Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has a history of giving young, talented players their shot to prove themselves on the pitch. This season appears to be no different. Although last year was a bit of an anomaly, with only one U23 player receiving a senior debut (Chris Willock), the Frenchman has already given six teenagers time on the pitch so far during the 2017/18 campaign. With so many new faces for Arsenal fans to learn, let’s take a look at each of the youngsters in this impressive class.
Arguably Arsenal’s top teenage prospect, Nelson is an extremely skillful 17-year-old player. While mainly being deployed as a winger or in the number 10 role for the Arsenal youth teams, he has been utilized as a right wing back for the senior squad so far this season. Nelson has yet to record a goal or an assist in four appearances with the big boys (three Europa matches and one during the League Cup), but he has managed to score six goals in five matches with the U23s this season.
The kid from the Elephant & Castle section of London is outstanding on the ball. Quick, intelligent, and full of tricks, Nelson has been loosely compared to PSG superstar Neymar by former Gunner Martin Keown. Although that similarity may be a bit premature, the sky’s the limit for Nelson.
Joe may be a little overlooked due to the fact that his brother Chris, now with Benfica, was previously seen as the more higher-rated ‘Willock.’ Despite this, Joe has performed very astutely during his three appearances with the senior Arsenal team this season. Though just 18, he appears much more experienced on the pitch. Willock was seen reminding the referee of opposing shirt pulling during the BATE Borisov match moments prior to the Gunners receiving a penalty due to a shirt-pulling infraction by the Belarusian club.
Willock also boasts a 93% passing accuracy and eight tackles during two Europa League matches in which he made the starting XI. The central midfielder managed eight goals and ten assists last year with the U18s. It does not appear that the big jump to the senior squad has ruffled Willock.
Although he has only managed four minutes with big boys, Nketiah is definitely one to look out for. A former Chelsea youth product, Nketiah is a pure goalscorer. The 18-year-old forward has three goals and two assists in six matches so far with the U23s during the current campaign. And looking back even further we see that the striker has racked up an impressive 47 total goals along three different age brackets since the start of the 2015/16 season.
Nketiah does not only just score at the club level either. He has also netted two separate hat tricks this calendar year with youth England national teams. The latest onslaught occurred during his England U19 debut last month, in which he managed to net the second hat trick in just 67 minutes. It has been some time since the Gunners produced a top quality center forward through their youth system.
Perhaps the lesser-known of the sextet, Dasilva is an 18-year-old defender/midfielder. The versatile Dasilva can play in the left side of defense or as a midfielder. Despite his keen eye for defending, he does have three assists in six matches with the U23s so far this season. Though he has only managed 45 total minutes with the senior team (in the League Cup match against Doncaster), Wenger does have faith in the England U20 player.
Standing at over six foot, Dasilva is an imposing player. He likes to have the ball at his feet, and also pick out a pass as well (as mentioned before with his impressive assists). Though he was a former striker in the Arsenal youth ranks, it seems as if Dasilva may have found a home in midfield.
McGuane is another youngster that many Arsenal fans may not know too much about just yet. England U19 teammates with Nelson, Willock, and Nketiah, McGuane is a defensive-minded midfielder that is highly-rated inside the north London club. While you may not see many goals scored by the 18-year-old player, he is technically gifted and a leader on the pitch.
Featuring in all seven games of the U23s so far this season, McGuane has been the captain for the last two matches. With the senior squad during the current campaign, he has managed two substitute appearances in the Europa League competition. The Gunners have quite a few central midfielders coming through the youth ranks at the moment, but McGuane is still receiving plenty of playing time at the position.
The elder statesman of the group at 19, Sheaf has been high on the Arsenal youth radar for a few seasons now. The versatile teenager can be deployed in a plethora of positions. Center back, right back, defensive midfield, and even on the right side of midfield, Sheaf is a very capable player.
Although he just made his return from injury about a week ago, Wenger decided to include him in the Europa League squad against Red Star Belgrade match Thursday night. Sheaf previously was named on the bench for two League Cup matches during the 2016/17 season, and for the Sheffield Wednesday debacle two years ago, but only just made his senior Arsenal debut in Serbia. The Swiss Army Knife of the U23s, Sheaf could turn out to be a valuable asset moving forward.
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