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The Arsenal wonderkids who could save Arteta millions

09:00 BST 14/05/2020
Reiss Nelson Bukayo Saka Arsenal Premier League 2019-20
The Gunners have some exciting young talents who could now get a real chance to shine due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Football is on the verge of massive change.

The coronavirus pandemic has suddenly turned off the tap and the money well is already starting to run dry. Even the wealthiest of clubs are looking nervously at their balance sheets.

At Arsenal, it is no different. In fact, when it comes to the Premier League’s top six clubs, the north London giants are perhaps going to be hardest hit in the short term by the Covid-19 crisis.

They may have a billionaire owner in Stan Kroenke but, unlike the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, they operate to a self-sustaining model.

For years under Arsene Wenger, that was a model that still allowed them to compete, thanks to a two-decade long run in the Champions League.

However, three seasons outside Europe’s elite competition has now taken a major toll on the club’s finances. In December, Arsenal announced a loss of £27.1 million ($34m) for the year 2018-19 – the club’s first operating loss since 2002.

Worryingly, that number could soon start to pale into insignificance, given the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic is now having on the revenue that clubs previously thought they could rely on.

With games set to be played behind closed doors for a "significant amount of time", according to the UK Government, Arsenal are set to lose huge amounts of cash.

Matchday revenue accounts for 24 per cent of Arsenal’s turnover. Without it, the north Londoners are facing up to a massive financial blackhole. The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust estimates the club could suffer a loss of up to £144m ($176m) if the entire 2020-21 campaign is staged behind closed doors.

The catastrophic loss of finances means that transfer business this summer – and in future windows – is going to look very different.

At Arsenal right now, this summer's transfer window is not a priority. The priority for head of football Raul Sanllehi, managing director Vinai Venkatesham, owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and board members is instead trying to guide the club through one of the most challenging periods in its entire history.

Of course, there will be deals done when the window opens but the expectation across the game now is there will be far more loans than usual, while swap deals could also become more commonplace as clubs look to find creative ways of adding to their squad.

However, clubs are also expected to turn to youth in the coming seasons and, at Arsenal, there are plenty of young players coming through who could benefit from a reduction in big-money signings.

Arsenal is already a club known for giving youth a chance but, now more than ever, the Gunners could find themselves turning to the talent being produced at the Hale End academy as a way of supplementing Mikel Arteta’s first-team squad.

So, below, we take a look at some of the best youngsters who could end up saving Arsenal millions in the transfer market over the next few years.

  • Bukayo Saka Arsenal 2019-20

    Bukayo Saka

    Bukayo Saka was fast-tracked towards the Arsenal senior squad from a young age.

    The versatile winger was just 18 when he made his debut two years ago, in the Europa League, and has now become a first-team regular.

    Prior to the coronavirus-enforced suspension of play in the Premier League, Saka had made 29 appearances during the 2019-20 season, scoring three goals and setting up nine – despite playing mainly at left-back.

    Consequently, he is already regarded as one of the most talented youngsters in the Premier League and he is only going to get better as he matures and gets more experience in the English top flight.

    The one big worry is his contract. His current deal expires in the summer of 2021 and talks have yet to lead to an extension.

    Arsenal remain calm about the situation, though, as they believe Saka will soon put pen to paper. If that happens, then Arteta will be able to count on a player who has all the attributes to become a fixture in the first team for years to come.

  • Reiss Nelson, Arsenal celebrate vs Leeds

    Reiss Nelson

    When Arteta talks about Reiss Nelson, the Spaniard's eyes light up.

    The Arsenal boss first worked with the attacker when he spent some time coaching the youth teams while recovering from an injury during his playing career at the Emirates.

    Nelson was just 16 at the time but Arteta knew he was a special talent: “Straightaway, he caught my eye.

    “I think he has been a little bit confused in the last few years – what direction he had to take, some of the decisions that he made. Now, I can see he really wants it and I think he has the potential to do whatever he wants.”

    Arteta is correct when he says Nelson had perhaps become a bit side-tracked. When he burst onto the scene in such exciting style during Arsenal’s pre-season tour to Australia and China in 2017, many expected him to quickly become a mainstay in the senior team.

    But it hasn’t worked out like that. Nelson found it difficult to make an impact and was sent out on loan to Germany, where, after a bright start with Hoffenheim, he began to struggle for game time under Julian Nagelsmann.

    However, Nelson’s talent can’t be doubted and in Arteta he now has a coach who believes in him and is willing to work closely with him to ensure he gets the best out of that obvious potential.

    Arteta has been credited with taking the like Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane to the next level while at Manchester City, so Arsenal will be hoping he can do the same for Nelson.

  • Emile Smith Rowe Arsenal 2019-20

    Emile Smith Rowe

    After enduring a difficult 2019 plagued by a persistent groin injury, Emile Smith Rowe had enjoyed a fine start to 2020 before football was brought to a halt.

    Arsenal wanted him to go out on loan to get regular football, so the attacking midfielder opted to spend the remainder of the current campaign with Championship outfit Huddersfield, turning down several offers from elsewhere to link up with Terriers boss Danny Cowley.

    The 19-year-old has been a revelation in Yorkshire, showing why so many at Arsenal believe he has the talent to become a star in north London.

    "Smith Rowe has completely changed the dynamic of the Town attack," Opta analyst David Hartrick said on 'Ooh To Be A...', the ExaminerLive's Huddersfield Town podcast.

    "Getting to see him play more in a Huddersfield Town shirt before the end of the season – whenever that is – will be a very bright thing.

    "And every Town fan, I would suggest, should try and watch him at least once so they can say, when he does get his full England cap, I remember watching him in a Town shirt."

    With Mesut Ozil approaching the final year of his contract at Arsenal and Dani Ceballos heading back to Real Madrid at the end of his loan spell this summer, the pathway to a regular first-team spot is beginning to clear for Smith Rowe, who has the ability to become the Gunners' new creative hub.

  • Tyreece John-Jules Arsenal 2018/19

    Tyreece John-Jules

    On account of Eddie Nketiah’s emergence in recent seasons, it’s perhaps been easy to overlook the impressive strides made by Tyreece John-Jules.

    However, the 19-year-old is an immensely talented forward, one who perhaps has a better all-round game than Nketiah, who specialises in penalty-box finishes.

    John-Jules is certainly a strong No.9, a striker who can score goals but also bring others into play thanks to his strength with his back to goal.

    He moved to Lincoln City on loan in January but, after scoring on his debut, ran into injury problems and saw the loan cut short.

    However, John-Jules is highly rated by Arteta and is, therefore, still being tipped to make a big impact at the Emirates.

    “When he was with us, I was impressed with him,” said Arsenal’s head coach. “His understanding of the game, how he links with the people around him, how powerful he is. He has got a goal in him."

    Another loan move will be on the agenda for John-Jules next season, possibly to the Championship. But there is a genuine hope that it won’t be too long before he will be backing knocking on Arteta’s door.

  • Folarin Balogun - England

    Folarin Balogun

    One thing Arsenal are not short of at the moment is promising young strikers.

    The London Colney talent factory keeps churning out No.9s, with Folarin Balogun following Nketiah and John-Jules off the production line.

    Balogun’s progress has developed a lot over the past 18 months, so much so, in fact, that Brentford offered £5m for the England youth international in January – despite the fact he has never even made an Arsenal first-team squad.

    The fact that the Gunners rejected the bid out of hand shows how much they rate the teenager, who has scored 10 goals and provided four assists in 15 Premier League 2 games this season.

    Balogun is strong, can run with the ball at his feet and is not afraid to shoot from distance.

    Anyone who was at Barnet last summer and saw the six-minute hat-trick he scored during a pre-season friendly between the non-league side and an Arsenal XI will be well aware of his talent.

  • Sam Greenwood Arsenal

    Sam Greenwood

    Signed from Sunderland in 2018, Sam Greenwood is one of the most high-profile players progressing through Arsenal’s youth ranks.

    The England Under-19s international turned down a move to Manchester United to join the Gunners and has already made a big impact in a short amount of time in north London.

    Indeed, there were even strong suggestions last summer that he would be on the move again, with Juventus and AC Milan keen to lure him to Italy.

    However, Greenwood ended that speculation when he signed his first professional contract with Arsenal in September and he has since gone on to get some exposure to Arteta’s squad during training sessions at London Colney.

    The teenager scored 10 goals and provided five assists as Arsenal Under-18s won the title in 2018-19 and he had netted six times during the current campaign before the season was stopped.

  • Miguel Azeez - Arsenal

    Miguel Azeez

    Many view Miguel Azeez as the most exciting prospect at Arsenal, with the midfielder expected to soon start making a push for some involvement with the first team.

    Azeez can play in an advanced playmaker role, although he has been used primarily as a deep-lying midfielder for the Under-18s this season – but one who can use his energy and long stride to get forward to support the attack when he can.

    Excellent with the ball at his feet, Azeez has impressive technique and likes to take players on. He demonstrated his shooting ability with a fabulous volley against Brighton in the FA Youth Cup in February.

    Like Greenwood, he signed his first professional contract in September and his aim now will be to start getting more game time with the Under-23s before perhaps earning himself a spot in Arteta’s squad for a cup game in the next couple of seasons.