Return Of The Loanees – Kyle Bartley
In May 2009, Arsenal won the FA Youth Cup beating Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield (6-2 on aggregate). The success of the Under-18s that season and the manner of their victories en route to lifting the cup signalled the emergence of a crop of young players with huge potential. The future was bright.
Three years on, it is interesting to take stock of how those youngsters have developed.
Many have been unable to maintain progression up the ranks – Thomas Cruise, Luke Ayling, Cedric Evina and Charlie Mann have all been released and are no longer at the club, while Gilles Sunu was sold to Lorient last summer. Perhaps the most high-profile exit was that of Jay-Emmanuel Thomas or JET as he’s commonly known, a player many Arsenal fans including yours truly, had high hopes for.
Then there are those who have stepped up. Jack Wilshere is the most prominent and Francis Coquelin is quickly establishing himself as a regular this season. But for that cruciate ligament injury in the summer of 2010, Emmanuel Frimpong would surely have featured more prominently – although I am recently beginning to question the young Ghanian’s attitude following his un-Dench antics on Twitter.
Oghuzan Ozyakup is another on the periphery of the first team, a player highly rated by no less than Robin van Persie. Conor Henderson has just returned from long-term injury and is now playing in the reserves.
And then there are the youngsters who’ve been loaned out to get regular football and prove their worth. Based on performances for their loan sides this season, you have to think that players like Craig Eastmond, Rhys Murphy, Sanchez Watt and even James Shea are unlikely to have a future at Arsenal. Last week we looked at Henri Lansbury, another player from that Youth Cup team whose Arsenal future hangs in the balance.
Alongside Lansbury, Kyle Bartley is probably the most prominent loanee from that U-18 team. After serving a spell at Glasgow Rangers in the 2010/11 season, the central defender returned to the Scottish champions for another loan spell last summer – but not before appearing as a sub against the New York Red Bulls in the Emirates Cup and scoring an unfortunate own goal to hand the cup to Thierry Henry’s American side.
At the time, Bartley spoke of his desire to play regular football. At Arsenal he would have been behind Vermaelen, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Djourou and Squillaci. Arsene Wenger agreed to let the Englishman go back to Rangers, but not before tying him down to a 3-year extension.
His season with the financially troubled Scottish side has been hampered by injuries. A hernia operation saw him miss out until November. Just as he was becoming a regular starter for Ally McCoist’s side, a groin injury in February sidelined him for yet another month. Since the end of March though, he has featured in every game for the Gers.
The 6’3″ defender prefers to play as a centre-back but is versatile enough to slot in at right-back or even as a defensive midfielder. He is strong and powerfully built and does not get shrugged off the ball easily. By all accounts, he has impressed with his assured performances for Rangers. Of course, he’s not the finished product yet but he’s quite close and has certainly proved capable of playing at the highest level in Scotland.
Will that be good enough in the Premier League? And what about his opportunities to break into Arsenal’s first team?
In an article I did on Jan Vertonghen a month ago, I had analysed our defensive requirements for next season. It’s obvious Sebastian Squillaci will not play a part for us in 2012/13 so one defender has to be drafted in. I felt Vertonghen is ideal because of his versatility, a quality Arsene Wenger admires in players.
Kyle Bartley is also capable of providing flexibility at the back. If Vertonghen were to join, and it’s not a done deal I know, it would provide back up in the left back position with Vermaelen and Vertonghen able to play there in case of injuries to Gibbs and Santos. If we keep John Djourou, we will have similar back up on the right-side with the Frenchman and Bartley able to cover for Sagna and Jenkinson.
Our central defense would then consist of a pool of 6 players – Vermaelen, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vertonghen, Djourou and Bartley, with Ignasi Miquel most likely to be farmed out on loan. Of course, it would mean Kyle Bartley would be 5th or 6th choice – a prospect he was not keen on last summer.
On the other hand, Vertonghen may not arrive and Bartley could be brought in as cover while Miquel may continue to play for the Reserves and provide back up. There is also the possibility that Johan Djourou could be sold, although the Swiss defender has not done nothing wrong in the limited opportunities he’s had recently.
Whatever the scenario, I feel Kyle Bartley should be involved in the Arsenal team next season. The main obstacle to that will be the player’s own desire for regular game time. But if Arsene Wenger can promise the youngster a primary role in cup competitions, his inclusion in the squad would provide us the depth and solidity we need in defense in order to be serious contenders next season.
What are your views? Do write in.