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More Academy Players Who Could Leave This Summer

Arsenal have announced the loan departures of four academy players. They will not be the last to leave the club temporarily – or permanently – this summer.

Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta was reportedly hoping for a large-scale turnover of his first-team squad this summer. As yet, this wholesale change has not occurred. Konstantinos Mavropanos signed a new contract before joining VfB Stuttgart on loan, and a preliminary agreement is in place with A.S. Roma for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to remain in Italy next season. Willian has been the only arrival to date, but that will certainly change.

At academy level, Arsenal have already completed two signings. In the words of James McNicholas, George Lewis and Tim Akinola were recruited as “part of the club’s emphasis on adding ‘development players’ – youngsters between the ages of 18 and 21 who can strengthen the academy sides and potentially develop into first-team players”.

However, more importantly, four youth players have already made temporary departures. Zech Medley, an imposing, left-footed, 20-year-old centre-back has agreed to sign with League One-side Gillingham FC and will be joined at Priestfield Stadium by Trae Coyle, a quick and powerful 19-year-old who can play across the frontline. Zak Swanson, also 19, has made the move to MVV Maastricht of the Eerste Divisie, the Dutch second division, and FA Cup winner Matt Smith completed a non-permanent move to Swindon Town. All four will be hoping to gain quality first-team experience during their time away, and more academy departures should be expected in the coming weeks, be they short-term or otherwise.

Arsenal are fortunate to have two elite first-team goalkeepers in Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martínez, nonetheless, one could be sold this summer. With limited finances, it would be surprising to see Edu and Mikel Arteta – who are now in charge of recruitment following the departure of Raul Sanllehi – spend good money on a new goalkeeper.

If one of the aforementioned shot-stoppers does depart, Matt Macey would likely step into the deputy role, and an academy prospect would become the third-choice. Karl Hein, who joined the squad for the FA Cup final, would appear to be in pole position at present. Nonetheless, at the age of 25, Dejan Iliev has reached a point where academy football is beyond him. If he is not made third-choice, the Macedonian should consider a permanent departure.

A health issue derailed Arthur Okonkwo’s 2019/20 season, and although he is rated highly by the club, keeping him close to Hale End to monitor his well-being and development more closely makes sense for the time being. Tom Smith spent the start of last season on loan at Salisbury in the Southern League Premier Division but returned to the club early after suffering a bad knee injury. With the sheer number of goalkeepers currently in Arsenal’s academy, it would not be surprising to see Smith gain more starting experience elsewhere next season. James Hillson, who has enjoyed a whirlwind 18 months after arriving as an emergency loanee in February 2019, seems likely to be loaned out, with Barnsley, Luton, Portsmouth, and Sunderland reportedly interested.

In defence, Tobi Omole and Matthew Dennis have already been released and Tolaji Bola, 21, needs to kick-start his career elsewhere. Joseph Olowu will remain with Cork City FC until the conclusion of their domestic campaign in October, and Daniel Ballard will be hoping for better injury luck at his next host club. Even with these departures, Harry Clarke, Mark McGuinness, and Alex Kirk would still be available for selection at the heart of Steve Bould’s defence.

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Midfielder Ben Sheaf has been the subject of a six-figure offer from Coventry City, and a move to the Championship would be an excellent move for his career. James Olayinka helped Northampton Town gain Play-off promotion into League One last season, and it would not be surprising to see the midfielder return to the Cobblers. Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell would both benefit from these absences.

Further forward, Nathan Tormey has already announced his departure from the club, and Alfie Matthews has been on trial at Crystal Palace. The future of prolific striker Folarin Balogun has also made headlines in recent weeks. According to David Ornstein, Balogun – who many regard as the current most promising player within Arsenal’s system – will leave this summer if a suitable offer is received. Contract negotiations have been fruitless thus far, but Arsenal will not be short of offers for the New York-born marksman, who was the subject of a £5m bid from Brentford in January.

Tyreece John-Jules is another striker who will probably depart this summer, although his departure is likely to be another of the impermanent kind. A player whose qualities are reminiscent of Alexandre Lacazette, Lincoln City secured his loan signature earlier this year, but a foot injury brought that experience to a premature end. Michael Appleton is confident that Lincoln have built a relationship with Arsenal “which will last for many years,” so a return to Lincolnshire cannot be ruled out for Arsenal’s young star. Jordi Osei-Tutu’s situation is truly unique, and it will be interesting to see what the club decides to do with him. He could be promoted, he could be sold, or he could be loaned out once more to establish whether his late-season production at VfL Bochum was an anomaly or an indicator of future success.

Thankfully, Arsenal’s academy does not lack attacking talent. Sam Greenwood and Khayon Edwards would continue to provide the U23’s with plenty of speed, technical quality, and goals.

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Not only are academy departures beneficial for the development of younger prospects, but there is also a greater financial incentive for Arsenal to facilitate such loans and sales this summer. Every little helps in the current financial climate.

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