The Hard Tackle looks at five youngsters who could be destined to make a breakthrough for Arsenal in the coming season.
As modernity spreads its grip on football, the sport has required more athleticism and youthful exuberance. As a result, more and more young players are becoming an influential part of the game, with players like Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe and Joao Felix being the prime examples (each of the three have featured in the FIFA 21 trailer, in what was a part of a marketing ploy by EA Sports).
This past season, we have seen a bunch of unknown young players making their mark at the highest level of football. And we can pretty much expect the same as we head towards a rushed start to the new campaign.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we are introducing a series, which will shed light on five such unknown youngsters from each club, each of whom are ready to make their mark at the top level at any given moment.
We have already covered Borussia Dortmund in our first edition and this time around, we will look into Arsenal – another club that has specialised in youth development in recent years, now more than ever following the appointment of Mikel Arteta.
[Writer’s Notes: We are only considering players who are yet to make an impact in Europe and have played less than 90 minutes of professional football for Arsenal, so youngsters like Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah have not been mentioned on this list]
Following the departure of Sam Greenwood to Leeds United, Folarin Balogun has been the next Arsenal academy ace to be linked with a move away from the Emirates. And it does not come as a surprise either.
A centre-forward by trade, Balogun has made quite a mark in the youth competitions with his lethal scoring prowess. The striker has, in fact, netted 33 goals in just 34 matches in the Under-18 Premier League and has replicated his performances in Premier League 2, scoring 12 goals in 23 games last season.
As a result, Balogun has been linked with a move to the Bundesliga this summer. However, it seems Arsenal could certainly use the services of the youngster, especially as they brace themselves for the potential departure of Alexandre Lacazette.
The Frenchman’s sale could open up a possibility, not only for Nketiah but also for Balogun to actually make an impact in the first-team next season by competing with yet another successful Arsenal youth product.
Ben Cottrell has been among the most talked-about young players during Arsenal’s pre-season preparations this summer. He also made a decent impression in the win over MK Dons.
Part of the Arsenal academy since an early age, Cottrell is a central midfielder by trade, which already gives him a major advantage as far as breaking into the first-team is concerned. The Gunners clearly lack depth in the middle of the park, especially with Dani Ceballos returning to Real Madrid and Matteo Guendouzi being linked with a move elsewhere.
However, one of Cottrell’s biggest asset is his versatility. In fact, it was evident against MK Dons, when he replaced Kieran Tierney in the 62nd minute and featured as a left wing-back.
Aside from his versatility, the 18-year-old is also known for his technical attributes while his efficiency on the ball could be useful for Mikel Arteta in the coming season.
Much like Balogun, Tyreece John-Jules is another young striker gunning for a place in the senior side next season. Unlike his young teammate, however, the 19-year-old was sent out on loan to Lincoln City earlier this year in order to gain some experience in first-team football.
John-Jules scored only one goal in seven matches for the League One outfit. However, he has shown a lot of promise and is ready to compete with the likes of Balogun and Nketiah in the upcoming campaign.
A native of London, John-Jules’s style of play can be compared with Arsenal star Lacazette. He is a proactive attacker who likes to hover around the final third and work hard to win back possession for his team.
Moreover, the Englishman has some serious pace to burn while his ability to find the back of the net might just make him an asset for Arteta during the 2020/21 campaign.
Miguel Azeez is simply regarded as one of the next big things to come out of the Arsenal academy for his unrivalled potential.
A central midfielder by trade, the youngster has even been compared to club legend Patrick Vieira for his combative qualities in the middle of the park. Despite his age, the 17-year-old has been outmuscling players far older than him and has already featured in two games for the Arsenal reserve side.
Azeez specialises in winning back possession and creating turnovers in midfield. But, he is equally capable of acting as a ball carrier, thus easing his side’s transition from midfield to attack. It suits well with Arteta’s philosophy that has added a lot of discipline in their approach play while making them much more effective without the ball.
The youngster, in that regard, could be an ideal catalyst in the double pivot. And with the Gunners dealing with a lack of quality depth in the middle of the park, it could well turn out to be Azeez’s season.
Given Karamoko Dembele’s incredible growth at Celtic, young players, despite having a short frame, are truly making a mark in professional football. And Arsenal academy product Omari Hutchinson might well be the next big thing in English football.
Although still a part of Arsenal Under-18, Hutchinson is making waves in the youth competitions with his unmatched skills and effortless dribbling. At the age of 16, he is already pushing for a place in the reserve side, having performed extremely well for the Under-18s.
Hutchinson is primarily an attacking midfielder, who absolutely loves to take on defenders. He is blessed with quick feet while his low centre of gravity allows him to squeeze through tight spaces and retain his balance when taking on the opposition.
The 16-year-old also has the pace necessary to lose his markers – making him an ideal player for Mikel Arteta. And although he is mostly seen as a long-term prospect given his age, nothing is certain in football these days and as the youngster turns 17 next month, Hutchinson could be in for a rapid rise to prominence.