Analysis – Arsenal’s rising stars swap Middle East for Meadow Park
The Gunners will be on a student budget in the summer, and Janet Jackson’s famous words ‘the best things in life are free’ may ring true if they choose to dip into their academy.
Highly lauded prospects Tyreece John-Jules and Xavier Amaechi, both 18-year-old, got a taste of the high-life in Arsenal’s 3-2 friendly win over Al-Nasr in Dubai in midweek. Just three days on, they swapped taking selfies with endangered animals and all-inclusive hotels for the humble surroundings of Borehamwood.
The duo made their first-team debuts in Dubai, playing with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette – who John-Jules calls his ‘mentor’. The 18-year-old striker followed up his goal in the Middle East with another against West Ham’s U-23 squad – his 4th of the PL2 season.
TYREECE JOHN JULES (18)
John-Jules, nephew of Red Dwarf star Danny John-Jules, is certainly no dwarf himself – a big powerful presence, and any defenders that try to go near him seem to bounce off. There was a point in last night’s game where he rose like a salmon to reach a goal-kick, headed the ball forward 15 yards and sprinted to create himself a chance on goal – all off his own back.
His goal just before half-time summed up his game perfectly, the youngster hustled and harried West Ham striker Sean Adarkwa into his own box, stole the ball back and smashed it beyond the Hammers keeper’s near-post.
Since the departure of Olivier Giroud, the Gunners have lacked a physical presence up top, and in the future, John-Jules could fill that role. Unfortunately for the youngster, Arsenal have just signed 17-year-old Brazilian striker Gabriel Martinelli, who will be a direct rival for a place in the first-team squad.
XAVIER AMAECHI (18)
There’s one phrase which encapsulates Xavier Amaechi: hair-raising. Every time he got the ball, he had one thing in mind, to take on and isolate his opposite number. Electric pace, agile, quick feet, and a touch like he donned velcro on his boots. But unlike so many other promising wingers, he also had an end product.
His game was improved when he switched to the left-wing, as a predominant left-footer, it meant he could beat his man (with ease), and then whip in a cross. When on the right-wing his movement inside was telegraphed and predictable.
There’s a good chance that Amaechi will break into the first team next season – whether that be in the League Cup or Europa League. And for him, it’s probably better that Arsenal DON’T qualify for the Champions League, as it all but disqualifies him from European football. Arsenal have been crying out for a winger
JOE WILLOCK (19)
Willock is one of the most experienced players in the academy in terms of first-team action. He has 15 appearances for the Gunners over the last two seasons – including three Premier League outings. That experience certainly shows, he looks a cut above the rest in terms of composure and elegance.
Playing as one of a midfield three – Willock oozed class, ghosting past West Ham defenders and creating chances left, right and centre. He thought he had capped off his fine display with a goal – but West Ham keeper Joseph Anang produced a save David De Gea would be proud of as he threw up an arm to block Willock’s effort from three yards out.
Willock’s night ended abruptly, as he went off with an injury in the second half, which is a shame as he was rated WhoScored’s second-highest rated teenager in the Europa League this season, and he’s the fourth-highest rated player overall. Expect big things.
ARTHUR OKONKWO (17); JORDI OSEI-TUTU (20); BUKAYO SAKA (17)
At one point in the game 17-year-old Okonkwo dribbled half-way into his own half with the ball before picking out a pinpoint pass into Tyreece John-Jules. The nonchalance was obscene. All young keepers now are being coached to play out the back, and that’s something Arsenal U-23 boss Freddie Ljungberg has drilled into his side. That will play into Okonkwo’s hands with Unai Emery’s particular obsession with that ability.
Right-back Jordi Osei-Tutu struggled defensively in the first half. After an outburst from Ljungberg, he seemed to have a rocket where the sun doesn’t shine and was sensational in the second half. A marauding full-back who could slot in o many systems, a bit tentative on the ball, but knock it forward and run and no-one is catching Osei-Tutu. May come in handy with the serious knee injury to Hector Bellerin and just Stefan Lichtsteiner and Carl Jenkinson as alternatives.
Bukayo Saka is one of the most exciting prospects in the Arsenal academy and made his Premier League debut in the 4–1 win against Fulham in January. He has also impressed in the Europa League and has earned high praise for his performances at England U-19 level with three goals in six appearances. Didn’t have his best game last night, hardly getting involved and subbed on sixty minutes – but at 17 he has plenty of scope to be a star.
NOT SO HONOURABLE
CHARLIE GILMOUR (20) & THE DEFENCE
Charlie Gilmore was another to get his first-team chance in Dubai – but looked quite one-dimensional in the base of midfield against West Ham. What he gives you is hard work, but won’t exactly set the world alight.
Unfortunately, an absence of defensive nous trickles down from the first-team to the academy. Arsenal often played a high-line, getting caught with West Ham’s attackers running in-behind. Danny Ballard and Ben Sheaf were competent on the ball and tough in the tackle, but still raw.
This certainly isn’t an excuse for Arsenal’s apathetic owner Stan Kroenke to say ‘you know what, I don’t need to invest after looking at the academy’. They should be used in tandem with new signings and bedded into the team slowly – rather than building up the hype, adding excess pressure. They are talents, not the end product, and with Emile Smith-Rowe and Reiss Nelson yet to come back from loan spells in Germany – the future is looking a lot brighter for Arsenal.