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Arsenal U24’s: who should look to progress in 2015/16?

Following on from Carl Jenkinson’s new contract and subsequent continuation of his Premier League loan-spell at West Ham, Chuba Akpom’s hat-trick in the pre-season friendly against the Singapore All-Stars, and several other (re)emerging Arsenal talents – let’s discuss who, and how – they can really make the world sit up and take notice this coming year.


Hector Bellerin

Arsenal’s new diminutive Spaniard fast-forwarded his own path to the first team last year after Mathieu Debuchy’s long-term injury, Carl Jenkinson’s loan-spell away and the realisation that Calum Chamber’s doesn’t quite fit in the right-back slot.

Whilst his fledgling defensive maturity took a well-documented battering early on at the hands of Dortmund and Swansea, Hector Bellerin swiftly established himself most certainly as the No2 choice, and at the very least a strong contender for first-choice right-back. With his tutelage background starting at Barcelona before making the move to North London several years ago – it’s obvious when watching Bellerin that offensively he can slot right into the Arsenal style of play and cause his opposing full-back to take a couple of steps back due to his quick feet and even quicker burst of speed.

It’s defensively though, that he can occasionally flatter to deceive. His pace makes up for some positioning errors that still creep into his game, and in a typically English style of criticism – he just feels a little bit too slight in build at the moment to give the fans, and maybe his manager, the confidence he’ll be able to push the likes of Hazard, Ayew and similar – off the ball when they come rampaging at him. If he continues to develop his awareness and follow in several Arsenal player’s steps recently and work on his physique – Debuchy will have a real fight on his hands.

Serge Gnabry

This kid, oh man. He’s got a fight on his hands if he wants to make one of the central or wide-right attacking berth’s his own, but holy moly does this kid have the raw talent to able to do so. Unfortunately, as most Arsenal fans will begrudgingly tell you – Serge Gnabry is seemingly teetering on the edge of the ‘Diaby Zone’. Constant injuries and little niggles have kept this young man from grabbing the spotlight when the unfortunately even more inevitable injuries occured to both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain during the last few seasons.

Displays of his talent against teams like Swansea and Crystal Palace proved he has the upper-body strength, intelligence and tricky feet to play alongside the big-boys in the Premier League, however those two games were during the 2013/14 season! Last year he missed out due to a second, more serious knee injury. He was able to make it back to captain the Arsenal U21’s to good results towards the end of the season. It’s tough to judge his contribution to Germany’s underachievement at the U21 European Championship this summer, as the whole team came out of that tournament with their stock lowered, on the back of his njury I wouldn’t have expected fireworks.

Gnabry might have to go out on loan to get quality high-level game-time that isn’t the Capital One Cup cameos. On the other hand, I’ll put £10 on both Theo & The Ox getting injured at some point so all Gnabry needs to do this year is keep fit, keep himself in the manager’s mind as a possibility and I’m sure he will get a run of games. It’s that old Arsenal curse though. ”If only he could stay fit”.

Calum Chambers

The tall, gangly looking Englishmen who I think was bought to be almost exclusively tutored by Per Mertesacker as his eventual replacement, has a good first season under his belt. Called into action early by injuries like his right-sided defensive partner Bellerin, he impressed early on but I felt that whilst his foray’s as the first-choice right-back showed his technical capability somewhat – it proved he can’t be the first line of the defence and needs to be playing at where he looked most comfortable, paired alongside another centre-back mopping up anything that gets through Coquelin & Co.

I won’t hear anything about him ‘potentially being a defensive midfielder’, sure it’s nice to have that option but he & the Arsenal coaches need to set about drilling him into the first-class, future England centre-back we all think he can be. With Gabriel Paulista playing understudy to Laurent Koscielny – Chambers needs to be Mertesacker’s second shadow this year, and learn the masterful way the Big Friendly German reads the game defensively and use that to his advantage when called upon. Chambers has more pace than the German (which isn’t exactly hard), so the more of Mertesacker’s wisdom he can take in & take to heart – then it will only benefit Arsenal and England in the long run.

Chuba Akpom

I purposefully didn’t write about this fast-emerging English talent first, because since I watched him decimate Aston Villa’s U21 on one of Sky’s rare showings of U21 action in September 2014 – I knew I was watching a future first-teamer in action. Seb Stafford-Bloor put it very eloquently on Twitter the day of his recent hat-trick “It’s not necessarily his finishing, but everything else he does in the attacking third – movement, awareness, first-touch. Has everything.”

He has the physical presence to surprisingly unsettle more veteran defenders, he’s got that mean, occasionally arrogant streak in him that attracts that ‘special’ kind of defensive attention. When watching him against his fellow U21’s it looks like a man against boys. But let’s not stroke his ego too much – he’s very raw. He seems to have taken what was Sanogo’s place in the first team behind Giroud & Welbeck and that elevation to train consistently alongside the two formerly mentioned players and also with the creative players like Ozil, will hopefully hammer home an improvement in his need to be more lethal on occasion, and to develop an understanding with those players that will be feeding him the bullets when he does get his chance – so he can hit the ground running and set the world ablaze.

It’s my honest opinion he can have a break-out season in the mould of Harry Kane had for Tottenham last season, however it will be a minor miracle to be this coming season. He needs to watch and learn how Giroud provides his vital link-up play with the players behind him, and combine that with Welbeck’s pure desire and work rate. If he can successfully do that, I’ll call it now – he may very venture into Thierry Henry levels of goal-scoring. A thoroughly modern striker in the making, soon™.

Gedion Zelalem

A usual suspect in articles of this type, this guy has been waiting in the wings for little over a year and it’s about time he stepped forth. Included once again to train with the first-team squad in an Arsenal pre-season tour this summer, the American youngster plucked out of obscurity at a young age by ex-player turned scout Daniel Karbassiyoon has had fans whispering his name in hushed tones for a while now, as ‘the next big talent to come through Arsenal’s system’ since Jack Wilshere.

Intelligence and eye for a pass like Zelalem’s hasn’t been seen since Fabregas, and often draws comparisons to the early years of the Spaniard as well physically. Very slight, as with most Arsenal youngster’s that are being brought through at the moment, he needs to add some muscle to his frame to help his progression into the world of hard-tackling Premier League football, but being afforded more time to take his Fabregas-like qualities and combine them by learning from Arsenal’s record signing & resident King Wizard Mesut Ozil, and the North London club could very well find themselves with a very potent talent emerging over the next couple of years.

As you can see, the future is bright for all these players should they want it enough. The Premier League is an unforgiving mistress though, so whilst I may be championing this group now – we could see very different outcomes occur should they fail to match their ability with the desire to learn and progress like we all wish they will. The existing Arsenal squad will only get better, with or without those who fall by the wayside – but as always – at Arsenal and under Arsene Wenger – they will always be given a chance should they show they want it enough.

Tweet at me @SamJCrawley if you disagree or agree with anything I’ve written about & we’ll have as much of a conversation as we can over 140 characters!

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