5 Young Players That Should Develop into Starters for Arsenal in 2013/14

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2013

5 Young Players That Should Develop into Starters for Arsenal in 2013/14

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    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere lead a quintet of Arsenal youngsters boasting the potential to develop into starters during the 2013/14 campaign.

    The youthful England international duo are the key to the strength and success of Arsenal's midfield. They are joined by a precocious 16-year-old schemer who is already turning heads on preseason duty.

    There is also room for Arsenal's lone summer signing so far. He may not have generated many headlines upon his arrival, but the 20-year-old striker will push for playing time in a thin forward line.

    Finally, a creative wide player will be awarded more first-team minutes this season, as he continues his rapid development.

    Before delving into the main list in more detail, here is a look at three other youngsters on the fringes.

On the Fringes: Chuba Akpom, Hector Bellerin and Thomas Eisfeld

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    This trio of youngsters will offer fleeting glimpses of their potential at times this season, but are still some way short of becoming starters.

    The group is led by German playmaker Thomas Eisfeld. Naturally assured in possession, there is a real presence about the ex-Borussia Dortmund prospect.

    Eisfeld is a neat and clever passer, whose only misfortune is to be vying for playing time at a position already crowded with players of a similar style.

    The same is true for fleet-footed full-back Hector Bellerin. The former FC Barcelona academy graduate has impressed many during his short time with the Gunners.

    That recently earned him a new lengthy deal. However, Bellerin will find it tough to supplant Carl Jenkinson and Bacary Sagna in the pecking order at right-back.

    The Catalan youth can also play further forward and could see action there in this season's Capital One Cup.

    Striker Chuba Akpom rounds out this trio. He was in free-scoring form at youth and reserve levels last season and has begun this preseason well, netting three times in two matches.

    However, the arrival of Yaya Sanogo makes one more obstacle for the 17-year-old to overcome. Akpom will need to impress again in the reserves and earn some action in the domestic cups.

Honorable Mention: Carl Jenkinson, Right-Back

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    Carl Jenkinson deserves his status as a true fan favorite for the Gunners. He rates as an honorable mention on this list for two reasons.

    The first is that Sagna is still the club's best option at right-back. The French veteran's struggles last season are immaterial.

    At his best, Sagna remains one of the finest right-backs in the world. He is not primed to relent to his young understudy just yet.

    The other reason Jenkinson narrowly missed the cut is a disturbing pattern that emerged in the second half of last season. Jenkinson was substituted for Aaron Ramsey more than once.

    Each was a like-for-like swap that revealed Jenkinson's struggles providing a credible attacking outlet. Manager Arsene Wenger wanted more threat going forward so much that he was prepared to play a midfielder out of position in crucial games.

    That is proof that Jenkinson still has a lot of room for improvement. But that is only natural considering this is a player who was signed from English football's third tier just two years ago.

    Jenkinson remains the club's right-back of the future, but a role as a utility defender is where his true value lies this season.

5. Serge Gnabry, Attacking Midfielder/Winger

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    Quick-witted winger Serge Gnabry is inching closer and closer to the Arsenal first team. During the 2012/13 campaign Gnabry made his English Premier League and UEFA Champions League debuts.

    He came on as a substitute in October's painful 1-0 defeat away at Norwich City. In Europe, Gnabry was again introduced as a sub, this time during Arsenal's 2-0 home humiliation at the hands of Schalke 04.

    The pacy wide man also earned his first full start in Arsenal's now famous 7-5 Capital One Cup clash against Reading. Gnabry merited each of these milestones in his development.

    Even at such a young age, the 18-year-old already possesses a measure of quickness, power and craft that make him first-team material.

    His acceleration and trickery are phenomenal at times, and Ganbry also displays a flair for spectacular goals. He is still refining the technical side of his overall game, but when he masters that Gnabry will be a real force.

    Expect him to see more time as part of the attacking rotation in wide areas this season.

4. Gedion Zelalem, Midfielder

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    Arsenal fans should be very excited about Gedion Zelalem. The 16-year-old appears poised for a rapid rise to first-team contention and with good reason.

    Despite limited experience, Zelalem is already showing a natural flair for creativity. Whenever he gets on the ball he is looking to play a defence-splitting pass.

    He passes with imagination, daring and intelligence. Zelalem is always trying to move the ball forward and between the lines.

    That is a priceless quality in Arsenal's style of play. While it is important not to exaggerate the potential of young talents, it is also equally important not to underrate them either.

    Zelalem's innate vision belongs in the "skills you can't teach" file and makes him a prime candidate for increased playing time. With Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky both the wrong side of 30, now is the time Arsene Wenger will be looking for possible successors.

    Count on Zelalem being at the front of the queue.

3. Yaya Sanogo, Striker

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    Arsenal's only summer signing so far will have every chance to push for first-team reckoning. Sanogo is returning from a victorious FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign, during which the youthful Frenchman offered glimpses of his talent.

    Sanogo bagged four goals and an assist and revealed why Wenger was so keen to snare him from Auxerre. The 6'3" natural target man is an aerial threat, also boasting good pace and underrated technique on the ground.

    If Arsenal enter this season with Olivier Giroud still deployed as the focal point of the attack, Sanogo will be his natural deputy. He can capitalize on better service and fire himself into a regular role as the campaign progresses.

2. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Midfielder

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    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a hugely significant player for the Gunners this season. He has the potential to emerge as a real force in central midfield.

    The former Southampton prodigy has had his moments on the wing, but he always looked better in the middle. In his debut season, he impressed there against AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League.

    Last term, Chamberlain was one of Arsenal's best performers in their dogged final-day win over Newcastle United. He entered the fray as an early substitute and was solid at the heart of Arsenal's midfield.

    On a technical level, the 19-year-old is already far ahead of many other players in his age range. His touch and eye for a pass make him a natural conductor of play.

    Chamberlain's terrific turn of pace and fierce shot also make him a credible goal threat. He can rely on a stout frame and the strength to survive the wars in the middle.

    He can fit alongside Arteta, or as Arsenal's most advanced midfielder. Chamberlain's father has been adamant that the latter is his son's best position.

    It is also telling that Wenger has deployed Chamberlain centrally in Arsenal's opening preseason friendlies. That could be part of an examination of Chamberlain's credentials to make his mark as a full-time central midfielder this season.

    This is a critical year for the youngster. His potential is obvious, but now is the time for more consistency. The key will be becoming more assertive about emphasizing his technical and physical gifts during games.

    If Chamberlain can do that, Arsenal will have a true midfield linchpin.

1. Jack Wilshere, Midfielder

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    Many might consider Jack Wilshere a guaranteed starter, but too many questions remain to make that claim at this stage.

    First, there is his health. Wilshere has struggled with a chronic ankle problem that has severely stunted his development. The 21-year-old must prove he is over that complaint to prove himself indispensable to the Gunners' starting 11.

    The second question is particularly tricky. What exactly is Wilshere's best position? Is he an advanced playmaker in the mold of Ces Fabregas? Or is he a halfway-line player, at his best dictating the steady flow of possession?

    It is a tough question to answer, but one that is crucial to Wilshere's future. Wenger experimented with both options last season, and neither proved conclusive.

    When he plays deeper, Wilshere often lacks positional discipline. He likes to break forward, a natural strength of his game. But he makes these forays too often, leaving Arsenal outnumbered in defensive areas.

    As an attacking midfielder, Wilshere still does not make enough decisive contributions in and around the box. The second assist in the video above is the kind of defence-splitting pass Wilshere must produce more often.

    In terms of technique and tenacity, Wilshere knows no equal among young midfield stars. But now is the time for Arsenal to decide exactly where the 21-year-old can help them the most.

    Answering that question will be the key to Arsenal's midfield in the 2013/14 season.

Foundation of Young Talent Continues to Serve Arsenal Well

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    Despite his faults, sometimes you cannot help but be proud of Wenger and the philosophy that underpins Arsenal. Consider the ages of the players on this list. They read 18, 16, 20, 19 and 21.

    No other member in the EPL's top four would risk that many youngsters playing roles in their first team. Wenger's belief in the promise of youth can continue to serve Arsenal well.

    Yes, it remains a gamble, particularly in terms of catching the game's elite. But if those risks pay off, think of the benefits.

    If Wilshere stays fit and lives up to his potential, Arsenal will boast arguably the best young midfield schemer in their division. If Chamberlain makes the grade, the Gunners will have significantly strengthened their midfield without spending a penny.

    That same rule applies with Zelalem, who could emulate what Fabregas became, thanks in no small part to Wenger's tutelage and willingness to trust him early on.

    Of course, this is all conjecture and even if these things prove true it still might not end the dreaded trophy drought. But it doesn't hurt to hope.