Another week, another high-profile match in the U21 Premier League for Arsenal, as several first-team players, including Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere, helped Terry Burton’s side return to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Reading.
Andre Santos, Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong were also involved, the latter completing a full 90 minutes for the first time since his return, and, with the next second-string fixture not due to take place for a fortnight, the club are currently working on arranging a game next week as those players mentioned, particularly Sagna and Wilshere, look to move a step closer to joining up with the first-team on a regular basis again.
Much debate, however, is beginning to circle around those currently outside the first-team squad, particularly the new scholars who are seeking to gain as much experience as possible during their first full seasons at the club.
Three of them, Jack Jebb, Chuba Akpom (pictured) and Austin Lipman, have already signed professional terms, with striker Akpom putting pen to paper on his birthday earlier this week having greatly impressed since being handed the role of being the club’s principal striker at U21 level despite being just 16 years of age.
Akpom scored his first goal for that age group in the aforementioned game against Reading, with dynamic German winger Serge Gnabry also on the scoresheet, and has also greatly impressed in the NextGen Series so far this campaign, save for an anonymous performance at home to Olympiacos. His good form has also seen him fast-tracked at international level, where he impressed for England U19s recently, and Arsene Wenger, who was present when Akpom signed his new deal this week, is fully aware of the forward’s potential.
Another first-year to catch the eye in the opening months of the new season is Glen Kamara, a stylish yet tenacious defensive-midfielder who was plucked from Southend United towards the end of last season. Kamara has started to hold down a regular place in Pat Holland’s U18 side, demonstrating his qualities by breaking up play effectively and distributing the ball with precision. His class was evident immediately and his ability shone through even during the most difficult of circumstances as the young Gunners suffered a hefty opening day defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers.
In contrast, young defenders Tom Dallison, a centre-back signed from West Ham, and Arinse Uade, a Nigerian left-back who came through the club’s Hale End Academy, have struggled a little since becoming full-time players, but it is still very early days and they have until the end of next season to prove themselves worthy of joining the likes of Akpom in signing a professional contract. They can take heart from the fact that Kieran Gibbs, now established as first choice left-back for the first-team, wasn’t offered professional terms until more than 13 months into his scholarship deal in 2007.