I like baseball, and one of the cool things about being a baseball fan is the endless supply of prospect rankings. You rarely see them in football, at least rankings with any sort of credibility. So here I am to lend my credibility for the 1st Annual Apostolos Memorial Arsenal Youth Prospect Rankings!
To be eligible, the players have to be younger than 21 and they must have played fewer than 25 matches for the Arsenal senior squad. That's somewhat arbitrary, but it eliminates players I didn't want to rank and it gets rid of Joel Campbell who I don't think should be on a list like this since he's playing for a big club in Greece at the moment and has also been capped dozens of times already for his country.
I should also say that I've judged the players based on 1) future potential, 2) likelihood of reaching that potential, 3) whether it seems like Wenger rates the player, and 4) how close they are to the senior squad, in that order of importance. My list is subjective obviously, but the point of this really is to get all other academy voyeurs in the TSF community to post their own thoughts and rankings in the comments below.
So here's my Top 10 (in descending order, because why not?):
10. Jon Toral (Age: 18)
The original Zelalem, Jon Toral joined Arsenal from Barcelona in 2011 with a lot of fanfare. Since then, it has dipped to a moderate yet still respectable amount of fanfare. By all accounts he remains a classy midfielder who can pick out a pass and score a goal. This season Toral has scored four and set up three in six matches in the U21 Premier League and UEFA Youth Cup, a nice return indeed.
Future Projection: 0 Balon d'Or's. I'm not sure he still has it in him to reach stardom, but he'll certainly be a fixture in someone's starting eleven.
9. Yaya Sanogo (Age: 20)
Arsene Wenger's big summer signing looked out of his depth in two appearances this season before going down to injury. He certainly has some skills, but he's a bit languid, and I think he's far more likely to be a niche player than to be the next Henry. Still, he's a mainstay in the France youth setup, and the boss seems to like him, so here we are.
Future Projection: 0 Balon d'Or's. Leading the line...for someone else.
8. Thomas Eisfeld (Age: 20)
Confident on the ball for his age, Eisfeld will often float in and out of games, but he's already shown an Arsenal-caliber proficiency in front of goal when given the opportunity. Those opportunities have not been plentiful, but I think he's still someone with an Arsenal future. Wenger has compared him to a snake and Robert Pires.
Future Projection: 0 Balon d'Or's. Valuable squad player.
7. Alex Iwobi (Age: 17)
Iwobi's stock has risen the most out of anyone on this list. He's been with the club forever, but only recently have people begun noticing his talent. A strong, pacy, and skilled winger, Jay-Jay Okocha's nephew had a very good 2013 calendar year.
Future Projection: 1 Balon d'Or. Starting winger.
6. Isaac Hayes (Age: 18)
Hayes can play anywhere along the back four, but also has the skill to succeed as a CDM. A cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about, Isaac Hayes is a tall, physical, and conservative player who seems well suited for the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
Future Projection: 1 Balon d'Or. Starting center back or CDM.
5. Hector Bellerin (Age: 18)
Another ex-Barcelona player having success, Bellerin was impressive in his League Cup appearance this year at West Brom and he has been equally impressive in his subsequent loan spell at Watford. Pretty much a prototype modern wing-back. While Manuel Almunia teaches Bellerin the Arsenal way at Watford, Carl Jenkinson has the difficult task of keeping the title of "next Arsenal right-back" away from the young Spaniard.
Future Projection: 1-2 Balon d'Or's. Quality right-back.
4. Dan Crowley (Age: 16)
Crowley's signing was quite the coup for Arsenal last year, the 16-year-old midfielder is already being billed in some circles as the next big thing in English football. Currently punching well above his age in the Arsenal Academy, it will probably be at least a year before we hear from him at the senior level, but there's no denying talent in abundance here.
Future Projection: 2-3 Balon d'Or's. The next Jack Wilshere.
3. Chuba Akpom (Age: 18)
Another player who had an excellent 2013, Akpom scored goals galore in Arsenal's preseason tour, and looked impressive in his brief spell with the senior team at the beginning of this current Premier League season. Akpom is a talented, confident youngster with impressive finishing ability and good pace. He'll probably need to bulk up a bit but he's done everything that's been asked of him to this point and I was a little disappointed to see him go on loan to Brentford, even if only for a month. Such is his talent, I'm not so sure he couldn't handle a brief spell as Giroud's deputy this season, even at such a young age.
Future Projection: 2-3 Balon d'Or's. Star striker/winger.
2. Serge Gnabry (Age: 18)
Powerful, quick, pacy, he can pick out a pass, defend, and knock in goals of his own, there really is nothing Serge Gnabry can't do. At this point all he really needs is experience, and with the injury to Theo Walcott it's looking like we will be relying on the young German a great deal down the stretch.
Future Projection: 3-4 Balon d'Or's. Star winger/midfielder.
1. Gedion Zelalem (Age: 16)
At 6'1, Zelalem needs to fill his body out, but he has a great frame for a midfielder, he's confident on the ball, and his vision is otherworldly. No one should be playing in the first team for a club like Arsenal at age 16. Cesc Fabregas did it, and Gedion still has a shot.
Future Projection: 4-5 Balon d'Or's. World class midfielder.
Honorable Mention: Kris Olsson (18), Alfred Mugabo (18), Nico Yennaris (20), Benik Afobe (20)
Post your own list and thoughts in the comments!