With Arsenal’s season well underway following a Community Shield triumph over Chelsea, and a shaky 4-3 Premier League victory against Leicester, news has recently emerged that Arsenal have called upon four youth team players to assume a position in the ranks of the first team squad, namely Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Cohen Bramall.
The aforementioned players have all enjoyed a shining preseason campaign, and while they seem likely to make a name for themselves in years to come, which of them will impress this season?
Arsenal’s performance against Leicester highlighted not only a defensive vulnerability but also a display of tactical indecisiveness, as what began as a back three gradually transitioned into a makeshift back four, including three fullbacks, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drafted into an unusual right-back role.
While the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were absent from that game, it would appear as though Arsène Wenger is keen to add even more depth to his team, and with heavy squad rotation on the horizon, courtesy of Europa League participation, there will be ample opportunity for some of Arsenal’s younger contingent to force their way into Wenger’s plans in the near future.
1 Reiss Nelson
Having been with Arsenal's Hale End Academy since 2007, Nelson finally featured for the first team during pre-season, with Arsène Wenger heavily utilising the classy young winger.
A mere 17 years old, Nelson was undoubtedly the star of Arsenal's preseason, with his stellar performances earning him a substitute appearance during the Community Shield against Chelsea. This alone shows that, of all the youth players having received first team calls, Nelson likely has the best chance in the first team lineup.
With many fans comparing him to a young Theo Walcott, Nelson is not just a proficient right-winger. His pace is impressive, yet he possesses a confidence and creativity on the ball that surpasses that of a young Walcott.
His versatility ensures that he is likely to feature in some form of attacking midfield role when squad rotation necessitates a change. The young star has also mentioned that he views Mesut Özil as a mentor, which makes perfect sense when you look at the calibre of his assist in the Emirates Cup against Benfica.
Verdict: Will feature in frequent cameos, has every chance to impress. The most exciting player to come from Arsenal's youth teams in quite a while.
2 Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Maitland-Niles is different to the other youth players on this list, in that he has amassed significant playing experience at a high level already in his short career. Playing on loan at Ipswich Town in the Championship during the 2015/2016 season, he cemented a starting role on the right-hand side of their midfield for the majority of the season, playing 30 games, managing a goal and 3 assists.
Arsène Wenger envisions Maitland Niles playing an entirely different role at Arsenal, having used him at the right-hand side of his back 3 during pre-season. Maitland-Niles doesn't possess the attacking quality to outshine Reiss Nelson on the right of the midfield but looked confident nonetheless while used at centre-back.
With a fully-fit squad, the centre-back role may become somewhat saturated, and with Oxlade-Chamberlain capable of providing cover for Hector Bellerin at right-wing back, it may be a somewhat frustrating season for a very talented young player.
Verdict: Wouldn't start ahead of the likes of Rob Holding, may be assisted by the potential departure of Calum Chambers.
3 Joe Willock
Another 17-year-old who has made the cut this season, centre-midfielder Joe Willock looked convincing in pre-season, competent on the ball, hard-working, with an excellent passing ability.
Reminiscent of a developing Jack Wilshere, Joe Willock, the youngest of three footballing brothers, will hope for a better fate.
While Arsenal seem to suffer from a chronic lack of depth in certain positions, their current depth in midfield options will surely mean that Joe Willock will find it difficult to break into the team in any competition other than the League Cup. At his age, he still has plenty of time to develop further.
Already an energetic and athletic box to box midfielder, Willock is an exciting prospect, and his versatility will see him eventually break into Arsenal's midfield, despite the unlikelihood of such a thing happening this season.
Verdict: Very unlikely to get much of a chance to display his impressive abilities.
4 Cohen Bramall
Bramall is a promising and pacy left-back, who signed for Arsenal following a successful trial in January this year. Moving from non-league outfit Hednesford Town at 21, Bramall is a reasonably late-bloomer and is the oldest of the youth quartet joining the first team. With Kieran Gibbs heading towards the door at Arsenal, Bramall now appears to be the third-choice left-back.
With Arsène Wenger opting to go with a back 3, alongside 2 wing backs, towards the end of last season, new challenges present themselves for fullbacks seeking to find a place in the starting lineup. While playing centre-back or wing-back deviates from the traditional fullback role, this may work to Bramall's advantage.
Nacho Monreal has often played on the left-hand side of Arsenal's back 3, with Sead Kolasinac assuming the role of left wing-back. Should Kolasinac need to be rested, Bramall's particular set of attributes just may see him become the preferable substitute at wing-back, as his pace and energy is arguably superior to the seasoned but ageing Monreal.
Verdict: Would probably be given a chance this season, should Kolasinac pick up an injury.
(UPDATE - Bramall has joined Birmingham City on loan and will be hoping for regular Championship action this year)
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