It might be a while before we see him, but Kelechi Nwakali will be one worth waiting for.
The 2017/18 season has been memorable for the number of young players who have made their first team debut.
Thanks to Arsene Wenger’s rotation policy for the Europa and the Carabao Cup, opportunities have been given to Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Josh Dasilva, Ben Sheaf, Matt Macey and Marcus McGuane before he left for Barcelona.
Not all of these players will go on to forge careers at Arsenal, but it’s hard not to get carried away when Nelson and Willock apply themselves so well to first team European football, or when Nketiah comes off the bench and scores his first Arsenal goal within 15 seconds.
The club’s academy set-up is looking pretty healthy.
You don’t need to look far to see who could be next in line for a breakthrough.
There’s the likes of Emile Smith-Rowe, another promising wide player who featured for the England u17 when they won the World Cup in India, and Trae Coyle, a 16-year-old scholar who made the 2017 edition of the Guardian’s Next Generation series.
Then there’s Romanian midfielder Vlad Dragomir, an exciting creative player, and the highly versatile Ben Sheaf, who can play in defensive or in midfield.
Yet, the most exciting young player on the club’s books is one that currently isn’t playing for them.
Nigeran midfielder Kelechi Nwakali signed for Arsenal from Nigeria’s Diamond Academy in August 2016, and has been on loan ever since due to not qualifying for a work permit.
Arsenal spotted Nwakali at the 2015 u17 World Cup in Chile. Playing in midfield, he captained his side to the final, where they defeated Mali 2-0. He scored three goals throughout the tournament, and was awarded the Golden Ball. The achievement doesn’t seem like much on paper, but it’s an honour that’s been won by the likes Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas in the past.
Fans may remembers Mexican striker Carlos Vela being signed in similar circumstances.
Vela scored five goals for Mexico on the way to their 2005 triumph, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he finally secured a work permit and made his debut for Arsenal. In the meantime, he had highly impressive loan spells at Salamanca and Osasuna.
He had plenty of experience under his belt by the time he made an appearance for Arsenal, and it showed. His first impression was one the classiest hat-tricks you’re likely to see in a 6-0 thrashing of Sheffield United.
Nwakali could follow a similar path.
He’s already made an impression at Dutch second division side MVV Maastricht. He spent last season there on loan and made 29 appearances. He impressed fans with his quick feet and tight close control that allowed him to glide through midfield. On top of that, he had an eye for a pass, able to switch play as well as thread passes through defences.
The technical level of his game is already very high, and only needs to be tempered by more experience on the pitch.
This season, he was on loan at Erevidisie club VVV-Venlo before returning to Arsenal and then heading back to MVV Maastricht to get regular game time. The hope is that he continues improving and impressing so that he can receive a call-up to the senior Nigeria team.
The more caps he has, the more likely he is to earn a work permit to play England.
Then Arsenal fans can finally see the exciting midfielder they brought in 2016.