Arsene Wenger is very good at developing young players – he has done it time and time again at Arsenal. Dropping them into the harsh environment of the first team is something he considers very carefully, for he realises that doing this too soon can actually result in more harm done than good. For this reason it is no surprise that we are yet to see Luke Freeman challenging for a starting place at the Gunners, but it is also interesting to speculate as to how long the Arsenal faithful will have to wait before seeing the young striker regularly running out at the Emirates.
The forward, who turns 18 at the end of this month, signed from Gillingham in January 2008 for a fee in the region of £200,000. He became the Gills’ youngest ever player when he appeared in an FA Cup game against Barnet in November 2007, at the age of 15 years and 233 days, also becoming the competition’s youngest player in the process. The Dartford-born hotshot had risen through the ranks at the Priestfield stadium after being released by Charlton Athletic for being too small.
Freeman bounced back from this disappointment though, and with no shortage of talent made himself a massive hit at the Kent club. He did not appear many times for their first team but he was very highly thought of there and this was reflected by his manager Mark Stimson’s comments at the time, who was certain that the club would not stand in the young man’s way if Arsenal made an approach.
He said: “If my 15-year-old son had the chance to go to Arsenal, even as a Tottenham fan, you couldn’t turn it down. I think the football that club plays is the best in the world but I can see the other point of view, about the benefits of him staying here. He’s a special talent and has the potential to go a long, long way.”
Arsenal did make their approach for Freeman and beat West Ham and Newcastle to his signature. And after two years in North London he is now really starting to make his mark. Last month he scored his first goal for the reserves in only his second start in a match against Chelsea. This call-up to Arsenal’s second string came about after impressing for the last couple of seasons in Steve Bould’s under-18 side. This campaign he has netted 13 goals in 15 starts for the academy side. And Freeman certainly thinks the step up to the reserves will improve his game no end.
“It’s a lot more physical and a lot quicker. But it makes you a better player. If you are playing against and training with better players, you are going to become a better player yourself. But in the reserves you’ve got to take it game by game. I’m looking for 25 goals or more this season. That’s my target and hopefully I’ll achieve it. At the moment I’m on course for it, I’ve just got to keep my head down and keep on working hard. The Chelsea game was my second start of the season, so I’d been waiting for my chance and I was glad to take it.”
The former England under-17 star seems to be progressing at a very impressive rate and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him start figuring for the first team at some point next season. At the time of signing him Wenger said that he was a very interesting prospect, with a good eye for goal and one for the future. It may be closer in the future than many think if Freeman can carry on his good start to life in the reserves.