Much of what Krystian Bielik has done since joining Arsenal has been rather impressive, so it was a little surprising to see the 17-year-old make a couple of uncharacteristic errors as Arsenal U21s drew with their West Ham United counterparts at Upton Park this week.
Firstly Bielik misjudged a throw from Ben Sheaf and presented the Hammers with an opportunity from which they scored, with the Polish youngster later conceding possession in a dangerous area only for his mistake to thankfully go unpunished on that occasion.
Around this time last year there was a considerable amount of hype about Bielik as speculation mounted that he would be on his way to Arsenal. The move occurred, but, 12 months on, he has a solitary first-team appearance to his name.
Bielik hasn’t even trained regularly with the senior squad this season, but it would be wrong to say he hasn’t developed as expected. He has produced some very impressive performances at U21 level, many of which came last season when deployed in his preferred position of defensive midfield.
This season he has been used almost exclusively as a centre-back at youth level and the results have been encouraging, with Bielik forging an impressive partnership at the heart of the defence with fellow prospect Julio Pleguezuelo.
It is still difficult to shake off the feeling, however, that he is much better suited to playing in midfield. Although he is a player with defensive tendencies, Bielik also likes to venture forwards on occasion and playing at centre-back restricts those instincts.
Furthermore, when playing in midfield he is capable of breaking up opposition attacks before initiating moves for his side. The experiment of playing Bielik at centre-back was designed to enhance particular aspects of his game, with the Arsenal academy coaches seemingly having developed a habit of late to deploy players in different positions (Alex Iwobi, for instance, is currently being played as a central midfielder despite normally being a winger or striker).
It is hoped that if Glen Kamara goes out on loan in the January transfer window, Bielik will move back into midfield in the second half of the campaign. It would certainly be to his benefit, with the youngster preferring to be at the heart of the action rather than only being called upon at particular moments.
He may not have gained as many first-team minutes as he would have liked during his maiden campaign at Arsenal, but it is worth remembering that Bielik is only 17 years old and has already delivered a series of performances for the club at youth level which have suggested that on a tactical and technical level he is advanced in comparison to many players of a similar age.
The best is certainly still to come from Bielik, who remains one of Arsenal’s brightest prospects for the future, albeit as a defensive-midfielder rather than a centre-back.