As the majority of Arsenal’s first team players returned to London Colney to begin training for the upcoming season, a few familiar faces from Arsenal’s academy officially became members of the first team. The attacking trio of Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, and Reiss Nelson were all spotted wearing their new first team kit numbers on their training kits as Arsenal prepared for next week’s stateside pre-season tour.
Despite the lack of fanfare, the promotion to the first team is a huge step for players that have been making names for themselves in Arsenal’s academy for quite a while. While many began to question Unai Emery’s intentions with the young players after making scarce use of them during last season’s multiple campaigns, he has rewarded their patience with the opportunity to become more important members of the Gunners going forward.
The recent coaching shuffle that saw U23 coach and former Arsenal man Freddie Ljungberg swap places with long-time first team assistant coach Steve Bould signaled to many that Arsenal were looking to incorporate more youth into the side. Coupled with a paltry purse of the summer transfer window, many anticipated that Arsenal would need to look within the club to shore up the roster. The promotion of Willock, Nketiah, and Nelson is an emphatic statement of intent for the club and their direction as they approach the 19/20 Premier League season in just a month.
While none of the three promoted players featured heavily for the Arsenal first team last season, each showed positive signs in their brief appearances and have been fixtures of Arsenal’s youth teams for the last several years. Nketiah finally opened his first team account against Burnley in the final match of the Premier League season, Willock showed an energetic work rate against Chelsea in the Europa League final, and Nelson had a promising loan spell to 1899 Hoffenheim during the second half of the season.
Nketiah’s number has changed from 49 to 30, Willock from 59 to 28, and Nelson from 61 to 24.