What to make of Wenger’s current batch
Pre-season is always a difficult time to ever truly judge any player’s talent as they battle to get back to full fitness, but it is certainly a time to impress and leave a lasting impression on not only the manager but the club’s fans. With that in mind, having watched a few of Arsenal’s games so far this summer as they step up their preparations for the new season, which of the club’s current crop look as if they have what it takes to cement a first-team spot over the coming years?
Arsene Wenger is certainly a manager that divides opinion and you’re more often than not caught between the ‘In Arsene We Trust’ brigade or the ‘Wenger Out’ side. His critics, rather understandably, decry his near constant obsession with planning for the future and the lack of emphasis on recruiting players for the present, but there does look to be, at least at the moment, an exciting conveyor belt of talent within the squad’s ranks.
Young Japanese winger Ryo Miyaichi is an exciting player, full of pace, trickery and craft and even if he may be best served by making another season-long loan spell elsewhere next term, after successful short-term switches to both Feyenoord and Bolton, he could make a real impact as he matures in the future.
Another player that I’ve been impressed with is Spanish defender Ignasi Miquel, who has been used for the majority of the time at left-back. Having been a member of Barcelona’s much-vaunted La Masia academy, he is comfortable on the ball, positionally aware and he’s shown a great degree of adventure further forward. As he fills out and adds the muscle required to be at centre-back in the top flight, he could be quite some player.
The young German winger Thomas Eisfeld has also been in lively form, having arrived from Borussia Dortmund in January. Speedy, calm in possession and with a low centre of gravity, he made a huge impact in their friendly against a Malaysian XI side, striking the winner in the final few moments of the match. He’s likely to be consigned to reserve-team football for most of next season, and like Miquel, he’ll need to add some muscle on those bones, but the technique is there for all to see already and he reminds me a bit of Juan Mata in terms of style, which is no mean feat at a young age.
Benfik Afobe has been touted for big things for quite some time now after impressing in the reserves and for the England youth-teams, but I have to say, on the evidence of what I’ve seen (yes, I know that it’s *only* pre-season), he doesn’t look up to the standard required for a club like Arsenal. His finishing leaves a lot to be desired, and he’s a bit of a donkey, a quick donkey, but a donkey nonetheless. He’s more of a throwback to the Arsenal before Wenger took over and he doesn’t appear to have either the speed of thought or the requisite ability on the ball to impose himself on the first-team.
Nico Yennaris is another England U-19 international at the club that’s turned out for the side on their tour of Asia and it could really go either way with him. He looks prone to panicking whenever he’s put in the back foot or facing his own goal, but further forward, he provides a real threat from full-back and he’s got a decent delivery on him. After a short-term loan spell at Notts County last season, a longer period away from the club could prove decisive in shaping the player he hopes to become, but the jury is out at the moment.
Chuks Aneke is another that I’m not quite decided on just yet. He can look awfully gangly at times but there’s no denying that he can be a powerful and effective force in the middle of the park when he wants to be. He lacks discipline at the moment and may not quite have the technique, but he’s unpredictable and extremely hard-working, think of more of a raw version of Emmanuel Frimpong but with more potential. His long-term future may not be at a big club like Arsenal, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him excel in the Championship within the next five years or so.
Of course, the likes of Francis Coquelin, Craig Eastmond and Kyle Bartley have been on the fringes of the first-team picture for some time now, which shows that you can make the leap. Bartley looks destined to be a Premier League player in the future, I just very much doubt whether it will be at Arsenal, while the same could be said of Eastmond, although you can definitely see why Wenger has high hopes for Coquelin, which may explain his reluctance to sign a holding man this summer.
Every season fans bemoan that the club aren’t granting enough opportunities to this or that player, which has impressed during pre-season, but Jack Wilshere has shown that the step up is possible and Wenger has displayed an ethos in the past that if you’re good enough, that age doesn’t really matter to him with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain serving as prime examples.
In Miquel, Miyaichi and Eisfeld, they have three exceptionally gifted youngsters at the club and while they may not have an instant impact this season, it bodes well for the future. Wenger is often derided for an all-conquering fixation on youth, and if the aforementioned trio can force their way into more than just the manager’s Capital One Cup plans, they could potentially save them a fortune further down the line.
However, with concerns to Afobe, Yennaris and Aneke, expectation may need to be reigned in, for if the French boss has shown anything in his 16-year spell at the club, it’s that he has no trouble ditching players if they aren’t up to the technical demands of first-team football and it remains to be seen whether these three can play a part.
Which Arsenal youngster are you most excited about?
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1