6 Hot Prospects Ready to Come Through the Arsenal Youth System

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2014

6 Hot Prospects Ready to Come Through the Arsenal Youth System

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    Although the signing of Mesut Ozil indicated that Arsenal are once again able to compete for the world's most valuable players, the club is still determined to make use of their successful youth academy.

    Speaking at the club's AGM in 2013, manager Arsene Wenger insisted:

    We make huge investments again in our youth policy. I believe that has to be the core and the strength of our club. If you go today through our squad, for example we have completed or partially educated Wojciech Szczesny, Carl Jenkinson, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Serge Gnabry  all these players who have made their debut in the Premier League with us.

    They know how we want to play, they know how we want to behave and they bring their qualities and these values to the team.

    Gnabry is one of several youngsters who are now exhibiting signs of being able to leave the youth system behind and graduate into fully fledged first-team members.

    Over the next few slides we highlight six of the academy's most promising footballers and attempt to identify the opportunity for them to make their mark at senior level.

Serge Gnabry

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    Serge Gnabry appears to be on the brink of breaking in to the Arsenal first team on a regular basis.

    Gnabry impressed enormously after being handed his fourth start of the season in the FA Cup third-round match with Tottenham. His direct running and powerful physique have earned him comparison with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and there is already talk of a potential shock call-up to this summer's World Cup.

    Arsene Wenger has underlined that it's vital for Gnabry to build on that superb display. Speaking to Arsenal.com immediately after the Spurs game, Wenger said:

    I am a strong believer in Serge, because I integrated him at the start of last season but let’s not make superstars with one game. The top level is [about] consistency but I believe the ingredients are there. He has to show he can turn up with these performances in every game.

    With Theo Walcott now out for the rest of the season, Gnabry has a fantastic opportunity to establish himself as a senior player.

    Given his physical and technical gifts, his progress seems inevitable.

Hector Bellerin

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    Hector Bellerin is currently out on loan with Watford. However, come next season, he is likely to be included permanently in Arsenal's first-team squad.

    Bellerin made his senior debut this season, coming on as a central midfielder during the League Cup tie with West Brom. However, his best position is as an attacking right-back. He arrived from Barcelona several years ago as a flying winger, but Arsenal have added defensive discipline to his game. The hope is that he will eventually become a complete full-back, equally effective at either end of the pitch.

    With doubts over the future of Bacary Sagna, whose contract expires at the end of the season, Bellerin could even find himself thrust into first-team contention as early as 2014/15. While he is unlikely to be ready to start games regularly next season, he will surely be guaranteed to start several Cup games as he adapts to the rigours of senior football.

Chuba Akpom

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    Chuba Akpom was one of the stars of Arsenal's preseason tour of Asia. With the Gunners enduring a shortage of strikers, Akpom was afforded plenty of game time to show off his intelligent movement and confident finishing.

    Akpom was rewarded with a Premier League debut in September, coming on during the latter stages of Arsenal's 3-1 win away to Sunderland.

    He has now joined Brentford on loan. The League One side are currently top of their table, and the acquisition of Akpom seems set to aid their promotion push.

    If Akpom can make a good impression at Brentford, he has a chance of being included in Arsene Wenger's preseason plans again next season. With Nicklas Bendtner and Ju-Young Park both set to leave the club this summer, there may yet be space in Arsenal's squad for a talented young forward like Akpom.

Gedion Zelalem

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    There are very high hopes at Arsenal for Gedion Zelalem.

    Earlier this month, ESPN speculated that the 16-year-old could be handed his first start in the FA Cup third-round tie with Tottenham. While that did not come to pass, it seems a matter of time until the young midfielder's perceptive passing is on show in the first team.

    Like Chuba Akpom, Zelalem came to prominence during Arsenal's preseason tour of Asia. However, his progress since then has been stalled by injury.

    Next season, Zelalem should be more physically mature and primed for the challenges of English football. This gifted midfielder is surely a star of the future.

Thomas Eisfeld

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    Thomas Eisfeld will always remember the 2013/14 season as the one in which he grabbed his first senior goal.

    Eisfeld's treasured moment came after he latched on to a Nicklas Bendtner through-ball to finish at the near post against West Brom in September's Capital One Cup tie.

    It was a characteristic way in which to announce himself to the national conscience. Eisfeld is a goalscoring midfielder in the Freddie Ljungberg mould, blessed with wonderful timing and cool finishing.

    The next stage of his development will probably be a loan deal. With more experience under his belt, Eisfeld should return in time to play a more prominent part in Arsenal's 2014/15 campaign.

Daniel Crowley

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    Teenage midfielder Daniel Crowley is already something of a underground sensation among the Arsenal fans.

    After being snatched from Aston Villa during the summer, Crowley has become known as one of the most glittering stars in the Arsenal academy. His quick feet and imagination have already earned him favourable comparisons with another graduate of the Gunners' youth scheme: Jack Wilshere.

    Crowley will probably be permitted to join up with the Arsenal squad when they embark on their preseason activities this summer. If he impresses, his progress could be fast-tracked. Talent, after all, matters more than mere age.