At the end of the Arsenal academy’s season, let’s have a look at our picks for the top five players of the campaign.
First things first, let’s get some honourable mentions out of the way. Jordi Osei-Tutu and Xavier Amaechi were both excellent in the second half of the season, but having missed almost the entire first half through injury, it’s hard to include them in this list.
Similarly, Arthur Okonkwo was fantastic in the final months for the u23s and impressive early on for the u18s, but he hardly played in either league from mid-October to late March. We’ve also left out Eddie Nketiah, in spite of his official nomination for PL2 Player of the Season.
There’s no doubt that Nketiah has been levels above the competition every time he’s played for the u23s, but he only appeared in 10 of 22 league games and one of four EFL Trophy matches. He’s really a first-team player now, Unai Emery just needs to treat him more like one!
With that said, let’s get into our top five:
No one has scored goals as consistently as Folarin Balogun for the Arsenal academy this season. The striker has 28 goals at u18 level, three with the u19s at the Dallas Cup and one for the u23s in just 80 minutes for the top academy side this season. To add to those 32 goals, the striker also assisted seven and won five penalties.
We’ll have to see how the 17-year-old steps up to the u23s next season, but with the u18s he has been unstoppable all year.
Like Balogun, Saka is still just 17 years old, so he started the season in the u18s. He was quickly promoted to the u23s and then the first team, having no trouble performing to a high standard whatever level he played at.
The winger scored 14 goals, provided 10 assists and won three penalties in 2018/19, and seemed to get better and better as the season went on. Arguably the academy player of the season, it will be interesting to see how Arsenal use him next year.
Willock spent a lot of time with the first team this season, even when he wasn’t making appearances, which limited his u23 minutes a bit. Nonetheless, unlike Nketiah, he did still start over half of the academy games (14 starts in total).
In those games, the midfielder scored nine goals and assisted two, as well as scoring three in five games for the senior side. He’s become a leader on the pitch, captaining the u23s on a couple of occasions and controlling the game from midfield. He’s developed physically, makes more intelligent runs, and he deserves more chances next season.
John-Jules has split his time between the u23s and the u18s this season, scoring 16 goals and assisting eight in 30 appearances. He also scored on his unofficial debut for the first team in a friendly in March.
As the season has gone on, the striker has improved more and more. He’s scoring more often, his link-up play is about as good as you’ll see from a youth striker and he works hard in and out of possession. The comparisons to first-team striker Lacazette aren’t too far-fetched, the 18-year-old just needs to keep scoring this consistently going forward.
As well as Folarin Balogun, Bukayo Saka and Tyreece John-Jules have played for the u18s, they’ve had a lot of help from midfielder Matt Smith behind them. The youngster provided 15 assists this season, playing every minute of the u18s’ season and scoring six goals.
Smith has had to work hard to even play regular football for the u18s, as he was struggling for matches and behind in his development before this season. He’s come on leaps and bounds and captained the u18s to 23 wins in 29 games in all competitions, so he fully deserves a place on this list.
Let’s hope for another big season from all five players in 2019/20.