Joel Lopez trained with the Arsenal first team this week after the club elected not to sign a backup left-back in the transfer window.
Despite loaning Sead Kolasinac out to Schalke in January, Arsenal didn’t manage to bring in a replacement.
This was partly due to the fact they didn’t have a space on their non-homegrown list, and there weren’t many clubs willing to loan them a good homegrown left-back for the next few months. But it still leaves the squad a bit light in the position.
Kieran Tierney is the undisputed starter when he’s fit, but he’s the only full-time left-back in Mikel Arteta’s squad now.
Cedric Soares has been playing the position to good effect lately, and Bukayo Saka can too, but both of them are needed in other areas as well. Saka is in fantastic form at right-wing, and Cedric is the main backup at right-back.
If everyone stays fit, that still shouldn’t be a huge problem. Tierney and Hector Bellerin can start games, with Cedric replacing either of them when they need a rest, and Saka or Calum Chambers playing whenever both Bellerin and Tierney need a rest at once.
An injury or two could see the situation become a lot more tricky, however, at which point Arsenal might look to their academy for support.
Step up, Joel Lopez. The former Barcelona academy defender is still waiting on his senior debut, but he joined first-team training this week.
Lopez was arguably unfortunate not to make his debut earlier in the season. I argued he looked ready for a chance in the latter stages of the Europa League group stage, with Sead Kolasinac temporarily absent through Covid.
Sadly, Lopez picked up a knock at the worst possible time to rule him out of that possibility. Whether Arteta believed he was ready back then, we’ll never know.
Still, he’s consistently performing well for the u23s. He’s effective and forward-thinking on the ball, regularly providing an option in the final third. He’s also left-footed, making him a more natural fit for Arteta’s side than Cedric – as well as Cedric has done.
Despite all that, a first-team debut still seems like a bit of a long shot this season. The knock-on effect of failing to make your debut in dead rubber group stage matches is that you’re forced to step up in a game that really matters.
Arteta isn’t going to be keen to bring Lopez in for the first time in a Europa League quarter-final, or a league game while every point is so crucial. So he’s available for emergencies, but I wouldn’t expect a sudden inclusion in our upcoming squads.