It has been an eventful year for Arsenal at youth level, one that will give them renewed optimism for future seasons.
Arsenal u19s crashed out of the UEFA Youth League at the group stage phase whilst the u18s crashed out of the FA Youth Cup with a surprise defeat at home against Blackburn Rovers. To their credit though, the Academy squad continued to progress as the domestic season continued, here are the Daily Cannon youth awards for this season:
This accolade goes to the player who has featured most regularly among the senior squad and it’s slightly disappointing that Ainsley Maitland-Niles hasn’t featured even more than he has this season.
He’s a leader within the u23 set-up and has consistently delivered quality with experience in midfield, though he needs more competitive minutes under his belt.
EFL and FA Cup appearances are no longer enough for him, it’s definitely time for another loan spell – why not one in the top flight next term?
Individual skill, physicality, awareness and technical ability. Plus, some long-awaited revenge. This goal had it all – Reiss Nelson’s strike against Blackburn Rovers at u18 level.
Shrugging off his marker with ease, his quick feet proved decisive as he remained unfazed before twisting and turning his way to create a yard of space for himself. Seconds later, his well-struck effort left the goalkeeper helplessly sprawling towards the top corner.
The first of a hat-trick for him before the interval, this fixture provided Reiss – who had just recovered from a minor injury – the perfect chance for revenge after a dubious sending off against Blackburn during the aforementioned Youth Cup defeat at Meadow Park, having been kicked and regularly taken out by cynical challenges.
u23 Player of the Season
It’s been a long season for the youngsters and none more so than Nelson who at 17, is easily Arsenal’s best youth player in my opinion.
Featuring for both the u18s and u23s when possible, he established himself as a mainstay in Steve Gatting’s side and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him loaned out at some stage, or alternatively given a senior debut next season.
His acceleration and attacking awareness in the final third mean he’s a menace for defenders to contain whilst he continues to add more goals into his game. Versatile in the sense that he can play on the wing, as a number ten and also further forward in attack, he continues to progress with experience and it’s a joy to watch him play.
Always keen to take the game by the scruff of its neck, he’d have so many more assists this term if not for inconsistency in-front of goal from team-mates.
A deserved winner of the award, Nelson has an attitude that younger players should try and emulate.
u18 Player of the Season
The 17-year-old striker has continued to impress at u18 level and even stepped up to u23 level with a number of substitute appearances.
15 goals in the u18s under Kwame Ampadu’s guidance, his goal-scoring form has boosted his chances of a breakthrough at a higher level – the same way that Reiss Nelson in particular broke through into the u23s last season.
Many supporters are already calling for a first-team promotion which might be premature yet, but if he continues to progress at a rapid rate, the former Chelsea forward could get used to scoring at the Emirates soon.
This one is tough, especially when you evaluate the impact that players have had across the whole campaign.
Kelechi Nwakali has impressed with MVV Maastricht, though he’ll be consciously making an effort to improve his goal contribution statistics. Marc Bola and Krystian Bielik excelled with Notts County and Birmingham respectively post-January, whilst goalkeeper Matt Macey continued to improve on a weekly basis at Luton Town before his recall.
However, Daniel Crowley also deserves some mention and considering how he’s been treated as a failed wonderkid in recent seasons, his performances with Go Ahead Eagles this term have been impressive so he’s my winner in this category.
Having completing more dribbles and key passes than any of his attack-minded teammates in a side that was destined for relegation months ago, it’s refreshing to see from a player who has struggled to kick on in recent seasons.
Crucially, he didn’t let his head drop and instead, raised his performances like we are used to seeing at youth level.
It’s near impossible to get through a season review without discussing Ben Sheaf, who would’ve won my award at u23 level had it not been for Nelson’s consistency in the final third.
Sheaf stepped into the centre-back role and has made it his own with a number of assured defensive displays, showing improvement in both positioning and anticipation in comparison to this time last year.
It cannot be long before the versatile 19-year-old makes his senior debut, surely?
Joe Willock and Donyell Malen have shown their ability in flashes when given the chance, whilst Vlad Dragomir has been the creative force in midfield for the u18s but hasn’t featured regularly enough at u23s level for me this term. Hopefully he can earn more chances next season.
Cohen Bramall has done well since his non-League move from Hednesford Town, but will be looking to improve his defensive qualities when out of possession. He regularly wins tackles and duels for possession but can be susceptible to a lapse in concentration if not kept busy in the later stages of matches.
As an attack-minded fullback though, he has impressed and uses his speed to good effect against defenders who struggle to isolate him once he gets going.
Chris Willock, for all his ability and potential, is a frustrating player.
In-between all of his flashy tricks, fancy flicks and skilled dribbling, l feel as though he needs to be more effective in the final third to justify the first-team assurances he reportedly wants before extending his deal.
Too often he complains to officials, gets frustrated and his decision-making can be disappointing too – so much so that his quality was overshadowed by both Nelson and Nketiah at the Emirates against Manchester United earlier this month.