When I saw the number ‘37’ and the name ‘Eastmond’ on the back of one of the Arsenal shirts starting against Bolton at the weekend, I was certainly surprised. Although there have certainly been more English players coming through to play in Arsenal’s first team recently in the guise of Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs, Craig Eastmond would not be the first on many Arsenal fans’ lips when asked who out of the current crop of youngsters would start a Premier League game. Arsene Wenger certainly was impressed enough with Eastmond’s performances of late to give him a start though:
He has shown that he has qualities to be a player [for Arsenal]. Overall he has shown interesting things. In the second half he got tired and then he started to lose some balls that you do not want to lose but overall it was an interesting performance.
Since arriving as a trainee from Millwall at the age of 11, Eastmond has progressed tremendously well as a footballer. Generally playing as a defender, Eastmond is known for his great tenacity and work rate, and he played most of last season playing out of position at right back. Despite this he played every minute of Arsenal’s successful FA Youth Cup run last season, obviously impressing Wenger enough to give him a go in the first team this campaign.
Eastmond also has a great range of passing and this means he can also play as a holding midfielder, a position Wenger has utilised him in so far. A first team debut against Liverpool in the Carling Cup back in October was capped off by helping to set up the first goal in a 2-1 victory, and only last week the young 19 year old signed a new long term deal to stay with the Gunners.
His performance against Bolton at the weekend was by no means perfect but it showed some promise. His play, especially in the first half, was characterised by strong challenges and giving the ball short to fellow Arsenal players to set up attacks. As Wenger said though, he did begin to tire in the second half. He did make a few mistimed challenges and his passing did become a little wayward which in the process nearly set up some Bolton chances.
To be fair to Eastmond though, it was only his first start in the Premier League and he showed enough to me that there is good potential. He nearly scored from a corner kick, composing himself to control a shot after being found free in the box, rather than just blasting the ball over like many other inexperienced players. He coped well against a very physical Bolton team and more than held his own with his 6ft frame. Certainly only more first team opportunities will give a greater indication to whether he has what it takes to perform at this level, and with Alex Song away at the African Cup of Nations, Eastmond could yet see more first team action as Arsenal look to move forward in their challenge at the top of the table.