On Afobe’s Loan Move And Under-21 Permier League
Another night passes, another day dawns. And still we await official confirmation of Santi Cazorla’s arrival. Perhaps Malaga representatives are in Ivan’s office as we speak, counting fivers and tenners, afraid he may have stuffed the bag with old newspapers underneath a top layer of banknotes. I have visions of Gazidis with his feet up on the desk, blowing smoke circles from his cigar as he savours the hitherto unknown joy of dealing with a sheikh-owned club on the front foot.
While Cazorla’s signing is yet to be announced, the club website has confirmed another transfer rumour that has done the rounds lately – that of Benik Afobe’s season-long loan to Bolton Wanderers. Owen Coyle’s side are fast becoming the finishing school for talented youngsters from bigger clubs. Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge have benefitted in previous years and although Ryo Miyaichi was unable to help the Trotters avoid relegation last season, his time at the Reebok was certainly a step forward for the Japanese youngster.
Benik Afobe was involved in all three pre-season games but didn’t impress enough to push for a place in the squad. With plenty of strikers fighting for limited positions it was always going to be difficult anyway so a loan move was anticipated. But with a couple of spells at Huddersfield and Reading already, you suspect Benik needs to deliver big time at Bolton this season to have a future at Arsenal. Hopefully the 19-year old can have a positive impact on the Trotters’ season. Good luck Benik.
For youngsters that don’t go out on loan, this season promises a more competitive environment to play their football in with the launch of the inaugural Under-21 Premier League. When Arsenal confirmed their participation in the NextGen Series back in June, I felt EPL clubs would benefit from a more competitive Reserves’ league with a mix of younger and more experienced squad members playing along side each other.
The new Under-21 Premier League seems to have been incorporated to address this issue. Split into three groups at the initial stage, 23 teams will compete for the title this season. A knockout format will come into play later in the tournament. Rules allow up to four over-age players (including a goalkeeper) to be part of the team so clubs can field first team squad members as well.
Some thought has gone into the scheduling too with games centred around the Premier League weekend. If needed, it allows first-team managers to start their under-21 players on the bench for Premier League games. In case they are not used, those youngsters can then play a day or two later in the U-21 league.
Although it may not be as competitive as the Spanish system, it seems to be a step up from the meaningless Reserves fixtures played out in previous years. And along side the Under-18 NextGen Series, there will be plenty of opportunities for both players and clubs to compare and measure progress.
For Arsenal, it’s a chance to evaluate players approaching their twentieth birthday while also blooding in a few of the younger players. Since the Youth Cup winning side of 2009, Arsenal’s new crop haven’t impressed too much and many have been let go by the club. But with the likes of Ebecilio, Eisfeld, Gnabry, Toral and Bellerin (among others) coming through, a more competitive Reserves league augurs well for the development of these talented footballers.
Pre-season for Arsenal’s youngsters hasn’t been convincing so far though. After victory over Boreham Wood, we have drawn against Stevenage and lost to Dartford. That last defeat came despite Terry Burton fielding an experienced looking line-up with many of the younger members from the Far East tour playing in that game. Perhaps jet-lag can be cited as an excuse.
But if Arsenal are to compete strongly with financially doped clubs it’s vital to have a youth setup that delivers regularly. In that respect, the Under-21 Premier League should be beneficial to Arsenal both for player development and stock evaluation.