Per Mertesacker may be Arsenal’s only senior available centre-back at present, but at youth level Arsenal have plenty of options at the heart of the defence.
Isaac Hayden and Semi Ajayi have both been called up to the first-team squad this season, first-year George Dobson is impressing and Julio Pleguezuelo will seek to push on when he returns from an injury problem that has been troubling him since pre-season.
However, it is one of the lesser known talents in the Arsenal Academy that can be particularly pleased with his start to the season. Stefan O’Connor experienced some teething problems when he was first deployed in the older age groups last season, but he is now extremely calm on the ball as well as being capable of timing his challenges to perfection.
It is being reported that O’Connor, who is in the second year of his scholarship deal at the club, has agreed to sign a professional contract. The news will come as a major boost to the Croydon-born youngster, who has enjoyed a whirlwind few weeks.
Having already featured ten times at U21 level last season, he has become something of a regular at that level in the early weeks of the new campaign, starting the last four games in a row for Steve Gatting’s side. In addition, he has been a key part of the U19 team that has conceded just one goal in their first two UEFA Youth League fixtures.
O’Connor’s most significant moment of the campaign, however, came when, in the absence of several defenders, he was asked to train with the first-team squad prior to the Champions League game against Galatasaray. O’Connor is believed to have acquitted himself well in the training session, which has prompted his award of a professional contract.
He has achieved a lot already this season, but this is not the time for the 17 year old to rest on his laurels. If either Hayden or Ajayi leave on loan in January, then an opportunity could arise for O’Connor to train with the first-team on a more regular basis, which would be hugely beneficial for his development.
O’Connor has a lot of promise, but he also still has much to learn. His distribution can be wasteful at times, whilst he is still capable of making mistakes at costly moments.
The youngster’s form in the early weeks of the season has only gone to show, however, that the youth sides have numerous central-defensive options at present. If only the same was the case for the first-team.