Pre-season is always intriguing in that it provides us with an indication regarding which youngsters are closest to making a breakthrough into the first-team set-up.
This week, as Arsene Wenger’s squad stepped up their preparations for the new campaign, several exciting youngsters were called upon, but not all of them were left happy yesterday morning when some considerably difficult decisions were made regarding which players should join the first-team for their impending trip to Asia.
There were some notable omissions, such as Isaac Hayden, Wellington and Jon Toral, but, given the significant amount of first-team players in attendance, there will be fewer opportunities to impress for youngsters than is usually the case at this time of year.
For those who have been called upon, though, it should be a memorable experience, especially given that the chosen quartet are all yet to represent the club competitively.
Dan Crowley has long been earmarked as a future talent and the Premier League Asia Trophy will be the former Aston Villa midfielder’s maiden opportunity to demonstrate his ability in a first-team environment. Crowley has had to bide his time whilst waiting for his opportunity, but, with Tomas Rosicky missing the trip through injury, this represents an excellent chance for the youngster to stake his claim for further first-team involvement.
The inclusion of Alex Iwobi is also of little surprise, given that the 19-year-old enjoyed a stellar season for Arsenal at U21 level in 2014/15. Skilful and quick, the Hale End product impressed as a central striker having previously spent much of his time as a right-winger. This is Iwobi’s third call-up to the first-team squad, with the youngster likely to go on loan at some point this season.
The other two youngsters who have been selected are both just 17 years old. Chris Willock made his first-team debut in a friendly against Boreham Wood last summer and has made tremendous strides in the interim, with the England youth international, who is usually deployed on the left flank, breaking into Arsenal’s U21 team and also catching the eye in the UEFA Youth League.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide, meanwhile, might not be too familiar to most people, but that could soon be about to change. The French youngster was recently plucked from Lens’ academy and has been especially impressive in training this week. Capable of operating as an attacking midfielder or alternatively on either flank, the game against a Singapore XI on Wednesday will probably provide us with the first opportunity to see him in action.
These are the chosen four and the aim for them will be to remain with the first-team squad for as long as possible this summer, potentially to the Emirates Cup and beyond, even when some of the more senior players return.
At present Crowley seems the player who is likely to break into the senior set-up the quickest, but Iwobi, Willock and Reine-Adelaide will all be aware that their performances in Asia, both in matches and in training, could edge them ever closer to making the grade at the club.