The 3 Youngsters Set to Break Through at Arsenal in 2014

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

TOYOTA, JAPAN - JULY 22:  Gedion Zelalem #35 of Arsenal in action during the pre-season friendly match between Nagoya Grampus and Arsenal at Toyota Stadium on July 22, 2013 in Toyota, Aichi, Japan.  (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
Masashi Hara/Getty Images

2014 is a year that promises much for Arsenal. The Gunners are in the midst of a title race that could end a decade-long wait for the Premier League title.

However, for a trio of young individuals, this year could also have a personal significance.

This could also be the year that Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem and Yaya Sanogo break into the Arsenal first team.

Gnabry is already well on his way to establishing himself as a permanent fixture in the Arsenal squad. After joining from VfB Stuttgart at 16, it didn’t take long for Gnabry to generate genuine buzz at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground.

Within a year, he had made the step up to training regularly with the first team. This season he has already made 10 senior appearances and has started each of Arsenal’s last two games.

At just 18, Gnabry seems set to explode.

The cruciate ligament injury sustained by Theo Walcott suggests Gnabry will get plenty of opportunities to play between now and the end of the season.

His breakthrough may not be confined to Arsenal, either. Arsene Wenger has gone as far as to tell Amy Lawrence of the Guardian that Gnabry could even make the German World Cup squad. 

While plenty of youngsters have the technical ability required to play top-flight football, many lack the stature to cope with the physical aspect of the Premier League.

Gnabry has no such concerns.

The 18-year-old has a boxer’s build, stocky and muscular. His capacity to cope with bumps and bruises is reminiscent of a young Wayne Rooney. However, unlike Rooney, Gnabry appears to be a natural athlete. On the rare occasion that he can’t beat a defender with skill, he will burst past him using speed and strength. 

His compatriot, Gedion Zelalem, is an entirely different kettle of fish. He’s not the quickest or strongest, but he is blessed with a preternatural understanding of the game.

After initially arriving at the club in early 2013, he travelled with the first team on their preseason tour of Asia.

His impact was extraordinary.

Not since the emergence of Cesc Fabregas have Arsenal fans watched a 16-year-old dominate the midfield with such intelligent passing. It is said that great midfielders see pictures on the field. Zelalem doesn’t just see them, he paints them. 

Injury ruled Zelalem out for the first half of the 2013/14 season. However, he has now made a full recovery and is back training with the first team. There is growing excitement among the Arsenal fans about the prospect of Zelalem making his senior debut in the forthcoming FA Cup tie with Coventry.

Like Serge Gnabry, Yaya Sanogo has already made his Arsenal debut. At the start of this season, he made two brief cameos as a substitute. However, he has since disappeared off the radar. He is the forgotten man of the Arsenal attack. 

Back in August, Wenger suggested the young forward would make a big impact in his first season with Arsenal, according to the club's official website: 

We have signed Sanogo. He has not made the headlines. Why? Because he is not £50m to £100million but I am quite confident he will make them soon on the pitch, and that for me is the most important.

However, like Zelalem, his season has been disrupted by injury. A back problem has ruled Sanogo out for more than four months now. He is only just beginning the road back to a competitive state. 

Nevertheless, Wenger retains his confidence in the French forward’s potential. With Arsenal struggling to sign a striker in the January transfer window, Sanogo could find opportunities coming his way between now and May.

Arsenal fans may look back on 2014 as the year when a trio of talented players made their mark on the first team. The potential is there. Now it’s time to realise it.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.