There was a feeling of confusion amongst some Arsenal supporters last season as to why Krystian Bielik, for all the fervour that accompanied his arrival from Legia Warsaw in 2015, hadn’t yet been heavily involved with the Gunners’ first-team.
Instead of being thrown in at the deep end, the Polish youth international was allowed to develop in the U21s and, although he made some costly errors at times, Bielik’s overall performance levels were rather impressive for the second string last campaign.
Having joined as a defensive-midfielder, Bielik has since undergone a transformation into a ball-playing centre-back. Now 18, he is approaching the stage of his development where he can be considered a candidate for the first-team, at least as a fourth choice option at the heart of the defence.
With Per Mertesacker out injured and Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel having not yet featured in pre-season, Bielik has been afforded several opportunities to impress manager Arsene Wenger this summer.
There are still some rough edges to Bielik’s game (his stray pass led to a goal being conceded against MLS All-Stars) but for the most part he has performed very well when called upon, demonstrating that he is a fine reader of the game, and, crucially, a natural fit for Arsenal’s style of play given that he is able to play short, snappy passes with regularity.
Wenger discussed the possibility of Bielik breaking through to the first-team this season, but, whilst he may well be involved in some capacity, it seems as if it may be a little too early for him to fully establish himself, with Gabriel now back in training and the comparatively experienced Calum Chambers and Rob Holding also available.
However, Bielik will have benefited greatly from his time with the first-team during pre-season, and he will hope to gain further game time in the final friendlies against Viking and Manchester City.
The suspicion remains that the starlet is better suited to playing as a defensive-midfielder, where he can break up play with well-timed challenges before setting the team on the front foot by making use of his aforementioned impressive distribution.
Wenger, however, appears to see Bielik as a centre-back for the long-term and even if the youngster doesn’t feature prominently for the Arsenal first-team this season he is likely to experience senior football elsewhere on loan, meaning that 2016/17 will be a very significant campaign indeed as far as his development is concerned.