Tolaji Bola edging closer to first-team involvement

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Most of the players who were in the same scholarship intake as Tolaji Bola are now experiencing senior football of some description.

Donyell Malen, for instance, has played in the Champions League for PSV Eindhoven, while Eddie Nketiah has gained experience representing both Arsenal and Leeds United.

Bola, however, is, at the age of 20, yet to play a minute of senior football, competitive or otherwise.

There are some significant reasons behind that, with a series of injuries having hindered his progress, while Bola has never been the most reliable of defenders.

The youngster was an unused substitute in the Carabao Cup victory over Nottingham Forest earlier this campaign and has been training regularly with the first-team of late, even more so since the appointment of Mikel Arteta.

With Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac both sidelined, Bola was selected to travel with the Arsenal squad for yesterday’s game against Bournemouth as the 19th man. He may not have made the bench, but it was still a valuable experience for the youngster as he got to see how the first-team prepare for away games.

There is a feeling that Bola could soon be given his chance in the spotlight. If Kolasinac isn’t available for the FA Cup game against Leeds then it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see Bola thrown in at left-back as Bukayo Saka surely won’t be able to play every single game.

As alluded to, Bola does have defensive deficiencies, but he has shown some significant improvements of late at U23 level with regards to his positioning. In addition, he provides a significant threat with his teasing crosses.

It is difficult to envisage Bola succeeding at Arsenal in the long term but he may well be called upon at some point over the next few weeks.

Jeorge Bird is the author of www.arsenalyouth.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeorgebird

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Artetas assistant
Artetas assistant

All hands on deck

GoonerJust
GoonerJust

Don’t we have some youngsters at left back that can cover Sead and Tierney? I mean a real left back…not a makeshift one…?

Leon
Leon

Nice to see young players coming through.
The strategy should always be an equal mix of young players coming through a top class players being signed.
There is no sense to signing squad players if they can come though the academy and besides this will free up transfer fees and salaries for the world class players we need..

KingKolo
KingKolo

Defender with defensive deficiencies. Good luck to him but at 20 time should be running out for him at premier league level.

mark
mark

20 and still no appearances for arsenal – unfortunately not good enough to make the grade at arsenal

rajesh bummed
rajesh bummed

It takes a longer time for a defender to mature than a forward or a midfielder. Give him some time

Max Fischer
Max Fischer

Honest/innocent question, so if it gets you all riled up just calm down lol…but is it normal for major PL clubs to play striker/wingers at fullbacks, even when there are injuries? It just seems so odd to me still the AMN was (and still is) our security at RB and now Saka, a striker/winger right, is now our LB.

Just curious. I don’t follow other clubs like I do Arsenal, so it may me be more common than I realize.

Caligunner
Caligunner

I think arsenal blew it this summer for not bringing in a RB. Not only was HB hurt but coming off a major injury. On top of that they saw just last season how not having another competent Sr RB on the roster not that lichtsteiner wasn’t a Sr RB but he was too old and not good enough hurt the team.

Regarding saka isn’t this just an emergency. I mean you can only carry soo many Lb on the Sr roster?

Max Fischer
Max Fischer

Right…but we don’t have anyone in the academy that is available in pinch? A real LB third stringer?

Not sure if you follow baseball at all, but I like to think our academy is kinda like a minor league system where we can call on players in an emergency. Using Saka as a LB is like using a centerfielder at third base…just call up a young kid who actually plays 3rd base (LB in this instance) instead of someone who doesn’t.

Just seems weird to me. What the hell’s the point of the academy if you don’t even have a player or two that can come up in a pinch for 3-5 games…?

Caligunner
Caligunner

I do follow baseball lol

I understand what you are asking but I don’t think you realize the gap there is between the academy and Sr team in the EPL. I would say it’s more like A ball jumping up to MLB. The transition is easier for the most part for attacking players than it is for defensive players because mistakes are easier to deal with from an attacking player than a defensive player coming from the academy imo. It’s so rare to see guys like bellerin doing it but he was highly rated in the first place plus Wenger was also willing to give a chance. The guy In the academy is already 20-1 so that tells you a lot already like he is a equivalent to a AAAA baseball player. Most players would be out on loan or training with the SR team already. Saka playing LB isn’t ideal long term unless you decide to move him there and have him learn on the fly. For the time being I would say it’s fine. He’s going to make mistakes obviously. LB is kinda like a Lefty in the bullpen. Ideally you need a left footer because of the role it serves. Just look at how hard it’s been for some of our other young players who are rated higher and make mistakes but luckily most aren’t in a defensive position like a LB would be.

YaGunnersYa
YaGunnersYa

This is a most excellent development, Jeorge, after having seen him training with the first team under Arteta. I am often espousing arguments for his inclusion, (as frequent conesseiurs of arseblog may corroborate). There would be no better time to give him his debut than in the cup match.

Yes he is not yet the finished article when it comes to his defensive technique, but left-back is his natural position and one would reasonably surmise that he is likely to more defensively adept than Saka, who (although performing admirably given the circumstances) should really be played further up the pitch.

Additionally, I would be remiss not the mention the romanticism associated with a lifelong Arsenal fan growing up just a stone’s throw away from London Colney, to be given the chance to serve his team. He is intelligent, hard-working and, humble. I sincerely hope he makes it in professional football; ideally at The Arsenal.

Most of all, I yearn for our academy graduates ro succeed – or at least be given the chance to grab the figurative brass ring – before we fish around for external solutions. This may have been what Raul was alluding to when referencing the need to outsmart the market early in the summer.

T.A.
T.A.

Jeorge is an astute observer of the youth programme at Arsenal and, from what I’ve seen of the U23 matches (great to watch by the way), I must agree that Bola is not likely to make it at the senior level. There are others that stand out much more.