Like several Arsenal youngsters, Julio Pleguezuelo has endured an injury hit campaign, with the Spaniard, who was previously on Barcelona’s books, having made just five appearances at all levels this season.
Pleguezuelo’s injury problems have been ill-timed, with the youngster having been denied an opportunity to build upon what was a hugely successful first season at the club. Predominantly a centre-back (although he can also play at right-back if required), Pleguezuelo quickly established himself as a key player for the U21s before earning first-team recognition in pre-season.
However, whilst he has been out, Pleguezuelo has seen the landscape change considerably with regards to Arsenal’s U21 team. Fellow centre-back Stefan O’Connor has impressed Arsene Wenger and has already represented the first-team competitively, whilst January acquisition Krystian Bielik has looked at home at the heart of the defence recently for the second-string.
The presence of both O’Connor and Bielik meant that Pleguezuelo was forced to start at right-back, a position he hasn’t played in regularly for some time, when the U21s took on Reading at Emirates Stadium this week.
The 18-year-old struggled and was frequently caught out of position during the 1-0 defeat, but some perspective must be taken when analysing his performance, especially considering he was making his first U21 start of the season.
When the likes of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby stop playing for the U21s, Bielik is likely to be moved into midfield, which would allow Pleguezuelo to return to his favoured position of centre-back. Having missed the vast majority of the season, the Spaniard will simply be delighted to be back in action and, at present, will not be worrying too much about his long-term prospects of making the grade at the club.
His chances of doing just that will come into sharper focus next campaign, when he could feature in the Capital One Cup. Despite not being the tallest, Pleguezuelo is very quick and is an excellent reader of the game.
Having witnessed his compatriot, and fellow La Masia graduate, Hector Bellerin succeed in the first-team recently, Pleguezuelo will be looking to follow suit over the next few years. His progress has been halted somewhat this season by his frustrating injury problems, but the youngster is now back in action and is ready to show Wenger and his coaching staff that he has a very bright future ahead of him.