The 2021 Euros group stage are well under way, and while that might be scratching our collective itch for soccer during the summer, it’s never too early to look ahead at next season for Arsenal.
Despite last season’s ugly display for the Gunners, Tuttosport, hosts of the very awkwardly named Golden Boy award, has named four Arsenal players to their 100-player short list given to the best player under the age of 21: William Saliba, Folarin Balogun, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli.
Arsenal's 2021 Golden Boy award nominees— Chris Wheatley (@ChrisWheatley_) June 15, 2021
Gabriel Martinelli pic.twitter.com/q3nP3AxWxI
It’s no surprise that Arsenal are represented on the short list; the full list is a who’s-who of up-and-coming talent. What is a surprise is that Arsenal’s four nominees are the most of any Premier League club and tied with talent factories Ajax and Borussia Dortmund for the most nominations. In the PL, the next closest are Chelsea with three and both Manchester sides with two apiece.
The inclusion of Saka and Martinelli are no-brainers. Saka was on the short list for the 2020 award, and his stock has been on an otherworldly trajectory over the last year, which culminated in earning Arsenal’s Player of the Season award and a spot on England’s Euro roster last month. If there was a player on Arsenal’s roster with a shot of winning it, Saka is far and away that player.
Martinelli is another player who’s nomination surprises no one. After returning from a ligament injury that kept him sidelined until the second half of the season, he wasted no time reminding everyone of the kind of impact his movement, pace, nose for goal, and dribbling prowess brought into the side - qualities that were sorely missing from the Gunners for the first half of the season.
The other two Gunners on the list are a little more surprising. Folarin Balogun just signed his first first-team contract, but he has yet to feature for the Gunners in a Premier League match. The hype surrounding his success for the U-23 side has gotten plenty of fans excited for his potential, and now that hype has caught the eye of the committee responsible for selecting the nominees. Save for a breakout season of historical proportions, he’s probably just happy to be recognized.
William Saliba’s inclusion should raise some eyebrows, largely because of the massive drum of gasoline it throws onto the “will Arteta actually play him?” fires that have been stoked ever since he joined the club and was quickly sent on (a largely successful) loan to Ligue 1 side Nice. We have heard plenty about his tremendous ceiling, but it’s going to be another two months before we see if Arteta rates him enough to give him a shot. Does this nomination change anything? Probably not. Will it give us plenty to talk about? Absolutely.
It will be quite some time before the wheat starts to separate from the chaff on the nominees list, but hopefully we see all four Gunners stick around on the list as it starts to whittle down to a final handful of players.