The youth season may be over, but Daniel Ballard has already been provided with a huge boost going into next campaign.
It was announced today that the hard-working centre-back has put pen to paper on his second professional contract, a reward for the steady improvement that he has made at U23 level under the guidance of Freddie Ljungberg.
Released twice by Arsenal in the past only to receive another chance on both occasions, Ballard’s attitude is admirable and serves as an excellent example for other young players, or indeed anybody striving to make the breakthrough in another profession.
The 19-year-old admits that he initially had some difficulties adapting to the demands of U23 football, but he is now regarded as one of Arsenal’s standout performers at that level.
Next season Ballard will be aiming to take the next step in his development and gain some experience of first-team football, whether at Arsenal or out on loan.
The Carabao Cup represents an opportunity for him to make his debut, while if Arsenal are still involved in the Europa League next season then that competition is another in which he could feature.
With Julio Pleguezuelo having left the club to join FC Twente, Ballard will be moved up the pecking order with regards to being closer to the first-team, although he will still have to compete with Zech Medley, who has already featured for the first-team.
Ballard has also made significant progress on the international stage – he has featured for Northern Ireland U21s and has been called up at senior level.
Arsenal, though, is his main focus, and, after signing his new contract, the youngster now has more time on his side in which he could make the breakthrough.
There is still much more work for Ballard to do in order to succeed at Arsenal, but he has taken another step in the right direction.