Last night, Arsenal officially announced their 25-man squad that would be contesting in the club’s four international pre-season fixtures. Overall, the list contained no major shocks, with the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez missing out on the tour after contesting in international football following the end of the season. Additionally, a variety of squad players have been left out such as Kieran Gibbs and Lucas Perez, fuelling speculation that they will be leaving in the summer.
Amongst the squad, eight Academy players in total have been awarded a golden opportunity in trying to impress both the boss and fans alike during the entirety of the tour. The following takes a look at each of these respective players, and what you could expect from them.
Player: Joe Willock | Position/s: Midfielder, Winger
Whilst his brother, Chris Willock, rejected life in North London for Benfica, Joe Willock decided to renew his contract with the club and fight for a shot at first team football. The Englishman’s addition to the squad was rather a surprise, taking in consideration that he is yet to feature for the U23s let alone the senior team. Despite this, being a part of the squad will benefit the young midfielder, especially training alongside playmaker Mesut Ozil.
The German international has been hailed for his technical ability alongside his creative outlet in games. Taking into consideration that one of Willock’s biggest traits is his creativity, evident with his 10 assists for the U18s last season, training and playing alongside world-class player will result in significant benefits for his development.
Player: Emiliano Martinez | Position/s: Goalkeeper
Perhaps the most familiar name on this list, the Argentinian looks seemingly ready to make the step-up to the Gunners first team in the new season. At the age of 24, Emiliano Martinez has struggled to maintain a consistent run of senior football at the club because of the strong depth present between the posts. However, he has been able to show off vignettes of his ability during cameo performances, particularly in the EFL Cup.
With rumours circulating that both Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina will depart the club in the transfer window, the pre-season tour gives the Argentine the perfect opportunity to prove to everyone he is ready for the jump to the first team. It appears seemingly obvious that the goalkeeper will be awarded at least one opportunity to play, and this will be crucial in cementing his position as Arsene Wenger’s No.2 goalkeeper.
Player: Ainsley Maitland-Niles | Position/s: Midfielder/Right-Back
Another notable name towards a majority of Arsenal fans, if there was any outfield academy product who looked most ready to transition to the first team, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the answer. The young Englishman is slowly progressing into a major threat for the club, having put in top performances in both midfielder and right-back positions for the Gunners last season in cameo performances.
With the current midfield as it is, one must wonder how long it will be before Maitland-Niles becomes a permanent member of the senior squad. His overall contribution to both the defence and attack has been demonstrated in his efforts thus far, overshadowing one-dimensional players like Francis Coquelin in the lineup.
During the tour, the U20 World Cup winning midfielder will be given the opportunity to link up with more experienced personnel at the club, awarding him the perfect opportunity to show off his talent and why he deserves his place in the squad. A partnership with Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka could easily be an entertaining watch.
Player: Eddie Nketiah | Position/s: Striker
If I was forced to name an academy product who I think deserves an opportunity at first team football next season, English striker Eddie Nketiah fits the bill perfectly. The talented forward was in fantastic form for the club last season, performing well for both the U18 and U23 sides. To put this into greater perspective, the Englishman scored 24 goals and produced 5 assists in 34 appears last season, amassing a minutes-to-goal ratio of just 88.
During the tour, it’d be a fantastic opportunity to see how Nketiah reacts to playing alongside accomplished members of the starting team, especially with the aforementioned Mesut Ozil behind him. A permanent transition to the first team seems a long way to go for the striker, but a good pre-season tour could certainly invite a variety of offers from Championship, or League One, clubs to take him out on loan to improve his development.
Player: Cohen Bramall | Position/s: Left-Back
The headline-stealing full-back Cohen Bramall will be offered his first opportunity to play for the senior squad during the tour following his move to the Gunners from Northern Premier League Premier Division club Hednesford Town FC in January for £40,000. The 21-year-old has been ever-present for the U23s since his shock move to the Gunners, scoring one goal and providing three assists in the process.
With former academy player Kieran Gibbs absent from the tour, one must wonder whether Wenger sees Bramall as his backup fullback for the new season. Consistent left-back Nacho Monreal has transitioned to a central defensive role since the side altered to a 3-4-2-1 formation earlier in the year.
Should this be the case, the Englishman has a crucial opportunity at hand to demonstrate his traits and prove to everyone that he deserves to play for a club of the stature of Arsenal. Considering his pace and passing ability, linking up with his teammates should be an easy task at hand, but there remains a lot at stake to make it at a club like Arsenal.
Player: Reiss Nelson | Position/s: Winger/Attacking Midfielder
Despite being only 17 years of age, Reiss Nelson is a very exciting prospect who Arsene Wenger has already confirmed will be given first-team opportunities next season. The versatile Englishman played for both the U18 and U23 sides last season, scoring 13 goals and providing 8 assists in the process.
Albeit typically playing as a winger, capable of playing on either flank, Nelson has also found some success when being played in the attacking midfield role on the pitch. Some of his key traits are identical to your normal winger, but more development will have to be done before earning praise for his technical ability. Regardless, his dribbling and passing ability, in particular, are two clear positives for the youngster that will be put to the test during the tour.
Whilst already receiving confirmation of first team football next season, the international fixtures offers the highly rated prospect an opportunity to link up with experienced personnel, offering an entertaining watch to the fans who watch.
Player: Krystian Bielik | Position/s: Centre-Back/Defensive-Midfielder
Joining the Gunners from Legia Warsaw in 2015 for a fee of £1 million, Krystian Bielik could certainly use the tour to his advantage and push for a promotion to the senior team. Albeit formerly playing in a defensive midfield role on the pitch, the Polish defender soon transitioned as a centre-back following his arrival at the club.
Returning to the club following an arguably successful loan spell at Birmingham City, the young Polish man could be an asset to the Gunner’s transitioned 3-4-2-1 formation. During his brief tenure at the Blues, 19-year-old adjusted well to both three and four man defensive systems, with his performance against eventual Championship winners Newcastle United cementing his place in the team for the next few fixtures.
With some academy players currently ahead of the Polish defender in regards to potential first-team promotions, the tour offers Bielik the opportunity to determine whether or not he would best be suited to a move out on loan, or, remain at the club for the season.
Player: Donyell Malen | Position/s: Striker/Winger
Last but not least, Dutchman Donyell Malen is another highly-rated product who has been tipped for greatness at the club. Interestingly, controversial agent Mino Raiola has tipped the academy product for greatness and has gone on to say that developing under current boss Arsene Wenger will play a significant role in the youngster’s future.
Similarly to other players mentioned, the versatile forward is another player who has had a very good season for the academy, representing both U18 and U23 sides. Across the season, the exciting talent scored 18 goals as well as providing 9 assists.
One key trait Malen has is his ability to be deployed, and flourish, in a variety of positions on the pitch, particularly on the right flank or as the striker. Bearing in mind his dribbling ability and prolific goalscoring ability, the player has been likened to current Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez. During the tour, the 18-year-old will have a capable opportunity to prove to everyone that he deserves the praise and is ready for first-team football.