessons.

Without patience, then those opportunities that Ljungberg will fight so hard for might as well not happen. We need to keep that in mind when these kids light up the pitch.

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Youth

We seem to have a pretty settled and well stocked squad this season.

Depth in every position, competition to drive our players forward and avoid resting on any laurels, our team appears to have the necessary resources to last through a rigorous season, even if injury bites.

What about the near future though?

It would appear we have that covered too, thanks to our promising youth starlets pushing through the Academy.

In Eddie Nketiah, Ainslie Maitland-Niles, Emile Smith-Rowe and Alex Iwobi, we have players ready to be the next spine of our side. It doesn’t stop there either.

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We have Gedion Zelalem now back from serious injury, and with previous loan spells giving him the experience he needs to push on further, it could be that Zelalem pushes out from the shadows and thrusts himself back in the limelight once again.

We have Ben Sheaf and Josh DaSilva, players who our backroom staff and those who have seen them have been raving about.

We also have Chris Willock, the midfielder who has impressed Emery enough to remain part of first team plans. Willock may not have many minutes under his belt, but the fact he has remained in the squad and hasn’t been sold or loaned points to a talented player who has kept himself in full view of the manager.

Let’s not forget about Reiss Nelson as well.

Compare this to our rivals for honours.

tottenham have the likes of Kyle Walker-Peters who seems promising enough, and Harry Winks is earning international recognition, but the best of the rest of their youth system is nowhere to be found.

At City, Phil Foden aside, there are no kids pushing through whatsoever.

United, before Mourinho anyway, were a conveyor belt for talent, and they also had a slim chance of making it into the team. Now, aside from McTominay, they have the likes of Tuanzebe who are being sent on loan as they have no hope of making an impression on the first team.

Chelsea have no representatives from their youth pool, and their recruitment policy may have calmed down, but their large amount of kids sent out on loan to the purgatory that is Vitesse Arnhem speaks volumes about what is required to be a first teamer at the Bridge.

We have not only increased the amount of our youth products coming through, but we have increased the quality.

Just look at Maitland-Niles last year. In amongst international class but a poor team, Maitland-Niles adapted in his full-back role, used his defensive nous to forge himself a slot in the squad, and impressed both Wenger and Emery enough to consider him in his preferred capacity and a s a certified first team player.

Emile Smith-Rowe made his splash in pre-season, and swayed Emery so much that he never left the first team fold. The teenager is making sporadic appearances, and is well on course to achieve great things with Arsenal. He has now got off the mark in terms of goals too.

Nketiah made a big splash last season by rescuing us with a superb brace in our league cup win over Norwich, and despite struggling to get into the team, has impressed when on the pitch, and is constantly in the squad and on the bench to be called upon.

When injuries bite and inevitable departures occur, these players will form the backbone of Arsenal – if all goes well, injury and mentality permitting.

Alex Iwobi is the target the kids have to aim for, and the Nigeria player is coming on leaps and bounds this season. He hauled himself up through the youth system, and now stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ozil’s and the Aubameyang’s in the team.

When players depart, we have the ideal fillers, and they will be one of our own.

Krystian Bielik – Giant Strides 

Krystian Bielik joined Arsenal in January 2015 from Legia Warsaw as a defensive midfielder, but it is his conversion to central defence that has seen him encroach upon first team territory.

Fans expected much from this Polish prodigy, reports of his fast track to the Legia first team, and his overall technique, saw him unfairly compared to Patrick Vieira, but Gooners would have to wait to see him take to the field in the first team.

His debut was made in the inauspicious – and quite frankly disastrous – 3-0 mauling at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup. He replaced the overwhelmed Glenn Kamara in defensive midfield, but his development in defence had already far before then.

It was only a few months into his Arsenal career that his talents were perceived to be a fine fit for the backline, and he started to make appearances for the Arsenal youth team in defence ( thank you to Jeorge Bird, who you can follow on Twitter at @jeorgebird if you want the heads up on all Arsenal youth ).

Bielik had made an astronomical rise at Legia Warsaw in his short time there. He was just 16 when he made his bow, and it seems that Bielik is more than familiar with defying odds. You need only look at his displays in this bout of pre-season friendlies to see that Bielik has again made huge strides in his progress.

Appearances in the 1-1 draw against RC Lens, and the victories over the MLS All-Star team and Chivas de Guadalajara, have underlined the potential that Bielik possesses. In particular, his half that he played against the creme of the MLS showed that Bielik may yet be an option for the near future.

Tasked with quelling the threat of David Villa and perennial Arsenal destroyer Didier Drogba, most would have fairly been of the opinion that the Pole would struggle. Throw in the fact that his partner at the back was new signing Rob Holding – and you had a recipe that potentially could have been another crushing blow to his hopes akin to the Sheffield Wednesday nightmare.

We needn’t have feared though. His performance was imperious. Rob Holding may have grabbed the headlines, but Bielik and his composure at the back was just as important. He also showed he was more than adept at playing the ball out from the back, being the catalyst for moves. His origins in midfield seemed to provide him with just another arrow to his quiver. His passing seemed slick, and his awareness was on point. 

Another plus point was his physical prowess. His aerial duels with Drogba were compelling viewing, and he more than held his own. The fact that Bielik is still in his teens and he is capable of this level should inspire much confidence. 

Could this mean that he can make the step up this season? Probably not. He has much competition for a role in the heart of the back, with Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Chambers and Holding ahead of him in the pecking order. Once again, the Capital One Cup represents his best option this coming season. His season for the youth team has done him no harm though, it appears, so another term for the reserves may just elevate him still.

If his appetite for football exceeds this level though, then a loan spell for a Championship side – or even a Premier League team – beckons. There would be no end of takers for such promise, and his development may just require a keener test than he faced last season.

Either way, Bielik is a testament to the good work the coaches are doing for our kids. His advancement is proof that what is taking place on the training fields is working, and Bielik is reaping the rewards. 

He may yet have to show patience, but his time may yet be coming. The answer to Arsenal’s defence in the next few years may comprise of three parts – with Chambers, Holding and Bielik all impressing when given the chance. 

Thank you to Stuart Macfarlane for the image.
It is good news for Bielik. His path may yet be long, but the distance he has to cover to reach his goal is far shorter than it was when he joined. 

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Will A Loan Be the Answer?

Originally posted on Arsenal Mania.

At the time of writing, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made a century of Premier League appearances. That is an average of twenty appearances per season. More than enough, you could argue, for a burgeoning talent to show a hint of progression.

The Ox however, has plateaued.

In those 100 showings for his club, he has garnered seven goals and eleven assists. Hardly the fruits of a world-class youngster. Of course, he has been beset by injuries, but there have been long spells of play between these ailments and what has become abundantly clear, is that the 22year old Englishman has fallen behind his own projection chart.

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