After a summer of considerable upheaval with regards to Arsenal’s youth system that has seen eight players arrive and several depart, the new academy season finally got underway when the Gunners’ U21 side took on their Fulham counterparts at Emirates Stadium.
Several of the young Gunners on show were obviously in a buoyant mood after Arsenal achieved success in the Durban U19 International Cup in South Africa last week. Despite being without the likes of Dan Crowley and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who have left on loan, Steve Gatting’s side managed to prevail in the pre-season tournament. A late strike from one of the new recruits Yassin Fortune securing their success in the victory over PSV in the Final.
Some members of the Arsenal squad enhanced their reputations greatly throughout the course of the competition, not least central-midfielder Ben Sheaf, who was named player of the tournament. A central-midfielder plucked from West Ham United’s prestigious academy last year, Sheaf took some time to adapt to life at Arsenal, although he did feature heavily for the U18s during his maiden campaign at the club.
In pre-season though, he has taken his game up another level, with the England youth international scoring three spectacular goals in South Africa. A good passer of the ball and an excellent free-kick taker, Sheaf will be hoping to establish himself as a key figure in Arsenal’s U21 team this season.
Goalkeeper Ryan Huddart meanwhile, made several excellent saves throughout the tournament. Huddart has long been regarded as a promising talent, but he has had to bide his time for opportunities at U21 level with Arsenal as the more experienced Matt Macey and Deyan Iliev are currently ahead of him in the pecking order.
If he remains patient, Huddart who was named on the bench for the Arsenal first-team last season, will receive opportunities to impress for the second-string soon enough.
Fortune too enjoyed an excellent tournament, as he provided the first tantalising glimpses of what he is capable of following his summer arrival from Lens. Skilful, quick, and an astute finisher, he is a very exciting prospect and could well feature for Arsenal’s U21 side this season.
Time will tell whether the changes made by Academy Manager Andries Jonker this summer will have the desired effect after a disappointing campaign last time out, but an impressive pre-season has certainly raised the optimism levels regarding the club’s youth set-up.