Arsenal's returning youngsters: Are they ready?

We go through some of Arsenal's brightest prospects and break down their performances and what their future holds.

Arsenal's returning youngsters: Are they ready?
Zelalem being unveiled at Rangers. | Image source: Rangers FC

Arsenal have a host of prospects coming back into the first-team fold after spells away in the 2015/16 season. Hw some of these players performed while plying their trade elsewhere? Do they? have what it takes to make the step-up. The focus, for the most part, will be Gedion Zelalem, Jon Toral, Dan Crowley and Chuba Akpom.

Gedion Zelalem – Rangers (34 appearances, 0 goals, 8 assists)

Zelalem celebrates.
Zelalem celebrates.

Gedion Zelalem spent the year in Scotland’s second tier whilst turning out for Rangers. The youngster first broke onto the scene in Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Asia and impressed in games against the Vietnam national team, the Indonesian Dream Team and Nahoya Grampus and was immediately handed the title of “the next Cesc Fabregas". While playing in Glasgow this year the 19-year-old has gained the backing of the fans despite never really showing too much of his ability.

Callum Hamilton of ‘Got the Battle Fever On’ has simply stated that Zelalem “hasn’t been good enough” and that “it’s been pretty much set up for him to nail down a place, and unfortunately his performances haven’t been able to match that.” His final ball and end product have drawn a lot of criticism with him garnering very few assists and failing to score even once. Getting eight assists in 26 games doesn’t look too bad for a central-midfielder but a lot of them have been simple lay-offs rather than outstanding pieces of skill or talent. Hamilton lambasted the youngster for being ponderous and making poor decisions on the ball.

So where does his future lie? Does another loan beckon or will he be kept in the first-team? A year with the under-21s will help him to develop if paired with sporadic substitute appearances in the league and cup. Being able to train with players like Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and the incoming Granit Xhaka will give him a wealth of experience to tap into and learn from. Regular appearances in the Capital One Cup and playing alongside Krystian Bielik for the reserves could be very beneficial for Arsenal in the long-term, as if both players develop as anticipated they could well be Arsenal’s midfield duo in the coming years.

Jon Toral – Birmingham (38 appearances, 8 goals, 3 assists)

Toral has been key for Birmingham.
Toral has been key for Birmingham.

The young Spaniard was sent on a well-travelled path to Birmingham, in the same move Sebastian Larsson and Nicklas Bendtner took before they broke into the first team picture at Arsenal. The omens are good for Toral with him cleaning house at Birmingham’s in-house awards; collecting the Players’ Player of the Seaoson and Supporter’s Player of the Season along with the Goal of the Season gong.

Eight goals in the Championship showcased the youngsters’ eye for goal despite playing in midfield with his volley against Ipswich showcasing his eye for the spectacular.

Toral has been very vocal about his hopes of being given a chance in the Arsenal squad next season but Birmingham are very eager to make his stay permanent. The ex-Barcelona starlet will look to follow in the steps of the player he made the switch to north London with, Hector Bellerin, and establish himself in the first team following a spell in the Championship. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for Toral’s development has been his injuries; with him spending time on the sidelines for two injuries in each knee. He will be very confident after a very strong season of performing consistently for the Blues and I think Wenger will give him a chance; even if it’s just for pre-season to see how he fits into the mould of the squad.

Dan Crowley – Barsnley (11 appearances, 0 goals, 1 assist)

Can Crowley make the step up?
Can Crowley make the step up?

Crowley is possibly the biggest disappointment in terms of players out on loan for the Gunners this season – bar possibly Serge Gnabry. The Coventry-born youngster was set to be at the League 1 side until January but seen his spell cut short after failing to impress management with his performances. The 18-year-old played a solid amount of first team minutes but never really settled at The Tykes and he was sent back to London in October.

Still just 18 years of age; Crowley has a lot left to give and has so much room to grow. Another spell away would be best for him but he still made a decent amount of appearances for the under-21 side. Crowley should come with Arsenal on their pre-season tour and training alongside players like Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla again could offer him a great opportunity to learn and improve his confidence.

Chuba Akpom – Hull (41 appearances, 7 goals, 1 assist)

Akpom celebrates.
Akpom celebrates.

Another loan spell for the forward has ended in a less than prolific period in the lower leagues. Akpom managed to net a meagre three goals in league competition while another three came in the one game against Bury in the FA Cup. In fairness to the speedy youngster; 17 of his 35 appearances in the Championship came off the bench – even still the numbers aren’t great for the England under-21 international.

Another spell is necessary for the pacy striker though. He showed last season in his many cameos that he’s not ready for Premier League football at a club like Arsenal. The ideal scenario is that he has his loan extended with Hull and that The Tigers gain promotion in the Play-Off final on Saturday. Experience in the top division on a regular basis would help Akpom come on leaps and bounds.

Overall it has been a mixed back in terms of performances out on loan from the brightest prospects at the Emirates. Gunners fans will be eagerly waiting to see the development of the future of the first team. The constant production line of quality players coming through the Arsenal youth teams are a great source of pride for Arsene Wenger and the board.