Pre-season is officially upon us, and this is usually the time of year when a clutch of promising youngsters start to stake their respective claims for permanent promotion to the first-team squad.
This summer is no different, with no fewer than thirteen members of the U21 side training with the senior group during the first week of preparations.
They can roughly be divided into three categories- those who are in a now or never situation with regards to their Arsenal careers (Benik Afobe, Damian Martinez, Ignasi Miquel, Semi Ajayi and Thomas Eisfeld), those who are looking to add to their experience of professional football (Chuba Akpom, Kristoffer Olsson, Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden) and those who are yet to earn a first-team call-up (Jon Toral, Julio Pleguezuelo, Matt Macey and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill).
Dealing with the first category to begin with, Afobe’s chance at Arsenal seems to have rather run out after a succession of injury problems and difficult loan spells. There is still hope for Miquel, as he looks to establish himself as the club’s fourth-choice centre-back, but he will face stern competition in that regard from Ajayi, a physically imposing youngster signed from Charlton Athletic last year.
Martinez, for the time being at least, is currently the club’s main deputy to Wojciech Szczesny, and the Argentinian will be seeking to cement his position in the squad for the new campaign by turning in some impressive performances during pre-season. Macey, who joined last season from Bristol Rovers, is another ambitious young goalkeeper who will be waiting to take advantage should Martinez falter.
Eisfeld remains a rather peculiar case. The German has played just two competitive games for the first-team since signing from Borussia Dortmund and, despite his impressive scoring record, has a tendency to drift out of matches. He could go on loan this season, which would go some way towards dictating his long-term future.
The next batch of players is quite intriguing. Bellerin would appear to be the closest to the first-team squad, but the defensive side of his game still requires a little fine-tuning. Akpom, having spent time in League One last season, could go on loan to a Championship team this time around, whilst Hayden has improved tremendously over the past couple of years and the defensive-midfielder could be in line to feature in the Capital One Cup. Olsson, a technically-talented midfielder, is entering the final year of his contract and will be hoping to earn an extended stay.
As for the other three youngsters, Pleguezuelo, given his considerable promise, has been tipped to earn a promotion at just 17 years of age, whilst left-back Ormonde-Ottewill has trained with the first-team often in recent years, although he did suffer an alarming dip in form in the second-half of last season. Toral has recovered from the injury problems that plagued him during his first two seasons at the club and will be hoping for a chance to prove himself in pre-season.
Wellington Silva, another with first-team ambitions, is due to start training in the next couple of weeks.
Depending on new signings, there could be space for up to three of the above players to be promoted to the first-team this summer. They will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem, with the young Germans having made that transition last year. Yesterday it was revealed that they will both have lower squad numbers for the new campaign- 27 and 35 respectively- suggesting they could be increasingly involved in the first-team picture during 2014/15.