Much of the talk surrounding Arsenal this summer has been about new signings coming to the club to help strengthen the first team squad. Nicolas Pepe, Dani Ceballos and Gabriel Martinelli will all be expected to play a part in Arsenal having a much-improved season this year and hopefully help to bring Champions League football back to the Emirates.
There are a number of players who were raised at the Hale End academy who will be looking to break through this season and announce themselves on the first team stage. Some of these players have gotten opportunities to impress in the Europa League and League Cup, others have gained valuable first team experience on loan at various levels and some have yet to get their chance at senior level. So, let’s take a look at the Academy players who could potentially make a breakthrough for the Gunners this season and evaluate the impact they can have.
One of the most highly rated products of the Arsenal academy for the last number of years, Nelson’s potential is astounding. Natural pace and incredible skill, to go along with the football brain to play both as a winger or as a number 10.
The 2018/19 season saw Nelson go on loan to Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga where he made an immediate impact and impressed all who saw him. Scoring seven goals in 23 appearances for the German side, as well as winning the October Rookie of the Month award, Nelson garnered a lot of interest and received plenty of plaudits.
Having impressed once again in pre-season this summer, Nelson looks ready to solidify himself as a first team regular. The signing of Nicolas Pepe may have damaged his chances of forcing his way into the starting 11 but Nelson will certainly be competing with fellow academy product Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan for minutes and opportunities.
The minimum we can expect from Nelson this season is to be a regular in the Europa League and League Cup campaigns and sporadic Premier League appearances and he will be hoping that he can do enough in those games to force his way into Unai Emery’s first choice 11.
Possibly Arsenal’s standout performer in pre-season, Willock has definitely given himself a chance to fill the gap left by the departure of Aaron Ramsey. Technically gifted with good pace and the ability to glide past players in midfield, Willock has is more than capable of playing as a deep-lying midfield player as well as possessing an eye for goal making great runs from deep beyond the strikers.
Dani Ceballos’ arrival from Real Madrid may hamper Willock’s chances of nailing down a starting place this season but he is sure to feature heavily for Emery’s side this year. Willock’s biggest improvement from last season has been physically.
Showing his technical ability in his Europa League appearances last season, Willock did however, appear to lack the physical presence for first team football. This no longer appears to be the case as Willock has starred for Arsenal in almost every game through this pre season even drawing high praise from football legend and Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.
Willock looks sure to be a future star for Arsenal. Whether that happens this season or takes a little longer to come to fruition, the future is certainly bright for the teenager.
Nketiah burst onto the scene in October 2017, scoring a late equaliser on his first team debut mere seconds after coming on against Norwich in the League Cup. He followed that up with an extra-time winner and got Arsenal fans very excited about Nketiah with many likening him to club legend Ian Wright. Since then however, first team opportunities have been hard to come by for the 20-year old.
With the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in front of you, chances are going to be few and far between. Nketiah is definitely a natural goalscorer, even in games where he doesn’t score his instincts are clear to see as he always seems to find himself in the right position. Opportunities will most likely be limited again for Eddie this season, particularly with the arrival of Nicolas Pepe.
A spell out on loan is a definite possibility for the upcoming season. Consistent games could be huge for Nketiah’s confidence as at times ion his first team chances he has snatched at chances, appearing to be trying to hard to score and rushing his opportunities.
Nketiah may well have a future at Arsenal but a loan spell in the Championship this season may be the best way for him to achieve this.
Having impressed massively scoring 3 goals for Emery’s side last season, Smith-Rowe has unfortunately missed all of the team’s pre-season due to an injury he picked up while on loan at Bundesliga side RB Leipzig in the second half of last season. A fantastic prospect, Smith-Rowe looked primed to make a major breakthrough this season.
His injury will however make this difficult as he will be competing for minutes with academy teammates Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson, who may have stolen a march on him after impressing against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in pre-season. A loan spell to regain his match fitness and sharpness is a definite possibility for Smith-Rowe when he returns from injury.
Still only 19 years old, there is plenty of time for Smith-Rowe to make a first team breakthrough. It would be great for the young midfielder to get out on loan to a Premier League side or top Championship team this season and have the opportunity to show his talent and set himself for a big impact at the Emirates in the 2020/21 season.
There are a number of other academy products who will be looking to impress this season, whether that is featuring for Unai Emery’s side in League Cup and Europa League matches or getting out on loan to gain more regular senior football. Bukayo Saka, Tyreece John-Jules, Dominic Thompson and Zec Medley have all featured during pre-season at times looking very impressive.
Opportunities for Saka and John-Jules will be hard to come by with the depth of competition in attacking areas for Arsenal. Saka has youth on his side as he doesn’t turn 18 until September. Another season in he Under 23’s may be the best decision for Saka as he will still have the opportunity to train with and learn from the likes of Pepe and Aubameyang.
Having made his competitive debut last season, Tyreece John-Jules is another 18-year old attacker attempting to breakthrough at the Emirates. Similar to Saka, John-Jules may remain in the under 23’s side this season but a loan spell away from Arsenal is also a possibility for him. For Medley and Dominic Thompson, the first team chances available to them will depend on the business Edu and Raul Sanllehi can get done in the remaining days of the window.
Thompson is a highly rated left back prospect who could receive a first team chance this year but if Kieran Tierney does sign before Thursday’s deadline then opportunities will be scarce for Thompson. Zec Medley is in a similar position as Arsenal have been linked with moves Danielle Rugani, Dayot Upamecano and Samuel Umtiti. Should one of these arrive at the club, Medley’s future may lie away from Arsenal.
The future certainly looks bright for Arsenal with the players highlighted above. Coupling these with the players the club are attempting to bring in will make for exciting times ahead for the Gunners as they look to get back into contention for Champions League places and further down the line, fighting for titles.