Like many aspects of life, the Arsenal Academy has its ups and downs. The intake of scholars at the start of last season, for example, contained several players who were never likely to challenge for a first-team place. The group above them, however, contains a greater spread of talents, with three players having long been earmarked as possessing the potential for progression.
Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke and Nico Yennaris have played with eachother for so long that they probably know all of the intricate facets of eachother’s games inside out. The trio rose up the ranks of the club’s Hale End Academy together and now find themselves on the periphery of the first-team squad.
Several of the players that they lined up with at junior levels have since departed, but these three have continued to prevail having always stood out due to both their technical and physical attributes. All three have represented England at various youth levels and have featured in some capacity for the first-team, but, despite the similarities in their career paths, they are all very different types of players.
Afobe, for example, is known for his clinical knack in front of goal, which he has demonstrated at various levels, having first come to the attention of many with his goalscoring feats for the under-16s, whilst also playing a key role in Huddersfield’s push for promotion last season that came perilously close to fruition. He featured for the first-team in pre-season, impressing against New York Red Bulls in the Emirates Cup, but has missed much of the campaign due to injury. However, the 18 year old is close to a comeback and could experience another loan spell before the season is out.
Aneke, who is currently on loan at Stevenage, often operates in the playmaker role and is an efficient conduit between defence and attack. His ability to instigate attacks has long been evident at Reserve level, where he has used his almost telepathic combination with Afobe to devastating effect on several occasions. He hasn’t made quite the same impact out on loan just yet, but, with his deal at the League One side having been extended until the end of the season, there is plenty of time for him to improve in that regard.
Yennaris’ qualities have already been discussed in previous articles, and his adaptability to operate efficiently at right-back or in central midfield have seen him become increasingly involved with the first-team this season.
The three are yet to take to the field together in a competitive game for the club, but, perhaps as early as next season, such an event may happen, most likely in the Carling Cup. It is perhaps stretching the point to suggest that all three will go on to have long-term careers at the club, but they all appear to possess the capabilities to carve out successful careers elsewhere if things do not go to plan. If the above scenario does occur, however, it would be a tremendous achievement for the club’s coaching staff and will serve as a reminder to those coming through the ranks that, although many fall by the wayside, if you have ability and persistence in abundance, you are likely to receive your chance sooner or later.