There is absolutely no denying the talent that Hale End possesses, with the likes of Reiss Nelson, Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles all featuring and impressing for the Gunners’ first team during the first half of the 2019/20 season.
However, with every crop of new and exciting players that come through the prestigious Arsenal academy, there are a few that inevitably slip through the cracks.
In the past, the likes of Serge Gnabry, Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, Alex Iwobi, Krystian Bielik and Ismael Bennacer have all departed the north London club in search of regular first-team football with varying degrees of success.
More recently, Hale End graduates Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe have struggled to feature regularly for Arsenal’s senior team having impressed at Under-23 level, with the former sealing a summer loan move, albeit unsuccessful, to Leeds United as part of his development.
With the January recall of Nketiah and Smith Rowe already at the club, it is apparent that the pair are expected to imminently join Championship clubs on loan for the remainder of the 2019/20 season. Smith Rowe is expected to join Huddersfield, while a number of clubs including Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday are vying for Nketiah’s signature.
While that may prove to be frustrating for both players, who will no doubt be eager to prove their worth to new head coach Mikel Arteta, a loan move may prove to be imperative in the development of two extremely talented gems and their respective futures at Arsenal.
Joining the academy at the age of ten, Emile Smith Rowe has gone on to represent Arsenal at every age level, which resulted in a first-team competitive debut against Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League on 20 September 2018. The 19-year-old has since contributed three goals in 12 senior appearances for Arsenal, including goals against Qarabag in the Europa League, and against Blackpool in the Carabao Cup.
Having featured a paltry six times for the first-team in the 2019/20 season at the time of writing, it is evident that the dynamic attacking midfielder would largely benefit from a six-month loan away from the Emirates Stadium.
With Mesut Özil, Dani Ceballos and, to an extent, Joe Willock all vying for a position in the attacking midfield role, Smith Rowe has an abundance of competition for his preferred position.
The benefits of a loan move for Smith Rowe are conspicuous; he would build up the confidence needed to challenge for a regular spot in Mikel Arteta’s first team upon the conclusion of the 19/20 campaign, while also developing his attributes as an attacking midfielder.
Known for its fierce and competitive nature, the Championship is the ideal breeding ground for any player looking to build strength and, with a number of injuries hindering his development, this would be ideal for Smith Rowe.
With a view to retain a spot in Aidy Boothroyd’s England’s squad for the UEFA Euro Under-21 Championships in 2021, a loan move would best serve Smith Rowe, who would be able to gain match fitness and attempt to break through into Arteta’s and Boothroyd’s respective squads.
Moreover, the youngster can take inspiration from the fact that, a decade ago, Aaron Ramsey found himself in a similar situation. On the periphery of Arsene Wenger’s squad, Ramsey secured consecutive loan deals to Championship sides Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City, eventually building up fitness, confidence and subsequently staking an undisputed place in Wenger’s starting XI for the following nine years before sealing a move to Juventus, one of the world’s biggest clubs.
Another Hale End graduate whose rise at Arsenal has come amid a real sense of competition for places, Eddie Nketiah would substantially benefit from a six-month loan move until the completion of the 2019/20 season.
Having featured for Arsenal at Under-18, Under-20 and Under-23 level, Nketiah made his competitive senior debut for the Gunners during a 4-2 victory over BATE Borisov in the 2017/18 edition of the Europa League. Since then, the 20-year-old striker has scored three goals in 19 appearances for the Gunners, including a brace in a 2-1 victory over Norwich in the 2017/18 Carabao Cup fourth round.
Despite an unsuccessful loan spell at Leeds United, a host of other Championship clubs are all competing for the striker’s signature until the end of the season, which is a testament to the talent that Nketiah possesses.
With a forward line that consists of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pépé, Gabriel Martinelli, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka, Nketiah would no doubt benefit from some regular minutes elsewhere as he would struggle to fit into this current Arsenal side.
Nketiah’s qualities are his pace, positioning and lethal finishing, with very few his age better at reading the game and having that knack of being in the right place at the right time. With Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday all in the top half of the table, Nketiah would surely relish the opportunity to become the focal point of attack in either one of those sides and further develop his attacking qualities.
Despite having already scored five goals in the qualifying rounds of England’s Under-21 Euro 2021 Championships, Nketiah faces competition from Liverpool’s
Despite an abundance of talent at youth level, it is highly unlikely that every future talent will make it at a top European club such as Arsenal. However, gaining vital experience in lower or foreign leagues is the best way to build character, gain experience and prepare for the eventuality of first team football or the possibility of being released.
Nketiah and Smith Rowe have nothing to lose from a short-term loan away from the Emirates as both are/would currently struggle to feature regularly in Arteta’s starting 11. Sometimes it is necessary to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. Take Calum Chambers for example, who endured successive loan spells at Middlesbrough and Fulham and reaped the benefits with a string of impressive performances for Arsenal.
The good news is both Nketiah and Smith Rowe have plenty of time to gain the necessary experience to make it at the very highest level and, being contracted to Arsenal, they already have a foothold in one of the biggest clubs in world football.