Miguel Azeez, Folarin Balogun, Ben Cottrell, and Emile Smith Rowe are all joining the Arsenal senior squad for Thursday night after their recent u23 appearances.
As we move into the second half of the Europa League group stage, Mikel Arteta has made a few exciting young additions to the 23-man matchday squad.
You may be aware that UEFA are still allowing larger squads for their matches at the moment, with 12 subs permissible on the bench.
With a few Arsenal players currently injured or suffering from coronavirus, there were openings for youth promotions. Let’s have a look at the players stepping up.
Two players to earn their first promotion to the senior side for a competitive fixture were Miguel Azeez (18) and Ben Cottrell (19). Both have been impressing for the Arsenal u23s recently and earning their first-team call-ups.
For Azeez, this is effectively his first full season at u23 level, so the first-team opportunity has arrived sooner than he may have anticipated. The midfielder is very skilful and technical, with a strong passing range and a great long shot.
He doesn’t play as a 10, suiting a box-to-box role better, but that’s a good thing in Arteta’s current system. As with a lot of young players, his area for improvement is in learning when he can take risks in his own defensive third.
The biggest positive with Azeez right now is that he doesn’t look phased by stepping up a level. He scored his only goal this season against Crawley Town’s senior side and seems to relish those battles.
The youngster did pick up a minor injury over the international break, but he returned to the pitch with 45-minute appearance last Friday.
As for Cottrell, he’d already made quite a few u23 appearances before this campaign, but again, this is his first season as a full-time member of the team. He’s another creative and technical midfielder, assisting Smith Rowe’s winner last Friday.
The left-footed teenager is on the shorter side, so he won’t be winning many aerial duels. But he makes up for his size in ground duels by being agile and strong enough to escape pressure.
Cottrell has six goal contributions in 12 games this campaign, despite the u23s’ struggles. He also scored in the penalty shootout against Gillingham recently.
The striker is having a decent start to the season, with four goals and two assists in 11 games for the academy.
That’s not quite up to his usual high standard, but the team had a poor start to the season as a group and the transfer speculation was also probably distracting. For six goal contributions in 11 games to be slightly below-par shows the levels he can reach.
Balogun is playing well right now, particularly since the arrival of Nikolaj Moller. Having a strike partner to work with has really helped.
For anyone who hasn’t seen him play, Balogun is a strong and pacey centre-forward who loves to run in behind. He can also play on the left, but he’s at his best latching onto those through balls down the middle.
Emile Smith Rowe
After recovering from injury, Smith Rowe played four games with the academy to prove his fitness, scoring three goals in 251 minutes – one every 84 minutes. Arteta is clearly keen to get those goals back in the first-team now.
Smith Rowe has looked in good form so far, earning himself plenty of chances with his forward runs and helping the Arsenal u23s to escape pressure in deeper areas. Those two qualities could be very useful back in the first team.
For me, there’s no doubt Smith Rowe has the talent to be a regular first-team starter at the club. The only question is around his fitness, so if he’s healthy enough to play right now, he should.