Predicting the Next 5 Arsenal Youth Players to Make First-Team Debuts
Arsene Wenger's commitment to developing promising youths at Arsenal remains as strong as ever. This season has seen German playmakers Thomas Eisfeld and Serge Gnabry make first-team debuts. English youngster Jernade Meade has also featured.
Wenger is set to integrate a clutch of his best academy products in next season's first-team squad. (per The Daily Mail)
Here are five youth products the Gunners' boss might add to the mix.
1. Jon Toral, Central Midfielder
Jon Toral has endured a tough time this season. He was struck down by injury just as he was beginning to show his best.
Toral has been sidelined since December. However, when he's been healthy, Toral has done enough to indicate he can force his way into Arsenal's senior squad.
As expected for a former Barca and Arsenal current prodigy, Toral is very accomplished on the ball. His technique is flawless, and he has an eye for a creative pass.
Toral also boasts decent size to scrap for and hold possession in the middle, and he also offers a credible goal threat.
With the futures of Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin in doubt, Wenger may promote Toral sooner than expected.
2. Kristoffer Olsson, Central Midfielder
Kristoffer Olsson fits the mold of midfielders Wenger has favored ever since Cesc Fabregas came into the team in 2003. The 17-year-old has the chance to blossom into an exceptional playmaker.
Olsson is graceful in possession and a sly passer. He is a cultured midfielder with the technical proficiency and guile Wenger covets for Arsenal's brand of intricate passing football.
Olsson won't dominate or even win many physical duels. However, his craft and forward-thinking style perfectly suits the way the Gunners play the game.
3. Chuba Akpom, Striker
Recent matches have shown that what Arsenal miss the most is a composed finisher.
Wenger's search for a more unerring presence in front of goal might start close to home with 17-year-old Chuba Akpom.
He has been a free-scoring force at every level of Arsenal's youth setup. Quick across the ground and deceptively strong, Akpom converts his chances with a brash assurance.
Wenger at the very least needs to improve his depth in the striking department. Akpom has merited the opportunity to prove he can be just as clinical at senior level.
4. Gedion Zelalem, Central Midfielder
Gedion Zelalem is another classy midfielder Wenger is developing for the near future. In a brief amount of time, Zelalem has already made great strides progressing through the ranks.
He's trained with the first team more than once and featured for the Under-21 side. The Daily Mail highlighted Zelalem as one player Wenger will look to use next season, and with good reason. Zelalem is a commanding central schemer.
His stylish touches and neat passing control the flow of play. He exudes a calm authority whenever he has the ball at his feet.
Wenger may soon look to integrate Zelalem's speed of thought and accurate distribution into his senior midfield.
5. Hector Bellerin, Full-Back
Hector Bellerin is the strongest candidate on this list to first make his debut with the seniors.
The attack-minded full-back has flourished at the Under-21 level this season. The Mail article tipped Bellerin to join Zelalem with the seniors sooner rather than later.
Bellerin joined Toral in bolting from Barcelona to join the Gunners and work with Wenger. He is displaying the buccaneering style all Wenger's full-backs have shown.
Bellerin is keen to get forward and has the pace, control and delivery to frighten defenses when he does. He is also extremely comfortable in possession and excels at pass-and-move football.
Perhaps most importantly, Bellerin shows considerable energy levels on the pitch. He'll need them, as full-back is arguably the most physically demanding position in Wenger's style of play.
Bellerin will be required to provide an attacking outlet every time Arsenal have the ball. Whenever they lose it, he'll be expected to quickly track back and often face down attacks from wide by himself.
Fortunately, none of that appears too challenging for the 18-year-old Catalan. With Bacary Sagna's future at the club still unresolved, Bellerin could be fast-tracked to the first-team level.
Wenger Must Strike Balance Between Youth Talent and New Recruits
Arsenal currently boast a seeming plethora of precocious young talents. The challenge for Wenger is fostering their development, while creating a squad strong enough to be more viable title contenders.
That means finding the right balance between integrating young players into his senior squad and buying new recruits. Wenger can't waste the youthful prospects at his disposal.
His willingness to field young players and still expect to compete is one of the best things about the Frenchman. However, with Arsenal as far away from legitimate title contention as they have looked during his tenure, that won't be enough to challenge Manchester United.
Buying star quality will provide a necessary boost, but that hopefully won't come at the expense of too many of Arsenal's bright young things.