Just two days into pre-season training Kyle Bartley received the news that he had been waiting five years for as the centre-back was told that he will be part of Arsenal’s first-team squad for the upcoming campaign.
Bartley has progressed considerably since joining from Bolton Wanderers in 2007. Now 21, he has experienced four separate loan spells in the ensuing period- two apiece at Sheffield United and Rangers, all the while making just a solitary senior outing for Arsenal against Olympiacos in a Champions League dead rubber three years ago.
It has not exactly been plain sailing for the Mancunian, especially last season as his form fluctuated after he was asked to fill in at right-back on several occasions. He has displayed enough promise to make an impression upon Arsene Wenger, however, and will now be hoping to develop further by training regularly with the first-team squad.
In terms of game time, with three comparatively experienced centre-backs ahead of him, not to mention Johan Djourou, who, at present, looks as if he will be sticking around for a little while yet, Bartley’s best bet of first-team opportunities, initially at least, would appear to be in the League Cup, a competition that, owing to his exploits out on loan, he has yet to feature in for the Gunners.
Injuries may provide him with further opportunities to shine as the campaign progresses, but it is clear that Bartley still has some developing to do if he is to succeed at the club in the long-term. His own-goal against New York Red Bulls in the Emirates Cup last summer has not yet faded from the memory, but he will be hoping to develop more consistency in his game as he looks to prove his worth.
When on song, he is impressive with his biting tackles, whilst his ability to operate as a defensive midfielder, a role he performed for Rangers in the Europa League two seasons ago, is a further string to his bow. Bartley has now racked up 68 senior appearances when all of his loan spells are taken into account, which is in stark contrast to fellow centre-back Ignasi Miquel, who, whilst having featured for Arsenal in the Premier League, is yet to experience a spell elsewhere.
Bartley’s promotion is further evidence that, on occasion, the loan system can work to Arsenal’s benefit. Indeed, there are many that depart the club on temporary transfer and are never to be seen again, but several members of the first-team squad have benefitted from stints with other clubs, not least Wojciech Szczesny, Jack Wilshere and Alex Song, who, when fit, are among the first names on Wenger’s teamsheet.
Bartley still has some way to go if he is to reach that level of prestige, but he is at least heading in the right direction. His maiden season as a first-team player at the club will go some way towards indicating whether he is of the calibre to succeed in the long term.