With both the Reserve and under-18 seasons having long since concluded and there being little in the way of concrete news regarding Arsenal’s youngsters, this seems like an appropriate opportunity to assess the current standing of the club’s development programme.
Having already assessed the goalkeeping situation in some detail, I will begin by looking at Arsenal’s defensive prospects.
It is fair to say that, for a club who once brought Tony Adams through the ranks, Arsenal haven’t had the best record in recent years of bringing through high-quality defenders with the obvious exception of Ashley Cole. Of the current first-team squad only Johan Djourou, who has been on Arsenal’s books since 2003 and has still to establish himself as a regular starter, and Kieran Gibbs, who was a left winger in his youth team days but was subsequently converted to full-back, have come through the ranks at the club.
Of those currently in the second string, Ignasi Miquel appears the closest to the first-team, with the Spanish centre-back, who is comfortable in possession, now having 11 Arsenal first-team appearances to his name, including four in the Premier League, with many of those outings coming at left-back. Clearly liked by Arsene Wenger, Miquel does still have some developing to do if he is to break into the squad on a long-term basis, and still needs to cut out the occasional lapses in concentration that threaten to blight his game. That said, a good spell with a Championship or League One side next season would stand him in good stead as he attempts to make a breakthrough.
Kyle Bartley, meanwhile, is still waiting for his big break, having made just a solitary first-team appearance for the club since joining in 2007. Since then he has experienced two loan spells apiece at Sheffield United and Rangers and, as he will turn 21 in the coming days, is likely to seek assurances that he will be in Wenger’s plans for next season. Like Miquel, costly errors still threaten to undermine him, but Bartley is at least likely to receive some game time for the club this pre-season.
Another centre-back, Daniel Boateng, made his Arsenal first-team debut as a late replacement for Thomas Vermaelen against Bolton Wanderers in the Carling Cup this season, but didn’t receive much game time whilst on loan at Swindon Town. He subsequently returned to Arsenal and featured in the final few Reserve games of the season, but, with Bartley and Miquel blocking his path, he is unlikely to make the grade in the long-term. Next season should see him go out on loan again, and he will be seeking to feature more regularly this time, before a probable departure next summer.
There are a clutch of defenders who are likely to see their associations with the club come to an end this summer. Centre-back Gavin Hoyte will definitely be released, with the 21 year old likely to be joined in that regard by left-back George Brislen-Hall, who is likely to continue his career in America. The future of diminutive left-back Jernade Meade will be a tougher call to make given the promise that he has demonstrated this season, whilst Sead Hajrovic, who can play at right-back and centre-back, has returned from a stint at Barnet but is another prime candidate to depart.
Beyond them, Nico Yennaris is a midfielder by trade and will therefore be covered next week, but Swiss centre-back Martin Angha can reflect on an impressive campaign during which he turned out for the Reserves more often than any other player. A loan spell is likely to follow next season, especially given that Angha has demonstrated his versatility by operating in both full-back berths and even as a right-winger on occasion.
His compatriot Elton Monteiro has shown some signs of improvement following an incredibly shaky start, but remains unlikely to make a breakthrough, whilst this summer may finally be the one in which a decision is made on the long-term future of Pedro Botelho, the left-sided Brazilian who joined Arsenal in 2007 but, owing to work permit problems, has yet to make an appearance for the club at any level, instead experiencing five separate loan spells in Spain.
With regards to the under-18s, Isaac Hayden capped off an impressive first season as a scholar by signing a professional contract and earning his maiden call-up to the Reserve squad. A centre-back also capable of operating in defensive-midfield, Hayden certainly caught the eye during 2011/12, whilst another centre-back, Zach Fagan, showed promise in patches but still needs to adapt to some aspects of Academy League football.
Hector Bellerin shone during his first season at the club following his move from Barcelona, but still appears far more comfortable in an attacking sense than he does defensively. The club are still to announce their decisions on the remaining second year scholars but, as far as the defenders are concerned, Samir Bihmoutine is likely to receive a professional contract, Ben Glasgow will have his scholarship extended by a further year, and James Campbell will in all probability be released.
A promising new batch of defenders will be starting full-time at London Colney in the summer. Leander Siemann, signed from Hertha Berlin, looks promising, as does Tom Dallison, a centre-back acquired from West Ham. Arinse Uade and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, with the latter having already trained with the first-team squad, will also be seeking to impress next season.