Krystian Bielik is no stranger to senior football, with the prospect having already played for Legia Warsaw’s first-team prior to joining Arsenal.
Now the Polish youngster is at the stage where first-team football is becoming a necessity rather than a desire. Having featured prominently at youth level in the two years since he arrived at Arsenal, undergoing the transformation from defensive-midfielder to centre-back in the process, Bielik was sent out on loan to Championship side Birmingham City in January.
After initially being an unused substitute for Gianfranco Zola’s side, Bielik has subsequently forced his way into the starting line-up and is thriving as part of a three-man back-line.
The youngster, who made his debut for Poland U19s during the international break, has been assured at the back for Birmingham, winning possession with regularity and, in typical style, bringing the ball out from defence when the opportunity has arisen.
Gaining regular playing time in England’s second tier will undoubtedly accelerate the development of the 19-year-old, who has long been seen as one of Arsenal’s standout prospects.
The occasional mistake is still present in Bielik’s game, but that is to be expected of a player who is still learning, and the overwhelming response to his displays for Birmingham so far has been one of astonishment at just how good he has been.
The problem Bielik faces, however, is that, no matter how much he catches the eye at Birmingham, he still has a very difficult task ahead of him in terms of breaking into the Arsenal first-team.
There are currently five centre-backs in the first-team squad – Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel, Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding – while Calum Chambers, another player capable of playing in that position, is on loan at Middlesbrough.
With Mertesacker having signed a one-year extension and it looking rather unlikely that there will be an exodus of centre-backs, Bielik will surely have to bide his time before the opportunity arises for him to truly stake his claim at Arsenal.
That could well mean that the youngster is sent out on loan again next season as it will surely be felt that he is beyond playing at U23 level. An alternative would be for Bielik to play for Arsenal in the EFL Cup, but perhaps spending time elsewhere again would be more beneficial for his overall game.
In general, though, the situation surrounding Bielik is a very positive one and he will hope to continue to perform to such a standard for the rest of the campaign.
Had Bielik remained as a defensive-midfielder then, given the current uncertainty surrounding Arsenal’s options in that position, his path to the first-team may well have been rather clearer.
Now, as a centre-back, it may take him longer to reach the top, but the early evidence suggests that the decision to deploy Bielik in that area of the pitch was the correct one.