Talk about Chuba Akpom is bubbling underneath the surface of the major news this week after the striker’s substitute appearance in the FA Cup win over Brighton.
Akpom is out of contract in the summer and, amid alleged interest form Feyenoord, FC Twente, Borussia Dortmund and most recently Liverpool, he doesn’t look likely to sign a new deal. In fact, it is being claimed that he is actually stalling over a new one that has already been offered to him.
I think this would be a bit of a blow for Arsène Wenger, but not so much on the pitch.
Since Wenger became Arsenal manager in 1996 very few academy products – Arsenal boys – have made the huge leap to the first team. In this current crop we have Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere, but then you have to go as far back as Ashley Cole (yes, yes, I know) to find a local player developed by Arsenal.
Arsenal seem to be making steps to rectify this poor recent history – Andries Jonker was chosen to replace Liam Brady as the Head of Youth Development and has previously suggested that the club will need to rip up the Academy system and start from scratch in order to emulate the success of the likes of Barcelona and their famous La Masia camp.
Earlier this season Jonker spoke about patience – especially from Wenger – not to use players too early; not to select players when it would weaken the first team.
As for Akpom, he’s already 19. This doesn’t seem old but you would expect him to have a professional goal now.
For his development he should have played more than 10 professional games, and just a couple of minutes in the Premier League, especially for a player with his build.
As he showcased against Brighton, he is strong, fast, and direct. Nine goals in ten U21 appearances this season suggest he’s ready for the step up but his performances don’t.
Last season he managed six goals in nine games at that level, but they came in just three of those matches.
No Danny Boy
By the time Danny Welbeck – a similar striker in terms of physical attributes – was Akpom’s age he had scored five goals for Manchester United and then enjoyed a fairly successful loan spell at Preston North End, who were in the Championship at the time.
But there is a big difference.
Welbeck is a very altruistic player.
Aware of what’s going on around him, Welbeck plays others in as well as sacrificing himself for the team.
At Brighton on Sunday Akpom drew a foul in a dangerous position from centre-half Lewis Dunk, but with a little more nous and awareness he could have laid the ball through for Alexis Sánchez, and the Chilean probably would have put the game to bed.
Similarly Arsenal have tended to play well with Yaya Sanogo – another tireless and selfless forward – on the pitch. Sanogo is out on loan now but his appearances in big games last season (don’t forget Dortmund) show that Wenger seems to have a huge amount of faith in his French compatriot.
Brentford afforded Akpom four substitute appearances last season where he hugely underwhelmed.
Coventry gave the youngster five starts but once again he failed to net and, all things considered, it appears that his performances left a lot to be desired.
A bit more than simply being ‘rough around the edges’.
Akpom’s record at youth level is good but unspectacular – certainly not good enough to warrant a strong challenge for a first team place. Even his fourteen goals in thirty-four England appearances at U16-U20 levels have largely come against less formidable opposition, including. Estonia, Faroe Islands, Lithuania, Bosnia have been on the end of Akpom strikes.
France, Germany, and Spain have not.
The wise assumption would suggest that his physicality has been too much for younger players to handle, but he has fallen short during his admittedly limited first team opportunities so far, both for Arsenal and in League One.
Akpom’s size and pace could lead to him becoming a really good player, but a lack of selflessness and finesse sees him lack a number of attributes which Wenger values incredibly highly.
Even the great strikers of Wenger’s reign have also been supreme creators for others, and Akpom doesn’t have that in him.
With Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sánchez, Theo Walcott, and Yaya Sanogo all ticking some (or all) of these boxes and in the first team squad already it leaves absolutely no space to develop Akpom any further.
I really think Wenger would love to add another ‘Arsenal boy’ to his squad (and I think there will be a greater influence on the youth team in the coming season) but, while determined to give youth players the chance to grow, Akpom just seems to lack too many of the things that Wenger likes in his forwards, and has too much competition for a place.
Wenger won’t sacrifice the quality of the team or his squad for the development of a young player who appears to be somewhat limited.
It is a shame that one of the few Academy players to show great promise in recent years looks to have fallen short, but there simply isn’t room for Chuba Akpom at Arsenal and he would be no great loss.
He is a hard working forward with a number of valuable attributes and, assuming he does leave, I look forward to seeing how he does elsewhere.