The EFL cup tie against Reading heavily featured Arsenal’s academy players, and most impressed in their 2-0 victory.
The Gunners eased to a 2-0 victory against Championship side Reading, and the likes of Emiliano Martinez, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Alex Iwobi, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Gedion Zelalem and Chris Willock all played a part in the victory.
Alex Iwobi has been a revelation for the Gunners, having made the transition from academy player to first-team regular with aplomb.
We take a look at 5 of the most exciting youngsters at Arsenal, who could potentially break into the first team in the near future.
Gedion Zelalem (19)
Signed from Olney Rangers in 2013, the youngster first caught the public eye after impressing during Arsenal’s Asia tour in July 2013. The youngster has great technical skill on the ball, and has a killer eye for a pass which has seen him compared to the likes of Andres Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo.
While those are big boots to fill, Zelalem showed why he was getting those comparisons on tour with this lovely pass to Theo Walcott, which showed vision beyond his age – he was 16 years old at the time.
One worry that the Gunners’ coaching staff have is that Zelalem is not physically robust enough, and is too slight for the Premier League. He sought to overcome this by going out on loan to Rangers in the Scottish league – which is one of the most physically demanding leagues around. Zelalem was impressive during this loan spell, and will be looking to kick on this season and further his ambition of breaking into the Arsenal first team.
Chris Willock (18)
Willock has been at Arsenal pretty much all his life, having joined the club when he was 5 years old. The youngster’s potential is so impressive that he featured for the Arsenal first team in a friendly aged just 16, with Arsene Wenger saying at the time, “He’s a very young boy and I wanted him to have a run-out with the big boys to see how much he has to do. Technically and tactically he integrated very well.”
Now 18, Willock has been an ever-present in the youth side, scoring two and assisting one in Arsenal’s victory over Aston Villa in the under-21 Premier League play-off final.
Willock is a pacy, skillful and tactically sound player who is a specialist on the left wing – a position that his fellow graduate Alex Iwobi has now made his own. Wenger rates him highly, however, and it is only a matter of time until the youngster is given a chance to impress with the first team.
Dan Crowley (19)
Signed from Aston Villa in 2013, Crowley has been likened to fellow Englishman Jack Wilshere. The attacking midfielder possesses an excellent passing range, and has the ability to drive forward with explosive pace. He is also skilled on the ball, with neat touches and great close control.
The youngster went out on loan to Barnsley last season, and although it did not go as expected with Crowley featuring only 11 times, he has had better luck on loan this season with Oxford United, scoring 3 goals in 9 appearances for the newly promoted League One side.
The youngster is highly rated in both England and Ireland, having represented both countries at youth level. Such is the demand for the player that manager Martin O’Neill confirmed that he had spoken to the player’s father in a bid to get him to commit to the Republic of Ireland.
Crowley will be hoping for a successful loan spell, and at just 19 years of age still has ample time on his side to make a real push for the Arsenal first team.
Donyell Malen (17)
Arsenal signed Donyell Malen from Ajax – a club renowned for their youth system – earlier this year. The youngster went on to score a brilliant solo goal on his debut, sprinting from the halfway line, leaving one defender for dead and calmly chipping the keeper. He has represented the Netherlands at every youth level until the Under-18s, often being up to 2 years younger than the rest of the squad. This in a country where the youth team is ridiculously competitive.
The youngster possesses blistering pace, and while he is quite short, is also robust and has great balance thanks to his low centre of gravity, which makes it very hard to get him off the ball. In all, Malen played 30 times for various levels of the Arsenal youth teams last season, scoring an impressive 14 goals.
The Arsenal staff consider Malen one of the brightest prospects they have had in recent years, and even Mino Raiola – the super agent who represents players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba – recently said he considers Malen the most exciting talent around right now. The youngster has shown that he has everything it takes to not just make it into the Arsenal first team, but perhaps make an impact even more than Iwobi has so far.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide (18)
Now quite well known, Jeff Reine-Adelaide was a completely unknown in England when he signed for Arsenal from Lens in 2015. The Frenchman immediately debuted in the Emirates Cup, where his performances were widely praised by pundits and fans alike. The highlight was a cheeky nutmeg on Kevin De Bruyne, which seemed almost nonchalant at the time. When Arsene Wenger first spoke about Reine-Adelaide after his debut in the Emirates Cup against Lyon, he had this to say:
“Reine-Adelaide is something special you know,” he told Arsenal.com. “He is a great talent and when he came on you could see that – 17 years old let’s not forget that. In fact I don’t remember how I played at 17 but I didn’t play like that!
When Wenger says a young player is something special, the world takes notice.
Reine-Adelaide is decently built, and Wenger has said that he is already physically ready for the league. Add to that the technical skills most players a decade older than him don’t possess, the composure of a player that has been playing in the top flight for much longer than he has, and the propensity for a brilliant trick or two, and you really do have all the ingredients for one of the most exciting young players around.
The youngster has already been named on the bench for several of Arsenal games this season, and it is simply a matter of time until he starts featuring for the first team as well.