With some young players the immense amount of hype surrounding them can often be misplaced. As far as Donyell Malen is concerned, however, the sense of anticipation that greeted his arrival at Arsenal in the summer has hitherto been justified.
Plucked from the renowned Ajax academy in the summer, Malen is a fast, powerful and skilful striker who has been capped by the Netherlands at youth level. He wasn’t the standout prospect in his age group at Ajax, but he was still very highly regarded and the Dutch side were hugely reluctant to lose him to Arsenal.
The fact that Malen has trained with the Arsenal first-team squad on several occasions since his arrival is testament to the faith that the club have in his ability.
Malen has also been making significant strides on the pitch of late. At just 16 years of age he has broken into Arsenal’s U21 squad and he marked his first start at that level by scoring the winner against Brighton & Hove Albion on Monday with an audacious chip over the opposing goalkeeper.
The forward has also featured prominently for Arsenal in the UEFA Youth League this campaign and his potential is such that he has edged ahead of Stephy Mavididi, a player who is several months older than him, in the pecking order.
Malen will start tonight as Arsenal commence their FA Youth Cup campaign with a home game against West Bromwich Albion at Meadow Park.
The young Gunners haven’t triumphed in this competition since 2009, when Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin were in the squad.
Arsenal usually field their strongest available side for this competition, but, given the first-team’s injury problems, some players such as Jeff Reine-Adelaide may have to miss out if they are required to be on the bench for the senior side against Sunderland tomorrow.
The likes of Krystian Bielik, Ismael Bennacer and Chris Willock should all feature, however, although it will be most intriguing to see how Malen fares, with the striker seeking to continue his recent good form.
Not all of his performances at youth level this season have been outstanding, but it is clear from watching him that Malen possesses something special- the ability to change the course of a game in an instant with a moment of improvised genius.
This is only the beginning, of course and the youngster will have to wait until next season at the very earliest before he can start to be considered as an option for the first-team in cup competitions.
For now, however, Malen is developing very well indeed and the initial hype surrounding him hasn’t yet subsided.