The Six Arsenal Youngsters Who Could Break Through in 2020/21 Season

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Arsenal Wenger initially, then Unai Emery last season and some of this followed by Freddie Ljungberg briefly and now Mikel Arteta the last few weeks, have all worked with and on most of the young guns making their way into our senior squad. It has been highly enjoyable for me, as it always is with young players to watch them develop, evolve and grow up into the players we presently have, and who’ll hopefully be an important part of Arsenal’s future.

2020/21  promises to be another season of growth, one where our youngsters can firmly establish themselves as regulars in our starting XI and XVIII men matchday squad. We know who they are, so I’m going to write today on some of the less familiar members of our dynamic youth program.

We’ve seen already what Arteta has done with some of our players in such a short space of time, so I wonder what he can do and get from some of our lesser lights?

I’m going to focus on six young players who are on the fringes for a variety of reasons but who might catch the eye of Mikel between now and next summer and I’ve also focused on those players that I’ve actually seen in action, so here goes:

Tyreece John Jules is currently on loan at Lincoln City, a club that tries to play football at the lower level, not always easy, where physical strength is an asset. He’s scored one goal in three games and has been a 1st choice pick since he arrived at City. Last season he had an impressive spell during our mid season break in Dubai, working closely in training with Lacazette and Aubameyang and scoring in a friendly. He is a highly technical forward rather than a fox in the box, he has the ability to play as a wide forward, as a classic No.10 or as an out and out centre forward, he has a sure touch, a rasping shot but can also score with a delicate flick or lob, a la Bergkamp. He could be an absolute baller for us, what he learns at Lincoln will do him a power of good and I fully expect to see him in our senior squad next season.

Daniel Ballard started this season at Swindon and in the few games he played at the County Ground he earned rave reviews, but he caught that disease that has affected many an Arsenal defender over the past 12 months and picked up a season ending knee injury. What he could have learned at Swindon would have been priceless in his development, but he’s a strong minded young man and he’s worked hard and is back in light training and according to Jeorge Bird he could be playing again in early April.
He is a more traditional British type centre half, you know a bit like Sokratis, someone who defends with everything, is powerful in the air and keeps things simple; he can also play, he wouldn’t be at Arsenal if he couldn’t play. After losing a year he’s going to have to try and make up for that lost time, so maybe another loan is pending, but if Arteta likes what he sees then as with Eddie Nketiah, he might decide to keep him at Arsenal?

There could be quite a turnover of playing staff in the next 18 months and money will be hard to come by if we don’t qualify for europe so our youngsters are our safety net and Ballard could be one of those who benefits from a policy of internal solutions.

I’ve only seen James Olayinka a few times but I’ve been impressed with his energy and versatility not least his typical Arsenal technique. James is often used in the wide positions, attacking midfielder, but he’s also played in a variety of positions during his football education. Recently he joined Northampton Town on loan until the end of the season. The Cobblers play good football and he starred in his debut for them being named man of the match before getting heavily fouled. He has since returned to Arsenal for treatment which will hopefully allow him to return to Northampton.
According to Jeorge Bird his treatment is coming along well but there’s no time frame yet on his return to fitness, which is a huge shame.

Matthew Smith is a player I really like: he knits everything together, gives and goes, is the main provider of goal opportunities in the Stiffs and can weigh in with a few goals himself as he can, when the chance presents itself, be seen to casually pass the ball into the net with the minimum of fuss; that’s Matthew! You only notice him when he makes a mistake, so he often goes under the radar as he rarely makes a mistake. He can press, he can tackle he can do all the water carrying you want but he can also pass through the eye of a needle and, anyway, behind every Balogun there’s always a Smith setting him up. He is an intelligent footballer and I think that Arteta will like him, so watch this space…

Jordi Osei Tutu can play full back, mainly right back. He’s had a reasonably successful time on loan in Germany, made 10 appearances for Bochum scored one goal and been on the end of some unacceptable abuse in Germany and manfully stuck it out, respect to him; but if I’m honest he hasn’t set the world alight, pretty much like Hector Bellerin when he went on loan to Watford. But as Hector proved that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of an Arsenal career. I’ve always liked Jordi but when opportunities arise he’s often been injured and missed his chance, such is the fickle finger of fate in football. This summer will be his stage during pre season to show Mikel Arteta what he’s all about and although he’ll be 22 this October, with Soares only being on loan and not certain to sign for us he still has an opportunity to become Hectors understudy. I’d like to see him get a chance as I think he could be a late bloomer.

I thought that Robbie Burton showed a lot of promise during pre season and it seemed that Emery shared that opinion, but he only made the bench once, Nottingham Forest, and didn’t get onto the pitch. Although a regular contributor to 1st team training, his career has stalled this season and he’s reaching a stage where he needs to play. I thought that he might go out on loan in January but either Arteta wanted to keep him or none of the possible clubs interested came up to the new standards Arsenal require. If Arsenal think he still has potential then he needs to go out on loan next summer to help his game develop and to make him either a possible squad player for us or to enhance his value in the transfer market.
I still think that Robbie has a lot to offer, technically he has the quality, my only doubt is does he have the required physicality, because in Britain you have to be able to hold your own in that area of the game.

By Allezkev

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25 thoughts on “The Six Arsenal Youngsters Who Could Break Through in 2020/21 Season

  • Great stuff, Kev. The passion for these talented youngsters can be very clearly read and like you I am hoping a few at least will make it. It is soooo hard to judge whether a youngster has what it takes. I was convinced ESR would make it into the first eleven by now but he seems to have stalled. But it’s early days of course.

    More later. 🙂

  • Nice teaser, Kev!
    I share your enthusiasm on Matt Smith, but I am less enthusiastic about Burton and Olayinka. They had a good pre-season with Emery in the summer, but it didn’t seem to speed up their development. Those players that have the highest chance to break through are already playing on a level where U23 games (PL2) seem like playground practice. Since Arteta has already skimmed the best of the Academy (Nelson, Saka, Smith-Rowe, Nketiah) most of the the remaining lads are either on loan (Ballard, John-Jules, Mavropanos) or do not stand out from the U23 league. Smith and Medley have the most chance in my opinion. And from the young lads on loan Sheaf, Iliev, Olayinka and Osei-Tutu will have a hard job to convince Mikel. But good luck to them.

    (Balogun, Hein, Cottrell, and Greenwood are also very talented, but they have a year or two to shine at U23 level – as they are only 18 years old – while Azeez and Cirjan are even younger.)

  • Fine piece Kev. Makes me consider further the views I’d held for the last several years regarding the value of the data analysis usages at Arsenal. Inasmuch the value was projected by AFC publicly– had to do not only with rating current professionals in the transfer markets. But to have an ability to target youth prospects more accurately and younger– who would most likely become senior team members over time.

    We are flush with good to very good prospects– in addition to the many already getting league and cup minutes. The club’s PL (and non-CL) positions notwithstanding? There’s quite a bit to be positive about in Arsenal’s current direction.

    Wanted to say once more– it’s good to read your stuff again Kev. 👍
    Also? See that photo is a stock image. Wouldn’t happen to be of you– would it? 🚖


  • Fun fact: Konstantinos Mavropanos was Man of the Match for the last 2 consecutive games for FC Nürnberg – keeping clean sheets against Sandhausen at home (2:0) and away against Osnabrück (0:1). In the former game Mavropanos was the team’s best performer in ALL 5 defensive statistics with 6 aerial duels won, 2 tackles (tied), 5 interceptions (field high), 9 clearances (field high) and 2 blocked shots (tied field high).
    This guy is a beast. And his passing is already improving, making 6 successful long balls (out of 9 attempts) against Sandhausen. If he could work on his concentration issues (his Achilles-heel according to WhoScored) he could be an interesting – even regular – CB partner to either Saliba or Pablo Mari.

  • Guys, as much as I would like to play with kids, the team needs veterans that teaches them on the pitch. Mikel, Freddie and the coaches can teach the techniques and the positionings. But on the pitch they are powerless. Ceballos and Ozil are good players and they are willing to teach the players on the pitch, and we need more players that can mix with the youngsters to make the team greater.

  • I agree with you, NJK, but nowadays conventional wisdom (?) states that an aspiring club should invest huge amounts in very young – sometimes proven, but often unproven – talents.
    Just look at the transfer fees paid for Mbappé, Felix, de Ligt, Pulisic and Rodrygo. And the hottest ‘merchandise’ on the market are Haaland, Sancho and Havertz.

    Even Arsenal is constantly rumored with Upamecano, Aouar and Zainolo – and only the last lad has senior caps (5).
    I think at many times these inflated values are not justified. I hardly believe that Moise Meane worth Ł36M 6 months ago. Similarly probably Ismalia Sarr and Justin Kluivert are also overvalued. (And I seriously doubt that Ł99M would be a reasonable market value for Trent Alexander-Arnold.)

    Yes, it is nice to have experienced, mature players around. Especially if this experience can be bought at a fair price – like Luiz. Lichtsteiner didn’t work out too good, Sokratis is on the decline, but he had some great games in an Arsenal shirt, and I hope Soares will prove his signing a genius move. Meanwhile we should rely on our academy when it comes to young talents, as we cannot afford a Saliba caliber player every year.

  • Kev, conscious that you partly wrote this post at 17HT’s request, I hope he will still comment on it.

    I like all your descriptions of the youngster and a few I have seen myself in action. TJJ sounds especially exciting and please keep us posted on his development at Lincoln City. Matthew Smith also sounds good and the sort of player we are missing currently.

    There is fine balance to be struck between youngsters and experienced footballers, and I reckon Arteta is just the right guy for this. For this reason alone, 2020 will be a very exciting year.

  • Kev, good job. Our brave new world! I know very little about the young ones. After bits of disillusionment on past ones like Carlos Vela, Jack Wilshire, Gedion Zelallem and a few others I developed the transfer window kind of attitude “wouldn’t embrace until it happens’ with our promising academy stars.

    That is why my excitement atm is on Willock, Nelson, Saka, Nketiah, ESR. That’s a lot of capital saved that can then be used to further strengthen. There is no doubt that our academy must be central in our come back fight. A pity we let Iwobi go, but for £35-40m, am not shedding any tears. That’s an inevitable part of the game.

  • Hey Kev (and TA…and others, too…), I’m very much in transit at the moment, so little time to think too deeply and write much about the Arsenal… In addition, I’m very much in the dark about ALL the youth prospects, included the guy in the photo (Balogun, I believe, whom we didn’t hear about, except that we need a Matt Smith for him…)

    That said, I appreciate the insider’s view and, as always, it makes me think that going to see some of the academy games would be something I would try to do if I were a local…you know, so that I could be an “insider” as well. As it is, I’m having a hard enough time watching the first team games (on a regular basis), though I have ambitions to work on getting better access. We’ll see, but I might be (pretty much) in the dark over the next month or so…(though I might also try to weigh in by watching a match or two after the fact…)

    Anyhow, the post inspires me (at least a bit) to learn more about the Arsenal academy and how it’s structured, how long it’s been doing it’s thing and (surely) the opportunities, both footballing and otherwise, that it has provided. In the end, all the stories are individual ones, but (IMO) clubs providing educational (and footballing) opportunities can’t be the worst part of the sport. Then again, what (TF) do I know?…

    Back to a personal note… In the mountains of California, (from whence I’m currently escaping…) I have a friend who grew up in the area between London Colney and the N5 (Barnet). He’s no Arsenal fan, having experienced a bit too much “aggro” on his trips down that way in his youth… His son (who has grown up with mine…) is going through a tough time right now, but recently expressed the desire to get back (with his parents) to see London and where his father grew up. But, the father, too, has had his share of (health) troubles and traveling that far (and maybe that much back in time…) also seems daunting. Being that I’m on the move (or maybe just able to flit about a little, and not quite as locked down as they are, at the moment), I’m just sort of wishing them well (this morning as the sun comes up and I’m enjoying a nice little cuppa)…

    Sorry to move away from the topic at hand (and maybe we need PB to do a more complete matrix of academy players… –present, past AND future– 😉 as he seems to follow the scene deeply, even if from afar…) but, I guess, that’s where my head (and heart) is at…

    In the end, however, I agree with TA, that our great fall-off (from the consistency, we might call it, of the back half of the Wenger years) does have a silver lining, which is this element of younger guys being given–and sometimes taking–their opportunities with the first team. In it’s own way, it really does, IMO, make this an exciting time at the club. Rock bottom has been achieved, I think (or hope and pray, maybe)…and now, after a bit of going sideways, we can start inching up (the table, and maybe scratching our way through some additional rounds of the two cups we’re in). I do think Arteta has got some very tough decisions (who plays, who sits, who leaves in the summer, etc., etc…) but that he’s at least pushing a ‘team-first’ concept that seems better than what came before…

    Go on then… (Or something…)

  • Good post, Kev, right out of nowhere, being an unusual topic to be discussing and yet, being original (and relevant) in its conception. With the very real prospects of failing to get into Europe and with Arteta on a long enough contract to get the mix between our academy and ready-made purchases right, the youth prospects may be the next best thing to building for the next decade and beyond. Hopefully, this succeeds as an experiment (surely, that’s what it is/will be).

    I am not too familiar with the best of the cadets but do read a bit of Jeorge Bird’s articles and the articles about our under-age teams on the club’s website. So, I feel Kev is spot on with his assessment of the next-in-lines for the first team, other than those we already know, like Nelson, ESR, Nketiah and Saka. The likes of Olayinka, Osei-Tutu, Sheaf and Iliev will have their work cut out for them, especially as they’ve been given a chance with the first team, at some point or the other and haven’t always made the team (save Iliev, who has made sub keeper in some cup games). In the end, only about 20% of the graduates from the academy make it anywhere near the first team, which is why the next thing is the sell-on value each one may command. It’s a business after all.

    We can only wish the lads the best of luck as they try to make something of their chosen profession.

  • Kev, like jw1, I am curious to know if that pic is of you or one of TA’s apt entries. I particularly like the illusion of muscular, Athlete’s thigh.😂

  • Love the picture Total, although I’ve got better looking legs, or so a few ladies have told me. 😄
    It’s blowing a gale in the U.K., so I’m indoors today, gonna catch up on the comments.

  • Thanks for that PB, yeah Azeez has just returned from injury and he’s right back into the groove again and as you point out Greenwood looks very interesting, another forward who can play wide, in the hole or as a centre forward, I do like him. I’m not sure about the Romanian kid as I’ve not seen him in action, but he seems highly rated.

    With young players their form tends to fluctuate and this seasons star man can drop out of the picture next year, but I’m gonna hold fire until Arteta can get into them a bit more although like you I am a bit worried that Burton may have missed the boat.

  • Thanks JW, I’ve been working my butt off for awhile, so I tended to read but not comment, that added to the abject football we were playing under Emery.

    Not mate, that really isn’t me, I’ve driven some cabs resplendent with quite memorable ads on them, like Victoria’s Secret, that was a head turner, then The Krays (a film about London gangsters from the 1960’s) I was quite sad when they removed that one. I’ve looked like a pint of Guinness and a credit card, but atm it’s on horse racing at Cheltenham.

  • Yeah PB, I noticed that about Mavropanos, he needs to stay fit, if he can then why not bring him back and give him a go?
    Failing that, a good loan only increases his value if Arsenal decide to move him on…

  • Reports on the lads on loan have been positive, largely. ESR and John-Jules have both been named MoTM already while Mavropanos has had two in three games, albeit in the German second division. If I read right, ESR won championship player of the week.

    The important thing for the kids is for them to be playing and they are, in the main.

  • Thanks PE, yes we’ve been through a few false dawns with our young players, but I think that English academies in general and Arsenal in particular are bringing through some very good young players now, finally allying the required technique with the British elements that have always been there.

    Arsenal presently have a very promising group at U16 and we’ll be seeing a few more of those next season and beyond.

  • 17tino, or should I say Mr Cafe’ @dawn, you can get snippets of youth, academy and reserve games on You Tube, but as far as I’m concerned a slog up to Borehamwood is too much for me, when Arsenal had Combination and Youth games at Highbury it was so easy, I could do some work, go to the game then go back to work. Borehamwood is just too far.

  • Thanks Eris, yeah I agree, loans are as much about raising a players profile and thus value as development for a possible 1st team career at Arsenal….

    We’re never going to enjoy the financial support from our owners as other clubs enjoy so using our Academy to raise revenue is a key element to what we do…

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