Ranking Arsenal Players at the 2017 European Under-21 Championship on Potential

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2017

Rob Holding is one of four Arsenal players competing in this summer's tournament.
Rob Holding is one of four Arsenal players competing in this summer's tournament.Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

The summer is upon us, and Arsenal have joined every other club in initiating a period of intense talent identification and recruitment.

This year, fans will be able to indulge in some scouting of their own at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Poland, where the continent's best young players will meet to cast light on a new generation of talent. 

While supporters will inevitably be looking at potential signings, there are four players already on Arsenal's books who will be competing at the Euros.

In this piece, Bleacher Report ranks the Gunners' prodigiously gifted quartet based on their potential.


4. Krystian Bielik

STAVANGER, NORWAY - AUGUST 05: Krystian Bielik of Arsenal during the match between Viking FK and Arsenal at Viking Stadion on August 5, 2016 in Stavanger, Norway. (Photo by Trond Tandberg/Getty Images)
Trond Tandberg/Getty Images

Arsenal have one player representing the host nation at the Euros. Krystian Bielik, 19, has been a fixture throughout the youth levels for Poland, and he has now made the step up to the under-21 side.

The fact he's done so at a relatively young age should come as no great surprise. He made his debut for Legia Warsaw at 16, immediately impressing with his power, athleticism and technical ability. 

Bielik initially played as a holding midfield player, but since joining Arsenal in 2015, he has been converted into a centre-back. His size and ball-playing ability make him well-suited to the role, and he impressed there during a loan spell with Birmingham City last season.

The teenager is now expected to return to the Championship for another temporary move in 2016/17.

Bielik told Polish football website Join Us Football (h/t the Birmingham Mail):

"Probably I will play Norwich City on loan next, talks are close to finalisation. Certainly, I hope that after I go back to Arsenal on a permanent basis I find myself in the first team and get a chance in the Premier League."

Bielik is highly thought of at the Emirates Stadium, but he has not yet come close to breaking into the Arsenal first team. However, his versatility means he will have a chance.

If he can impress on loan against next season, manager Arsene Wenger will surely consider including him in his squad in 2018/19.


3. Calum Chambers

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Calum Chambers of Middlesbrough celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Manchester City at the Riverside Stadium on April 30, 2017 in Middlesbrough, England.  (
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

In many ways, Calum Chambers' story acts as a cautionary tale to promising young players at Arsenal.

When he first arrived from Southampton, his early performances saw him hailed as the future of the Gunners defence. He was quickly handed a senior England cap, and he appeared nailed-on to form part of the Arsenal back line for the next decade. 

Unfortunately, Chambers' form suffered after an ill-fated spell at right-back. He probably still has nightmares about being roasted by Swansea City's Jefferson Montero, and with his confidence suffering, he gradually fell down the pecking order. 

In the summer of 2016, he was loaned to newly promoted Middlesbrough. With Wenger moving to sign two new centre-halves in Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding, it looked as if Chambers' time at Arsenal might be up. 

However, anyone writing the 22-year-old off may have been premature.

Although Middlesbrough were relegated last season, Chambers emerged with a good deal of credit, steadily growing in influence over the course of the campaign. Regular football in his preferred position at centre-half saw his development accelerate, and he’ll now feel he has a chance of forcing his way back into contention at Arsenal.

He will be helped in that quest by Wenger's belated move to a back three. The tactical switch means there is room for one more centre-back at Arsenal, and Chambers seems ideally suited to a role on the right-hand side of a defensive trio.

At his age, there's every chance Chambers could still develop into a top defender. He may not have fulfilled his potential as quickly as initially anticipated, but he is steadily showing signs he could yet make it at the Emirates Stadium.


2. Rob Holding 

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Rob Holding of Arsenal celebrates after The Emirates FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Right now, Rob Holding is arguably the most talked-about young prospect on Arsenal's books.

Expectations were not particularly high when he was signed a year ago. Holding had just been relegated to League One with Bolton Wanderers, which didn't fill most Arsenal fans with confidence. 

However, by the end of the season, the Stalybridge-born centre-half had forced his way into Wenger's first-choice XI. His remarkable campaign was capped by starting in the FA Cup final triumph over Chelsea.

You might expect a defender schooled in the Championship to be able to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League. However, what surprised most about Holding was how technically adept he proved to be. His more senior team-mates clearly trusted him on the ball, and he showed an eye-catching willingness to drive into midfield on occasion.

It will be fascinating to see how Wenger uses Holding next season. The Gunners boss will be mindful of the manner in which Chambers was overexposed, and he may look to provide more protection for the 21-year-old.

His form dictates that he should keep his starting place, but Wenger might see fit to withdraw him from the limelight for a period.

Even if Holding does not start every game next season, he remains enormously promising. Arsenal fans have waited a long time for a commanding centre-half in the mould of Tony Adams or Sol Campbell. The England under-21 international's early performances suggest he could one day hit those heights.


1. Hector Bellerin

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal during the Emirates FA Cup Final match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

If Barcelona are interested in signing a player, you know he's something pretty special. Having lost Hector Bellerin to Arsenal in his mid-teens, the Catalan giants are now eager to lure him back to the Camp Nou. 

Miguel Delaney of The Independent wrote:

"Barcelona are aiming to get a £45 million deal done for Arsenal's Hector Bellerin before the end of June but will turn to Benfica's Nelson Semedo if the signing proves problematic.

"While the 22-year-old Bellerin is understood to want the return to his boyhood club, and Barca believe it will be done, there is a need for haste as it is felt that Arsenal will let no more than two players go amid what could be a summer of high turnover at the Emirates." 

Arsenal will be desperate to fend off interest in the Spain under-21 international; having tied him down to a long-term contract last November, they are in a strong position to do so. 

Bellerin has been a revelation at Arsenal. He arrived in north London as a slightly built winger, but the Gunners' academy coaches saw potential to create a marauding attacking full-back.

His speed and stamina make him ideally suited to tearing up and down the flank, and Bellerin has quickly developed into one of the most exciting right-backs in world football. 

As good as Bellerin is now, the frightening thing is that he still has time and room to improve. Even if Barcelona can't tempt him this summer, the chances are they will be back again before long to try to reclaim one of the most thrilling talents in European football.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and follows the club from a London base.


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