There are some loan spells embarked upon by Arsenal players which reap great rewards- Jack Wilshere’s stint with Bolton Wanderers and Wojciech Szczesny’s season at Brentford immediately spring to mind. For others, though, spells away from the club can bring many difficulties for the player concerned, particularly when they struggle to gain a regular place in the starting line-up.
That predicament is what befell Benik Afobe at Bolton Wanderers, with the striker scoring three goals and making 16 league appearances, the vast majority of them as a substitute, before his time at the Reebok Stadium was cut short by Arsenal last week. He has subsequently joined fellow Championship side Millwall on a temporary basis until the end of the season and, given his lack of progression during his previous stints with Bolton and Reading, the 19 year old is fully aware that this latest loan could prove decisive with regards to whether he receives any first-team opportunities at Emirates Stadium.
It is worth reflecting on Afobe’s backstory to see just why he carried so much expectation with him as he progressed through the ranks at the club’s Hale End Academy. Forging what at times seemed an almost telepathic partnership with close friend Chuks Aneke, Afobe scored a remarkable 40 goals in one season for the U16s in 2007/08 and transferred that clinical nature in front of goal onto the U18 stage whilst still a schoolboy, scoring on his debut against Fulham and contributing many more goals besides as Arsenal won the Premier Academy League title in 2009/10.
He then stepped up to what was then the Reserves before impressing on loan at Huddersfield Town when, aged just 17, he scored five times for the Terriers as he underlined his vast potential. Since then, however, it has not exactly been plain sailing for the player, who made his England U21 debut recently.
Last season he was dogged by injury for much of the campaign before featuring just three times for Reading during a short loan spell at the Madejski Stadium. He then struggled to make an impression during Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Asia and was subsequently farmed out to Bolton where, as documented, he endured a frustrating time, failing to live up to the level of expectation that had preceded him.
One concern with Afobe is that, it seems, the higher the level that he plays at, the fewer goals he scores. That was, perhaps, to be expected to a certain extent, but he often finds it difficult to find space against more physical opponents, whilst a greater concern is his tendency to go through some matches without so much posing a threat to the opposition goal. His situation certainly, however, underlines the mantra that, no matter how impressive a player is at youth level, it is whether they can transfer that talent onto the senior talent that counts.
Afobe, so far, has not managed to do that. At 19, he still has time on his side, but he will be wary that this upcoming stint with Millwall could potentially be decisive as far as his future career is concerned.3,803 views