CARSON, CALIFORNIA – JULY 31: Chuba Akpom celebrates scoring the 3rd Arsenal goal the pre season friendly match between Arsenal and CD Guadalajara at StubHub Center on July 31, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Arsenal travel north to face Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night in the EFL cup. Here are five young prospects to watch throughout the 90 minutes.
The domestic cup campaign begins for Arsenal on Tuesday night as they travel to Nottingham to face a Forest side that has just signed Lord Nicklas Bendtner. Yes, that’s right. The Lord is set to face his former team, but from a Gunners perspective, there are some perhaps far more important storylines to follow, particularly, the development of many of the younger players in the squad.
Arsene Wenger has often used the League Cup (abbreviated to EFL) as a way to provide some of his younger stars with the much-needed game time that their progression warrants. He will likely look to do so again on Tuesday night, so here are five young prospects that could be in line for some crucial game time, either in the starting lineup or off the bench.
STAVANGER, NORWAY – AUGUST 05: Krystian Bielik of Arsenal holds of Patrick Pedersen of Viking during the match between Viking FK and Arsenal at Viking Stadion on August 5, 2016 in Stavanger, Norway. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
5. Krystian Bielik
Amid a centre-half injury crisis during the preseason where both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista suffered long-term injuries and Laurent Koscielny was still enjoying extended break thanks to his exertions during the European Championships with the French national side, Arsene Wenger turned to youth and exuberance in his quest to find suitable replacements before eventually conceding that investment was needed, adding Shkodran Mustafi in a £35 million deal.
One player that he saw as a potential centre-half solution was Krystian Bielik. The young Pole was initially signed as a prospective midfielder, described very much in the same ilk as Patrick Viera, with a long-ranging stride, powerful athleticism and a range of passing worth of the comparison to the Arsenal legend.
It was, though, his height, his technical proficiency on the ball and the changing nature of modern football – this is an era where Pep Guardiola changes his goalkeeper due to his ability with his feet rather than his hands – that gave Wenger the idea to shift his position to the heart of the defence, rather than the box-to-box midfielder that had first been envisaged. In the preseason, Bielik looked comfortable in his new role, particularly alongside Rob Holding who is likely to start on Tuesday, and the match against Nottingham Forest will give Wenger, his coaches and us as fans and analysts just another insight into his growing potential in a new position.
In the preseason, Bielik looked comfortable in his new role, particularly alongside Rob Holding who is likely to start on Tuesday, and the match against Nottingham Forest will give Wenger, his coaches and us as fans and analysts just another insight into his growing potential in a new position.
ST ALBANS, ENGLAND – AUGUST 03: Gedion Zelalem of Arsenal during the Arsenal 1st team photocall at London Colney on August 3, 2016 in St Albans, England. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
4. Chris Willock
18-year-old Chris Willock is a rising star. One of many wingers turned attacking midfielders that the Arsenal academy seems to churn out on an annual basis, Willock was one of the better performers in a scintillating under 21’s side. Scoring six goals in 19 appearances from wide areas, Willock’s intelligence, especially off the ball was evidently clear early in his development.
He finished the year in style, scoring once and adding two assists in the u21’s play-off final win and is now looking to influence Wenger’s team selection at the senior level. Tuesday night against Nottingham Forest provides the perfect opportunity for Willock to show all of his outstanding ability.
In the preseason Willock displayed, in flashes, great ability. His touch is neat and tidy, he has a decent range of passing and is fast enough to cause issues in behind. However, it none of these that make him such an exciting prospect. It his understanding of the game, his vision and creativity, his intelligence with and without the ball that excites so many in Arsenal circles.
To have such a grasp of the game at only 18 years of age is unprecedented, even for a Hale End Academy graduate where the mental side of football is prioritised more than any other aspect. Willock will be a fascinating watch on Tuesday night.
STAVANGER, NORWAY – AUGUST 05: Jeff Reine-Adelaide of Arsenal during the match between Viking FK and Arsenal at Viking Stadion on August 5, 2016 in Stavanger, Norway. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
3. Jeff Reine-Adelaide
26th July 2015. The preseason was coming to a climax as Arsenal hosted Wolfsburg in the Emirates Cup, building up to a Community Shield final against Chelsea and a season with great excitement and expectation thanks to a successful close to the season and a defence of their FA Cup victory.
The Gunners won 1-0 thanks to a Theo Walcott goal, but the star of the show was one Jeff Reine-Adelaide. His performance off of the left flank was a demonstration of his frightening ability. Pace and power, accompanied by skill and flair, Adelaide, at only 17 years of age, repeatedly skipped past Wolfsburg defenders, with direct, deliberate dribbling. It was a sensational performance and had many fans drooling at his other-worldly potential.
A year later, Adelaide once again impressed during the preseason, though this time in a slightly deeper position, controlling the tempo of the game in a calm and composed fashion that few youngsters can replicate. Unfazed by the opposition after he came on as a half-time substitute against Manchester City, Adelaide ran the game as a central midfielder.
The two performances indicate his incredible ability, intelligence and versatility. Still only 18, he has an exciting career ahead of him. After the Wolfsburg game, Arsene Wenger said of Adelaide: “Jeff Reine-Adelaide is something special you know.” Tuesday night will provide another indication of just how special.
Arsenal’s U23s Chuba Akpom during Premier League 2 match between Arsenal U23 v Liverpool U23, at Emirates stadium London, on August 26, 2016. (Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
2. Chuba Akpom
Ever since the departure of Robin Van Persie, the lone forward has been a position of great debate among Arsenal fans. The usual starter Olivier Giroud divided opinion perhaps like no other player in the squad, while alternative options have not exactly thrown down the gauntlet to the apparent floundering Frenchman.
The issues are so much so that Arsene Wenger invested £17 million in Lucas Perez in the summer to provide an injection of pace and has resorted to starting Alexis Sanchez as a false nine in many games this season. Theo Walcott’s time as a striker has seemingly come to an end and fans are yearning for 20+ goal a season man to lead the line.
The young centre-forward, having underperformed at a series of loan deals further down the English pyramid, is still considered one of Arsenal’s brightest stars. His youth record is incredible and such goalscoring feats were backed up in the preseason where he scored four goals in five games having started none of them.
Akpom is an outstanding talent without the opportunity. Tuesday night offers him a slim chance to prove his quality at a competitive, senior level, something that, even his biggest supporters must admit, he is yet to do. He will be competing with Lucas Perez for game time and may find himself playing wide or coming off the bench, but if he can play well and perhaps score, then he will be enforcing himself on Wenger’s thoughts all the more.
NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 17: Nicklas Bendtner of Nottingham Forest looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Nottingham Forest and Norwich City on September 17, 2016 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
1. Lord Nicklas Bendtner
Yes, I’m aware the title of this piece is 5 young prospects to watch. And I’m aware that Nicklas Bendtner is 28. And I’m aware that he’s no longer at the Arsenal, much to my dismay. But, there is not one player that I am more excited about watching than Lord Bendtner.
The Lord’s biggest asset while at the Emirates was by far his mouth. Conjuring up self-praise and worship like “If you ask me if I am one of the best strikers in the world, I’d say ‘yes’ because I believe it”, the Danish forward was never able to live up to such outlandish claims. He was, however, the most celebrated, well-liked, lauded player that has perhaps ever played in North London, and none of this was due to his on-field talent.
Famed for being terrible, Lord Bendtner was unholy bad. I mean, he was terrible and since leaving the Gunners, his career his spiralled out of control, leading him to Championship club Nottingham Forest. Now set to play against his former club, I for one, cannot wait to see him on the pitch once more.