Harry Clarke turns 17 today, with the Arsenal youngster now eligible for a professional contract.
The versatile prospect, who was signed from Ipswich Town’s academy, has enjoyed an impressive first season as a full-time scholar during which he has featured prominently for the U18s and has also made the bench at U23 level.
Tough tackling but also composed in possession, Clarke was previously a midfielder but now most often plays in defence, either at centre-back or right-back.
An England U17 international, Clarke is a very hard-working player and has benefited immensely from training at London Colney this season, with the expectation being that next campaign he will be able to push on to even greater heights.
Making the breakthrough at Arsenal in the longterm will of course be very difficult, but Clarke has demonstrated his adaptability by performing in different positions and he has also provided an occasional attacking threat, notably scoring a brace in the U18s’ 5-1 thrashing of West Ham United in January.
Clarke was given a taste of what life is like in the U23 squad when he was an unused substitute for the away game against rivals Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the campaign and the aim now will be for him to become increasingly involved at that level.
Fulfilling that objective could prove to be problematic in the short term, with Arsenal having several young defenders at their disposal, but next season, as some of the older members of the U23 squad head out on loan or become more involved with the first-team, opportunities may start to open up for Clarke.
Patience, then, will certainly be key, but Clarke is developing well and is part of an Arsenal U18s side that have been much improved defensively in comparison to previous seasons.
Should Clarke eventually become a key player for the U23s, then it seems inevitable that he will gain further recognition at international level as he looks to work his way up the age levels for England.
His primary aim, however, will certainly be to succeed at Arsenal and this season he has taken some significant steps forward in attempting to achieve that task.