Pre-season, particularly in a World Cup year, can be a perfect opportunity for young professionals to prove their worth as they attempt to make the first-team squad.
This year, with Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou (the latter is still technically an Arsenal player) all having reached the Last 16 of the World Cup with their respective countries, there is likely to be an opening for at least one of the club’s young centre-backs.
Ignasi Miquel, back from an indifferent loan spell at Leicester City, is in a do or die situation as far as his Arsenal career is concerned. The Spaniard will turn 22 in September and would be required to be named in the club’s senior squad in the Premier League if he is to be eligible for that competition this season.
Beyond him, Semi Ajayi could finally represent the first-team in pre-season having trained with Arsene Wenger’s side on numerous occasions last season following his move from Charlton Athletic. An imposing presence at the heart of the defence who has been capped by Nigeria at youth level, Ajayi does still have some flaws in his game which need addressing, most notably his passing range.
Perhaps Arsenal’s most promising young central-defender is Julio Pleguezuelo, the latest in a growing line of prospects plucked from Barcelona’s La Masia Academy. Although not the tallest, Plegeuzuelo, is, as would be expected, very adept in possession, whilst his positioning also improved commendably during his first season in North London. At just 17, it may be a little early for him to earn a permanent promotion this Summer, but he could well make an impression in training.
With the first-team centre-backs not due to return until the end of July or possibly even later, depending on their progress in the tournament, it will be especially interesting to see who Wenger deploys in that position during the pre-season programme. With three friendlies to fulfil, he may opt to play some players out of position (perhaps Carl Jenkinson, who can cover in central-defence if needed), but the chances are that Miquel and Ajayi will receive a considerable amount of game time.
If either of them was to impress sufficiently, they may well earn themselves a place in the squad for next season.