Results are finally beginning to pick up for Arsenal’s youngsters, and the U21s delivered perhaps their most impressive performance since the turn of the year when they dispatched of Southampton with a 2-0 victory at Underhill this week.
In almost arctic conditions, goals from Kyle Ebecilio, who was making his return from more than three months on the sidelines, and the increasingly prolific Chuba Akpom secured victory for Arsenal in the first of a glut of fixtures to come over the next two months, with their next assignment a trip to Upton Park to take on West Ham this evening.
In addition to Ebecilio’s comeback, several other players who have been out of action recently also returned against the Saints, including goalkeeper Damian Martinez and left-back Jernade Meade, who delivered a typically assured performance on his first appearance since December. Sanchez Watt, meanwhile, now fully over the injury that ended his loan spell with Colchester United, could only make the bench, and remained un-used throughout, providing an indication of his current standing at the club and suggesting that it is likely that the 22 year old will be released when his contract expires at the end of June.
Watt is not likely to be alone in that regard, with several members of Steve Gatting’s side set to see their immediate futures up for review in the summer. Craig Eastmond, despite having 10 first-team appearances to his name, is likely to be let go, whilst midfielder Conor Henderson has already confirmed that this will be his final season at the club. Sead Hajrovic, Samir Bihmoutine and goalkeeper James Shea are amongst several others that could leave, although defenders Meade and Martin Angha, who have featured in the first-team this season, will most likely be offered new one-year deals.
The departure of several established members of the U21 set-up will, as ever, provide opportunities for some members of the U18 side to filter through to the elder age-group. The U18s, not helped in the slightest by a host of managerial changes, have rather struggled this season in terms of results, but do possess some players who could thrive at a higher level. Left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, for instance, trained with the first-team last season whilst still a schoolboy, winger Tarum Dawkins has turned in some increasingly impressive performances of late following a difficult start, and Alex Iwobi, the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha, has demonstrated promise in a role just off the main striker.
There was also another indication this week of just how highly-regarded one particular talent is at the club. Gedion Zelalem (pictured above in the white shirt), a midfielder with Ethiopian heritage who has subsequently been capped by Germany at U15 and U16 levels, completed his move to Arsenal at the start of the season having previously played school football in America. Since then, he started impressively at U16 level, before his performances were disrupted a little by forceful challenges from opponents, highlighting some concerns about his physicality. Arsene Wenger is keeping a keen eye on his development, however, with the 16 year old being invited to train with the first-team squad this week prior to the Bayern Munich fixture. Certainly a name to keep an eye on in the future, Arsenal are currently taking Zelalem’s development step-by-step and do not want to throw him into action at U18 level, for which he is now eligible, until they are certain that he will be able to cope physically.