Over the past few season Arsenal fans have been treated to the joy of seeing an academy graduate become a squad player turned contributor turned regular starter. And it’s been several times over. Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, and perhaps soon to be Folarin Balogun. Before that there was Joe Willock, Serge Gnabry, Hector Bellerin, Alex Iwobi. And before Arsenal legends Cesc Fabregas, Jack Willshere, Keiran Gibbs, and so many more.
The Arsenal Academy cupboard does not look bare in the least with exciting prospects coming through at every position on the pitch. Here’s a quick rundown of their season and some players to watch for next season.
Table: Arsenal finished 3rd in the 13 team Premier League 2 table. From 26 matches, the Gunners had 10 wins, 11 draws (most in the league) and 5 losses. They ended up with 41 points, 13 points back from league winners Manchester City U23s. Their 56 goals placed them third best, but their defense ranked 8th by letting in 48 goals. While still a ways off the title, the 21/22 season was a marked improvement over the year before which saw Arsenal finish 10th and only secure their safety in the final weeks of the season.
- Folarin Balogun: While technically a senior squad member now, Balogun only needed half a season to become the U23s top scorer. 15 goals and 3 assists from just 13 games with the U23 side. Add in his new senior contract with Arsenal, plus 3G/3A with Middlesbrough in the Championship, and it’s easy to see why other clubs were hoping to pry him away from North London. Will he be Mikel Arteta’s #3 forward next season or off to a high-profile loan in a top flight?
- Mika Biereth: Whether Balogun was with the team or not, Biereth maintained his goal threat. With 12 goals and 5 assists from 26 matches, he really found his form this season, including an impressive hat-trick against Chelsea. With Nketiah and Balogun, plus an incoming forward, Biereth has plenty of time to continue his development. Hopefully next season he can land a loan move in League One or Two that will see him consistently getting minutes.
- Omari Hutchinson: There could have been five or six other players in this third spot. The U23s have very talented attackers, midfielders, defenders, and keepers coming through the ranks. Hutchinson had the highest goal+assist ratio of the regular contributors throughout the entire year (8 goals + 7 assists). Able to play throughout the midfield and attacking line, Hutchinson is a versitle player, much like Emile Smith Rowe.
What’s Next: With Balogun definitely on the senior game, whether with Arsenal or on loan, there are several exciting young talents to keep an eye on next season with the U23s. Left-back Lino Sousa moved up briefly from the U18s to score two goals in his two starts for the U23s. But the core of this team could be fairly unchanged until loans occur. Charlie Patino, Hutchison, Biereth, Marcelo Flores, Kido Taylor Hart and Salah Oulad M’Hand all remain in the 17-18 year old range. Also where might keeper Karl Hein get a big loan move to for the new year?
Table: The U18 league is split into two divisions - North and South - both comprised of 14 clubs. Arsenal finished fourth in the South division on 48 points, 14 back from leaders Southampton. That matches their final placement the season before and once again the U18s kept seeing some of their most talented players pull away to the U23s throughout the year.
- Khayon Edwards: He domianted at center forward this season for the U18s managing 16 goals and 5 assists from just 16 matches. That form earned him two starts with Arsenal’s U23s, one of which he scored, but his season was halted in early March due to injury. Once back to full fitness next season he could be pushing for a regular role among the U23s.
- Lino Sousa: Brought in from West Brom’s academy during the middle of the season played 10 times across left-back, center-back, and left midfielder. While he didn’t have the full season to shine at Hale End, he did impress. He should be a U23 regular in 22/23 or a candidate for a loan out to League Two.
- Reuell Walters: With Brooke Norton-Cuffy out on loan at Lincoln City, Walters had the space to thrive with the Arsenal academy sides. Still listed as part of the U18 squad (for now), he made 29 appearances across the two teams and Cup competitions. Like Sousa, he is capable of playing midfield and centerback at this level, but right-back seems to be his best position so far.
What’s Next: Which players from the current crop get moved into the U23s squad and which make the jump straight into a senior-level loan? Several other names to keep an eye on next season are Zack Awe (CB), Bradley Ibrahim (DM), Charles Sagoe Jr (AM), & Josh Robinson (CB).
Of each group which players do you think have the best chance of breaking through in the next few seasons? Like the recent attackers, can Arsenal’s academy develop one of these fullback, centerback, or goalkeeper prospects into someone challenging for the first team?