Arsenal’s academy is set for shake-up in the summer, with Per Mertesacker to become the Head of Youth development at the end of the season.
Arsene Wenger has blooded through a long list of homegrown talent in his 21 years as manager, but the production line seems to have halted in recent seasons, with few getting much game time in the Premier League.
We also asked Jeorge what he made of the Gunners’ transfer business, with so many promising players having left the club in recent windows.
Which academy star do you believe Wenger has overlooked for too long?
“I think Julio Pleguezuelo at least deserves a chance in cup games, as he has often performed well for the u23s and impressed on loan at Mallorca despite his limited game time.
“He’s quick and good on the ball, meaning he would be perfect for a back-three, but he has been unlucky with injuries.”
Are there any central midfielders capable of making the step up?
“Josh Dasilva has been used as a left wing-back recently, but I think he’s more suited to playing in central midfield due to his physique and the fact he can break up play effectively.
“Marcus McGuane has also done well, but it seems that he is also being converted into a defender.”
Which players do you feel were let go too soon from the academy?
“There are few players who I feel Arsenal should have tried harder with to convince them to stay, including Ovie Ejaria who’s now at Liverpool.
“Oguzhan Ozyakup was really impressive at youth level, but could have been persuaded to stay if he had been given more first-team chances.”
What did you make of Per Mertesacker’s appointment as academy head for next summer? How do you think he’ll fare in the new role?
“I was surprised by the appointment. His lack of coaching experience is a little bit concerning. But he is certainly the type of person that you want as Academy Manager given he’s professional and authoritative.
“This is an important time for the academy as the production line to the first-team has slowed a little in recent seasons, so Mertesacker will be under a lot of scrutiny. I think it’s a positive that an internal appointment was made as he understands the club.”
Finally, what did you make of the transfer business this summer?
“It was difficult to see a lot of really talented youngsters leave permanently – Chris Willock, Dan Crowley, Kaylen Hinds, Donyell Malen, Ismael Bennacer and Jon Toral – with none of them having really been given an opportunity to prove themselves.
“I was a bit surprised we didn’t send more players out on loan, especially some of the more experienced youngsters, but I think there will be a lot of players going on loan in January.
“It was also notable there was only one signing for the academy all summer in Jordan McEneff. It seems they’re waiting until Mertesacker takes charge so he can make his own decisions.”
A big thanks to Jeorge Bird for speaking with us. Here’s hoping we’ll see more of the up-and-coming talent in competitive games for the senior side this season.