For Stefan O’Connor the 2013/14 campaign was a particularly memorable one, but the imposing centre-back reached even greater heights this time around.
The Hale End product was initially set to be released by Arsenal, but was eventually offered a scholarship in 2013, quickly made inroads into the club’s U21 team during his first season as a scholar, impressing with his calm nature on the ball as well as his leadership qualities.
This season, despite the fact that he only turned 18 in January, O’Connor was the leading appearance maker for Arsenal U21s – making 20 appearances and featuring in all but one of the games that Steve Gatting’s side played this campaign.
The highlight of his season came in December though, when he made his first-team debut – in the Champions League no less – as a substitute against Galatasaray. O’Connor, deployed at right-back – a position unfamiliar to him – struggled during his time on the field against the Turkish side, but he has retained the backing of manager Arsene Wenger, and has trained with the senior squad on numerous occasions throughout the course of the campaign.
Next season O’Connor will no longer be eligible for the U18s, and as such, he will be seeking to push on to even greater heights. A place in the Capital One Cup squad is not beyond the realms of possibility for the youngster, although he might initially have to be content with being on the bench for that competition.
As the campaign progresses, heading out on loan may be necessary to ensure game time – although he will initially no doubt still be heavily involved with the U21 team.
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O’Connor has been impressive for Arsenal on many occasions at youth level, but there are still some aspects of his game that require improvement if he is to reach the highest level. His concentration can wane on occasion, whilst his positioning isn’t always perfect. And perhaps most worryingly of all, his distribution is rather erratic at times.
Most young players have considerable flaws however, and O’Connor is certainly the type of player who will identify and work towards correcting his mistakes. The quickness with which he has established himself in the U21s should be commended, and Wenger can clearly see potential in the youngster.
Whether O’Connor will fulfil that potential remains to be seen, but his progress over the past couple of seasons has been impressive and he will hope that the next campaign will be another fruitful chapter in his development.