It may only have been against a Singapore Select XI, but, from an academy perspective, there was a rather nice moment during Arsenal’s opening pre-season fixture as Arsene Wenger’s side ended the game with eight players on the field who had previously represented the club at U18 level.
One of them, striker Chuba Akpom, was undoubtedly the star performer as Arsenal reached the final of the Premier League Asia Trophy with a comprehensive 4-0 victory. The England U20 international scored a hat-trick and, perhaps more importantly as far as his development is concerned, later received assurances from Wenger that he is likely to remain at Arsenal this season rather than heading out on loan again.
Akpom could have been forgiven for feeling a little frustrated at how last season concluded for him. After some impressive cameo appearances for Arsenal he was sent on loan to Nottingham Forest, but, as was the case during his previous stints with Brentford and Coventry City, he struggled to make a significant impact and returned to the Gunners still searching for his first competitive goal in senior football.
Getting his first official goal will surely be high on Akpom’s list of priorities for the forthcoming campaign, but, if he does stay at Arsenal, it will be interesting to see exactly how he is afforded game time. The striker, for all his undoubted potential, finds himself behind Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck in the pecking order at present, whilst Theo Walcott demonstrated towards the end of last season that he is also capable of playing in a central position.
One possible option could be for Akpom to be deployed on the left flank, a position in which he has featured occasionally at youth level. With Alexis Sanchez set to miss the start of the new campaign and Welbeck currently injured, perhaps Akpom may be used as a substitute on the left wing in some of the opening fixtures.
Once everybody is fit and available, though, it will inevitably be much more difficult for the youngster to assert himself on proceedings. His performance on Wednesday, however, will have done him no harm in terms of staking his claim for further involvement.
There was a notable moment for Alex Iwobi against the Singapore Select XI, too, as he made his first appearance for the senior side, having previously been an un-used substitute on two occasions. There were also run-outs for Dan Crowley (who made his debut), Gedion Zelalem, Chris Willock and Jon Toral, with the latter a late replacement in the squad for Frenchman Jeff Reine-Adelaide.
It has been an impressive start to pre-season for the youngsters, with Akpom undoubtedly leading the way so far, but tougher challenges lie in wait and, as is always the case at this time of year, the aim for the young players will be to remain with the senior squad for as long as possible in the build-up to the new campaign.