In the final part of the series I assess the young strikers currently striving to make the grade at the club.
Whereas, as we saw last week, there are a clutch of young midfielders in and around the first-team at the club, it has proven considerably more difficult over the years for strikers to break into Arsene Wenger’s plans. A case in point is that Rhys Murphy, who scored 20 goals for the under-18s as a schoolboy, was released last week having failed to earn a call-up for a competitive fixture.
If you mention young strikers at Arsenal, however, there is likely to be just one name on people’s lips in Benik Afobe. The 19 year old England youth international has received much acclaim for his goalscoring exploits for the under-16s and under-18s, although injury and loan spells have meant that he hasn’t featured as often as he would have liked for the second-string. Good at holding the ball up whilst also possessing impressive positioning, Afobe impressed whilst on loan at Huddersfield Town in 2010/11 before a brief loan spell with Reading last season. Having featured for the first-team last pre-season, Afobe will be hoping to be involved in the Asia Tour this time around and will be seeking to earn a place in the squad for the forthcoming campaign, although, with Joel Campbell poised to return from Lorient, he could find himself out on temporary transfer once more.
Zak Ansah may not have matched Afobe’s impressive goalscoring rates at youth level, but he came pretty close and has another similarity with him in that he has struggled with injury during his short career so far. Currently sidelined with a cruciate injury, Ansah missed much of the 2010/11 campaign with a shoulder problem, but, when fit, has made great strides, scoring his first goal for the Reserves against Swansea last season. Once he recovers, he will be eased back into the Reserves and will be hopeful of having an outside chance of featuring in the newly-rebranded Capital One Cup.
Nigel Neita, meanwhile, also missed much of the 2010/11 campaign through injury and hasn’t found the net since December 2010, but the 18 year old, who signed his first professional contract a year ago, made in-roads into the Reserves last season, featuring three times as a substitute, and showing increasing maturity in his decision-making.
A more familiar name is that of Sanchez Watt, who scored on his first-team debut against West Bromwich Albion in what was then the Carling Cup but has struggled to make in-roads into Wenger’s plans since then. Watt recently returned from a loan spell at League Two side Crawley Town, where he struggled to hold down a regular place in the side, and has also spent time with Southend United, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United. The club are open to offers for his services but, if they do not receive a suitable one, he will most likely be loaned out again until his contract expires.
Injuries have been a common theme among the young attackers and promising Brazilian Wellington Silva is no exception after he suffered an ankle problem recently, but he is still expected to report to London Colney for pre-season training next month. Having struggled for form and fitness whilst on loan at Levante, he has demonstrated his potential with Alcoyano in the second tier of Spanish football, but his lack of a work permit remains a barrier to his progress.
Philip Roberts, who joined the club from Norwich City in 2010, will sign his first professional contract shortly and has developed well during his time at the club, but needs to find a more clinical edge, whilst England youth international Chuba Akpom is highly rated and featured prominently for the under-18s last season whilst still a schoolboy. Others to watch out for include Austin Lipman, who tends to feature on the left of the attack, and Jordan Brown, who will still be a schoolboy next season but has already caught the eye with his impressive goal ratio for the under-16s as well as his performances for England’s development sides.