Daniel Ballard made an encouraging return to the pitch on Tuesday, after a knee injury put him out for just over six months.
The Arsenal academy defender went on loan to Swindon Town at the start of the season. Unfortunately, Ballard was only up to three appearances when he picked up a serious knee injury.
The problem was a damaged meniscus, and he had surgery on the issue ruling him out for the long-term. Arsenal brought him back from loan to treat him in-house.
On Tuesday night, the highly-rated Ballard finally made his return to the pitch.
Arsenal u23s were facing Monaco II in the Premier League International Cup quarter-finals, and the score was 2-2 at half-time. The centre-back came on at the break and helped his team to a dramatic 4-3 win.
The big thing Ballard brought to the team was leadership. You could hear him directing the defence for the second 45 minutes, telling them when to go up and when to drop off and help, organising the line for set-pieces, and so on.
It’s a small thing, but it can make a big difference. Ballard also did well in his challenges and aerial duels, so the signs are encouraging for a strong comeback.
Despite the ongoing wait for his first Arsenal senior appearance, Ballard has already joined up with the Northern Ireland first team a couple of times. He got his first call-up in March and had his third planned for September before the injury.
The 20-year-old hasn’t made his international debut, making the bench in March and just travelling with the squad in June. They clearly liked what they saw from him at u21 level though. Northern Ireland scouts were in the stands again watching on Tuesday.