As we approach the end of the season, we’re already aware of a number of players who will be leaving the club this summer, but which youth stars could step up to fill gaps in the first team?
Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Petr Cech are all set to depart for free this summer, with reports that Stephan Lichtsteiner will be joining them. Then there are a number of other players rumoured to be on the market, like Mohamed Elneny, Shkodran Mustafi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Carl Jenkinson and Calum Chambers.
Most Arsenal fans are calling for big money signings to replace the outgoing players, but with a seemingly limited transfer budget, the Gunners may have to look for some internal solutions as well. Let’s have a look at which of the academy players could fill gaps in the senior squad next season.
Firstly, a special mention should go to Emi Martinez. Though he’s not a youth player anymore, he did make as many appearances for the Arsenal u23s as the first team this season, before going on loan. That loan spell has been so impressive that he should be given a chance to replace Cech in goal for the senior side.
Meanwhile, the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, Daniel Ballard and Xavier Amaechi should all look at getting themselves loan moves next campaign, as they all need regular football and aren’t quite ready to start for Arsenal every week.
With that said, who else could make the permanent step up?
With Aaron Ramsey leaving, Arsenal lack any midfielders who can score goals regularly. Step up Joe Willock, who has 12 goals this season, six of which came against senior opposition. He scored one in the Europa League group stage against FC Vorskla, two in the FA Cup against Blackpool and three in the EFL Trophy against League One/Two sides.
Freddie Ljungberg has given the 19-year-old a free role to roam box-to-box in midfield this season, and it’s worked fantastically well. The teenager gets back to defend well, he controls matches in possession and then he makes those dangerous late runs to get on the scoresheet.
The only thing he’s lacking is regular senior experience, the kind Unai Emery has been so keen to give Matteo Guendouzi this season. Willock just needs the same opportunities.
Arguably Arsenal’s Academy Player of the Season, Saka has been fantastic in 2018/19, scoring 14 goals and assisting 10 from the wing, as well as winning three penalties. He was man-of-the-match in his only senior start against Qarabag, and he’s only improved his game under Freddie Ljungberg.
In the first team, Arsenal have been low on wide options all season. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi and Denis Suarez are the only three you could really point to, and Suarez is heading back to Barcelona with Mkhitaryan also rumoured to be on the market.
The Gunners have to invest in a new winger, but even if they do, they’ll still need more rotation/backup options. Saka should be one of them, as should the next name on this list:
Nelson hasn’t had as many minutes for Hoffenheim as he would’ve wanted this season, but he’s still impressed in his limited game time in the Bundesliga. Seven goals in 752 minutes (one every 107) is a great record for a teenager in one of Europe’s top five leagues and the Champions League.
Like Saka, Nelson has earned the chance to show he can at least make himself a squad option for the first team next season.
Osei-Tutu plays at right back, and he’s been very unlucky not to get any first-team chances already. The 20-year-old suffered an injury in August that kept him out until November, then picked up a freak red card on his return which meant he only played 55 league minutes for the u23s from 21st August to 13th January.
Since his full return in January, Osei-Tutu has been a key part of an Arsenal u23 defence that has only conceded four goals in eight games, keeping five clean sheets. Although he only officially got one assist in those matches, he was involved in a number of goals in the build-up, and his forward runs are always a feature of the team’s play.
If Stephan Lichtsteiner and Carl Jenkinson leave, with Hector Bellerin unlikely to return for at least a couple of months into the new season, Osei-Tutu should get the opportunity to rotate with Ainsley Maitland-Niles. At the very least he should be heavily involved in pre-season to see if he’s ready.
Even if Eddie Nketiah does go on loan, with Danny Welbeck leaving, Arsenal aren’t going to want to spend significant amounts of money on signing another striker, considering Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s strong seasons.
As a result, Unai Emery could look to the academy for a third-choice striker. John-Jules has scored 16 goals and assisted nine for the academy this season, and he scored in a friendly for the first team in March.
The 18-year-old is very similar to a young Lacazette, with excellent link-up play and consistent hard-working performances in and out of possession. He took a while to get going in front of goal with the u23s, but he’s hit a new level since his senior goal, scoring four and assisting one in his final four u23 games of the season.
Even when he wasn’t scoring quite so often, John-Jules still brought a huge amount to the team, and he deserves a chance to do the same in the senior side.