This season the Europa League along with the League Cup has offered Arsene Wenger an amazing platform to blood some young players in the first team. The outstanding talents looking like Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah. The first player we will look at is Niles. Following on from Arsene Wengers comments before the Norwich City tie in the League Cup where he stated, “I must say he is close now to being a regular in the first team as well. If I was a regular in the Arsenal first team I would be worried. His preferred position is central midfield and that’s where I think he will end up.”
Niles is a fast intelligent player, he breaks up play impressively and has a good technique on the ball, there is no doubt he has the potential to force a move into this Arsenal first team. But, for him to take the place of Xhaka, Wilshere or Ramsey I’m not too sure. Xhaka would be the one in the biggest danger, however, Niles lacks the supreme passing ability along with the physicality that Xhaka possesses. Although, should Jack partner Niles in midfield then the creative role of Xhaka would be occupied by jack opening the door for Niles to claim his place. We will have to wait and see what becomes of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Niles is brought in over Xhaka if his performances don’t improve.
Reiss Nelson is another player pushing for a spot in the Arsenal first team. The 17 year old English winger has currently taken the place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and has featured in the Europa League and League Cup so far, as well as a brief appearance in the Community Shield. However, at this moment in time he is not as close as he would like to be. He is without a doubt Arsenal’s most exciting prospect but at the moment he is too lightweight for the physicality of the Premier League. I would expect to see Nelson begin to feature in the league next season. He has all the talent needed, this season he will be blooded into the first team and next season he will be blooded into the Premier League should his development go well. Currently, Nelson is closest to Hector Bellerin’s spot at right wing back, featuring there when he has started. However, this is not what his future holds, he is far too creative and will be an excellent attacking midfielder with his sinuous runs and inventive passing. Wenger currently plays him at right wing back to help him understand and develop the defensive side of the game and he is improving at it with each performance. Nelson will no doubt earn his place in the first team in the next couple of years, but it’s hard to see this season being his breakthrough season.
Eddie Nketiah, the young 18 year old English striker is now certainly a name that will be pushing on a first team spot. Arsenal were 1-0 down to Norwich in the League Cup when he came on with just 5 minutes to go, scoring with his first touch; Nketiah gripped the game by the scruff of the neck. And only 6 minutes into extra time Nketiah gave Arsenal the lead and won the match as it ended 2-1; he rescued Arsenal from an embarrassing result and the taunts of “who?” that was made when he was substituted on were drowned out by the emphatic cheers of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” when he scored with his first touch. Nketiah showed raw talent, explosive pace along with direct running with the ball as well as accomplished finishing; he was showing glimpses of a young Anelka against the tired Norwich legs. Nketiah’s impact would not come as a surprise for those who keep up to date with the u23s, he has an excellent goal scoring record and an instinct of a killer goal scorer (a trait that can’t be taught). Nketiah has shown he is capable of changing games and should definitely be considered for the bench in Premier League matches. The young, exciting forward has all the ability to claim Walcotts spot in the squad for the Premier League and fans should be excited to see what becomes of his future.
Joe Willock, the young English central midfielder impressed in preseason and has continued to do so in the Europa League. Joe Willock is a strong player who still has a lot to improve on: he is a brilliant ball winner and in preseason he showed episodes of powerful running with the ball from midfield into opposition areas. However, he is far from a creative player and needs to improve his passing before he can be considered first team material. Willock is not close to forcing a place in the first team, although he could adequately replace Mohammed Elneny in the squad. Depending on how Willock develops he could either become a dynamic, powerful driving midfielder or simply become a forgotten page in history as so many others have before him.
Arsenal now have a wealth of youth talents that have progressed from the academy and are now pushing for places in the first team. Players such as Walcott and Xhaka will now have to start putting in a higher level of performances from now on with the likes of Nelson, Nketiah and Niles all knocking on the door; Arsene Wenger even mentioned this saying, “If I was a regular Arsenal first team player, I’d be worried”. It is exciting times for Arsenal fans as there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a wealth of young players develop into the first team from the youth academy, every single one of them has shown the heart and desire to represent the club and the pride to wear the cannon. Whatever the future should hold, it seems a bright place right now.