Arsenal have had a large crop of young players come through the Hale End Academy.
Over the past two to three years, many of them have made the step into the first-team. Here I will be discussing which ones I believe have a future at the club, those who should seek loan this window and whether certain stars are ready for the next step at Arsenal.
One of the brightest sparks of the 2019/20 season, Saka adjusted to his first season in the first-team like nothing I’ve seen before.
Coming out of Hale End, Saka was rated quite highly but never got the same amount of traction as some of the other youngsters that caught the eye coming through the academy. As he went under the radar, he made only his second European start against Eintracht Frankfurt, where he scored a brilliant goal – with two assists to go with it.
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From that point, he hasn’t looked back. In Saka’s first full Premier League season, he finished third in the running for Arsenal’s Player of the Season, behind only Bernd Leno and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He tallied a total of four goals and 12 assists in 48 games in all competitions.
He has recently been tied down to a new long-term contract at Arsenal and has an unbelievably bright future.
Ainsley is one of the more experienced academy graduates, making his Arsenal debut all the way back in 2014 against Galatasaray in the Champions League.
As of the recent seasons where he has started to play a lot more, it has felt that he sees himself as a midfielder but never really got a chance to play there (similarly to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain).
Before Mikel Arteta came in, the fans’ opinion was very divided. Some felt he just needed time, while others felt he didn’t have adequate quality on the ball to make it at the very top level. But it feels that all of the division has gone. Arteta has used Maitland-Niles as a wing-back on both sides and we have really seen massive developments in his game.
Most notably in the FA Cup run where he kept Riyad Mahrez quiet all game, also containing Mason Mount brilliantly in the final. This season feels as though it is his chance to really kick on from the impressive end to last season and cement himself as one that Arteta can rely on in many different positions.
Out of all the players on this list, it feels as though Joe Willock is the one that generates the most conflict among Arsenal fans. He has all the physical attributes to be a very top player, but he does need to develop his decision making and creativity in the final third if he is really serious about being an Arsenal player in the future.
Willock has a tremendous engine on him and can press for 90 minutes every game. He works up and down and really is a pure box-to-box midfielder. Willock has played a lot of football this season, his most memorable game coming against Liverpool in the 5-5 thriller at Anfield in which he scored one of the goals of the season.
But that is the main reason why the fans get frustrated with him. We know that he has what it takes to make it to the top but we just haven’t seen it enough to put all out trust in him unlike some of our other youngsters.
Emile Smith Rowe
Emile is someone that is held in high regard having worked his way through the academy, and many Arsenal fans are very excited to see him contribute in the 2020/21 season. He spent the second half of the season out on loan at Huddersfield Town where he was getting lots of positive attention – most notably from Terriers’ boss.
After a 2-1 win where he assisted the first goal and won the penalty for the second, then-manager Danny Crowley claimed he could “find space in a telephone box”.
Although we haven’t seen much of Emile Smith Rowe at Arsenal as of yet, I’m really looking forward to see what the future holds for him.
Coming out of the academy, Reiss Nelson was always the one that would be talked about the most. He would constantly dazzle in the Under-23s and made his first team debut in the Community Shield against Chelsea, as Arsenal won 4-1 on penalties.
He then got sent out on loan to Hoffenheim for the 2018/19 season where he started off exceptionally well but things then started to fizzle out as the season went on. He still ended on a respectable seven goals in the league.
Nelson had a very up and down season last year where there were games that he really impressed, showing his blistering pace and neat dribbling ability, but there were also games where that lack of end product and his lack of experience was telling. There are talks that Arteta would be open to sending Nelson out on loan again and I think it would be a great move for him as he will struggle to get a lot of minutes seeing as we have a lot of wingers already at the club.
Eddie Nketiah is someone that we have really started to see grow in confidence and experience throughout the whole of the 2019/20 season. Back in 2017, when Eddie made his debut against Bate Borisov in the Europa League, he was a very skinny and slight player that really struggled to compete at senior level. Which is understandable.
He then got sent out on loan to Leeds for the beginning of the 2019/20 season where he only really featured from the bench, but when he did come on, he usually made a very positive impact. Arteta felt that it was time to recall Nketiah back from his loan early as he wasn’t getting the amount of minutes to warrant being away from the Emirates.
Following that, Arteta started to use Eddie as his backup option to Alexandre Lacazette for the second half of the season, actually starting ahead of the Frenchmen for key games. Nketish would bag four goals in 17 games for Arsenal in all competition, which is a sign positive seeing as he only had a backup role for the most part.
Overall, I think it is very safe to say that Arsenal have done a brilliant job of developing these players into the first-team, putting the club in safe hands in regards to our long-term future.