Three Reasons Why Arsenal Fans Should Be Cheerful
When you exit the Arsenal tube station and turn right towards the old stands of Highbury, past Gillespie Park and over the bridge to the Emirates you really do feel a sense of history. The greats adorn flags on either side, whilst your eyes are drawn towards the various statues, quotes and pictures that are placed outside the wonderful stadium. Arsenal are a club of rich history, an unbeaten season and world-class players. But on this dreary night in August, it’s the turn of the next generation. The ‘Young Gunners’. The academy is famed for production youngsters of immense quality, and three of their brightest prospects were on show against a dangerous Fulham side.
For those unfamiliar with youth football or Arsenal; Gedion Zelalem, Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide are just names. But these three youngsters are some of the brightest in the next generation. All three are unique in their very own way, one has links to one of the best footballers ever to come out of Africa, another is destined to make it big with the USMNT. What they all have in common is spell-binding talent, pure skill and athleticism.
It was Reine-Adelaide who won many plaudits with a wonderful appearance in the Emirates Cup in pre-season, and it was quite apparent that one day he will grace the green carpet in North London. Reine-Adelaide has what all managers crave in a winger; the ability to run purposefully with the ball. According notes hastily scribbled in a fresh notepad, he took on and beat fullbacks with pace, power and skill. So often nowadays wingers are diminutive, he is quite the opposite. Whilst slight, Reine-Adelaide stands at around 6ft and is not easily knocked off the ball, similar to his team-mate Iwobi. One thing onlookers will note about Reine-Adelaide is his intellect, it’s rare to see a winger with such an understanding of the game as this age. His ability to play across the front four is key standout to his game, he just needs to understand how to put his stamp on the game.
Many football fans will remember Jay-Jay Okocha with his sublime skills, rainbow flicks and powerful shot. His nephew, Alex Iwobi, is no different – even the rolled down socks make an appearance. Iwobi has become a focal point for the under 21 squad after excelling at lower levels, finally earning a call up to the pre-season tour of Singapore. Iwobi is a delight to watch as he clicks up the gears whilst running directly at any opposing player. He is fearless, and rightly so, his ability to twist a defender into knots is invaluable creating space for his over lapping full-backs and for himself. Like his Uncle Jay-Jay he is full of tricks and flicks – it won’t be long before we see clips of Iwobi with Rio Ferdinand shouting “SILKS” over the top of it. It’s as if Iwobi commands the ball, he loves it a tells it what to do and most importantly it listens to him. He just needs to make the right decisions when in attacking areas, because although being selfish can be beneficial at this level of the game it may hinder him.
Gedion Zelalem is a curious case. Born in Berlin to Ethiopian parents he finally gained U.S. Citizenship in 2014, he emigrated to the States in 2006. The mark the American football players are making across the world is getting bigger, with younger players being found in elite academies throughout Europe. Zelalem will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of USMNT’s in the near future. When watching his number 8 shirt float around the pitch, the first thing you notice is awareness – his quick, sharp looks over his left and right shoulders. Dipping in and out spaces. Pick up, pass, move, find space, pass, move. It’s easy for him. What often lacks with players in this mould is power, but Zelalem has that too. His goal against Fulham summed his ability up perfectly; picking up the ball from deep, exchanging one twos with Kamara and Iwobi before bursting into the box and holding off a challenge before slotting left footed past a hapless keeper. He is a joy to watch and no doubt Arsenal fans will implore him in the very near future when lining up next to Özil, Cazorla et al.
When the three work together you are immersed into a realisation that the next generation of footballers are going to raise the bar even higher that the ones that are currently idolised. Their intelligence, athleticism and sheer power set them head and shoulders above those who oppose them. Arsenal have produced some incredible talent over their long history, these three are destined to be the next graduates from the Academy.