Jeff Reine-Adelaide is a player many fans are excitedly waiting on to make a breakthrough in the senior team, but that seems to be taking longer and longer to happen, so what’s going on with the 19-year-old, and will he ever get the chance he needs for Arsenal?
Reine-Adelaide first appeared on the scene at Arsenal as a 17-year-old, when he put in an impressive individual performance in pre-season that left fans begging for more. Arsène had unearthed another gem, and it would be long until the world recognised it. The boss said it himself, stating after the match: “Jeff Reine-Adelaide is something special, you know.”
But in that first season, nothing more really came of it. Alex Iwobi, 19 at the time, was given the first-team opportunities instead, and for months Jeff didn’t play for the first-team at all. That season he got 26 minutes for the first team, in substitute appearances in the FA Cup, and appeared on the bench in the Premier League and Champions League eight times without ever coming on.
The 2016/17 campaign was a similar story, except injuries started to play more of a part in things. Jeff did manage his first senior starts, being selected from the start for five matches in Arsenal’s cup runs, but an ankle injury cut his season short, and the midfielder only managed nine appearances at youth level all season.
Which brings us to this summer.
Jeff was set to recover in time for the start of the new campaign, but rumours were circulating that he might not stay with Arsenal. There was gossip on social media that Wenger didn’t want the player anymore, and that Nice were interested in a permanent move. Nothing came of it, and perhaps there was nothing to it anyway, but it certainly left fans a little less sure of what was next for the youngster.
Jeff began the season with the u23s, returning from injury too late for the first-team’s pre-season tour, and played the full 90 minutes of a win against Derby, providing an assist. Then, after getting another game under his belt a week before the transfer window was due to close, rumours started up again.
This time Bolton Wanderers were the club reportedly interested, but as always with Reine-Adelaide, everything was very secretive. RMC Sport reporters revealed that the move fell through on deadline day, but no one seemed to know why. The only information out there was that Jeff would be remaining with Arsenal for the season.
Knowing what we know now, this should have been no bad thing. Arsenal have gone on a League Cup run to the quarter-finals, and Arsène Wenger opted to utilise youth in the Europa League, both of which should’ve provided Jeff with plenty of opportunities to prove himself.
17-year-old Reiss Nelson is approaching double figures for appearances for the first team, and I have no doubts he’ll make it to them before the end of the year. Joe Willock is half-way there as well, and Eddie Nketiah exploded onto the scene with two goals to save the Gunners from League Cup elimination. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has also been getting his fair share of chances, and a number of others have made their debuts.
Unfortunately, fate dealt Jeff another couple of injuries at the wrong time to stop him joining in with the first-team youth invasion. He made the bench against FC Köln at the start of the Europa League campaign. But in a tough game that was only decided late on, Kolašinac and Wilshere were required before any u23s could get involved.
The midfielder then picked up a knock, and only managed to play 20 minutes as a substitute in the next couple of youth games, before falling injured once again just as matches against Red Star Belgrade and Norwich City were coming up.
Once again, there weren’t many details given out for the exact nature and cause of the injury. Other than being told that there was some kind of problem with Reine-Adelaide’s ankle in April, we don’t know what’s keeping him out. Maybe it’s a recurrence of the same injury, or another niggling issue.
At the moment it’s all speculation.
Chances this season are starting to dwindle. There will only be three League Cup games at most in the New Year, if the Gunners can make it that far. If the big-six teams win their quarter-finals (as you’d expect), those three matches will be against Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.
Not great opportunities for easing in young players like Jeff.
The Europa League will reach the knockout stage, and Champions League teams will join in on the action. The FA Cup will get underway, but who knows if Arsenal will draw the likes of Charlton Athletic, or Manchester United? There’s always the chance you draw a lower league team and get knocked out anyway, at which point that’s it for the competition.
As a result, young players who need experience, but haven’t earned themselves at least a bench place in the Premier League, tend to go out on loan in January. For example, Matt Macey, Krystian Bielik and Chuba Akpom all went out on temporary deals last year.
I’d imagine this is the most likely option for Reine-Adelaide – if he’s fit. He was taken off against Derby on Friday night with another problem.
If he can prove his fitness, he’ll probably have more of a chance at a League One side than waiting for opportunities at Arsenal.
By that stage, the young players who have already been given chances will be pushing to stay in the side, and another few months of occasional substitute appearances won’t be what’s best for him to develop.
Jeff has talent, he has physical presence and he’s creative; the ingredients are all there, as they say.
If he wants to make it at Arsenal, he might have to spend a few months away, like Wilshere, Bellerín and Coquelin before him.
But first he needs to get fit, and we wish him luck in his latest recovery.