English Debate: Which Young Gunners Will Make The Grade?

Arsene Wenger's fledglings continue to impress in the Carling Cup. Realistically, only a handful of these players will make the cut at Arsenal. Goal.com's Alan Dawson looks through the class of '08 and states who he thinks will have the necessary grades to pass Le Prof's sterling tests...
Goalkeeper:

Lukasz Fabianski -
During the 5-1 demolition job Tottenham Hotspur inflicted on Arsenal's second string in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup last season, Fabianski looked nervy and out of his depth. That experience was to act as a learning curve, though, as his recent performances prove. He is currently playing understudy to Manuel Almunia and captained a young side to a 3-0 scalping of Wigan Athletic in Tuesday evening's League Cup win. His continental style nearly cost Arsenal in the first half when he failed to collect box-bound balls, but he made amends with a fine double-save late in the second 45. He parried the first and reacted quickly to thwart Amr Zaki's follow-up strike. He has the potential to dominate the area but needs to learn when to come for the ball and when to sit back and allow his defence to clear, rather than get caught between two minds. At 23 years of age he is still fetal in goalkeeping terms. An opportunity to regularly try out as number one in the primary competitions surely awaits him, but the Polish international will have to be patient as Almunia is entering his peak years. If Lukasz gets itchy feet then he could share a similar fate to Stuart Taylor, now playing second fiddle to Brad Friedel at Aston Villa.


Potential future pupils
: Vito Mannone; Wojciech Szczesny; Sean McDermott


Defence:

Gavin Hoyte
-
The younger brother of former Gunner Justin Hoyte, Gavin is already the more astute sibling in terms of defensive ability. He is athletic, versatile and quick. Like Kieran Gibbs he faces stiff competition from the current incumbents of the first team's full-back slots. Bacary Sagna, Emmanuel Eboue and even Kolo Toure can cover in the most urgent of crises, but Hoyte - captain of the reserves - poses an interesting problem for Wenger, and the Frenchman holds the Englishman in high regard. Prior to his promotion to the reserves he also wore the armband for the Under 18s, so his leadership skills together with Arsenal's perceived lack of natural leaders could also play in the 18-year-old's favour.

Alexandre Song Billong -
One of the more 'senior' members of the group. Song was one of the stand-out performers in the African Cup of Nations at the turn of the year, and with no natural defensive midfielder brought in over the summer to replace the outgoing Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto, Song's name was put forth as a possible partner for Cesc Fabregas. Wenger, though, thinks differently. During the final five games of the season last term Song was played in defence, as he was again on Tuesday evening when he contained a striker tipped for the Premier League golden boot: Amr Zaki. He was calm and composed in a young backline against Wigan Athletic, and seemed to have a good understanding with centre-back partner Johan Djourou. His Premier League outings this season have been less than stunning, but he has been utilised in a number of positions. At 6'0" he is of a similar height to William Gallas and Kolo Toure. His athleticism and ability to dribble the ball out of defence are key attributes, but he offers little to what Arsenal's first-choice duo already have and his inconsistent form could act against him, as Wenger may look to concentrate on developing the talents of even younger players like Havard Nordveit or Ignasi Miquel.

Johan Djourou -
With Phillipe Senderos enjoying a Milanese loan spell, Swiss international Johan Djourou is the tallest centre-back on the books at Arsenal. He was guilty of a handball during the Latic clash but the offence went unpenalised by referee Steve Tanner. Like Song, Djourou is capable of starting play from defence - he helped set up Arsenal's third goal and Carlos Vela's first. He is good in the air and his height advantage could see him picked against teams that are dangerous from set pieces. He made his Gunners debut over four years ago, though, and is arguably in the Carling Cup side to provide the experience on this stage. If he were to make a sustained breakthrough to the first team he may have already done so by now.

Kieran Gibbs -
If Gael Clichy is the reincarnate of Ashley Cole, then Kieran Gibbs is the second coming of Armand Traore. Both seem more competent going forward and supplementing the attack rather than staying deep, tackling, and moving forward with the ball. In a 4-2-3-1 formation this would work tremendously well, as the two defensive midfielders can sit and cover while the full-backs provide the necessary width. However, in Arsenal's system, if Gibbs wants to cut it at left-back then he needs to work on his defensive discipline so that his tackling and positional sense is as strong as his forward runs and link-up play. He could enjoy a prosperous career in the top flight but, with so much competition in front of him at Arsenal and a hit-and-miss loan spell at Norwich behind him, he may need to leave Ashburton Grove in order to find it.


Potential future pupils: Kerrea Gilbert; Havard Nordveit; Armand Traore


Special mention: Ignasi Miquel - Was a Barcelona reject but kept his feet in the game and prior to Arsenal securing his signature for £500,000 from lower league Cornella, European heavyweights Villarreal and Manchester United were sniffing around. He is only 16 years of age but he is taller than most grown men! Miquel is an imposing figure that could develop into a defensive rock and, unlike Arsenal's current crop of first-choice defenders, his greatest asset is his aerial strength.


Midfield:

Jack Wilshere -
Who says Arsene Wenger does nothing for English football? The hype is shifting away from pacey winger Theo Walcott and onto fluent playmaking midfielder Jack Wilshere. His rise to prominence has been quick, and with good reason. He can pick a pass, he is finely balanced and, although the Latics tried to muscle him off the ball, Wilshere stood strong despite the fact that he can not legally drink himself legless - better save that man-of-the-match bottle of sparkly plonk for another 14 months, Jackie! It would not be surprising to see him tested in the Premier League, as he has already made the seven-man bench for some fixtures this season, including the Emirates visit of Manchester United. His touch and technique are superb, and he knows where the net is. He enjoyed a good run in the U 18s last campaign, a few games in the reserves, a good pre-season with the first team, and is currently reaping the rewards. Wenger has hinted that he has the same potential as Cesc Fabregas, but is a better dribbler on the ball. With Barcelona looking to make a £30 million swoop for their Catalan youth product now blossoming at Arsenal, the speedy development of academy graduate Jack Wilshere, together with the ducats changing hands, may soften the blow of a summer loss...

Mark Randall -
Arsenal have seen three defensive midfielders leave north London this year - Lassana Diarra, Gilberto and Mathieu Flamini - yet Wenger only added young French anchor Francis Coquelin and Welsh sensation Aaron Ramsey. Mark Randall's competition for the shielding role is therefore limited, but he has shown thus far that he lacks the ability to be trusted in the bigger competitions. His decision making is poor. Instead of playing the right pass he'd try an audacious one. He goes for the fancy instead of the simple, and gives the ball away with too much regularity. His midfield team-mate Aaron Ramsey has already been offered more Premier League chances in the first team than Randall has in his entire Arsenal career, and Ramsey is two years younger.

Aaron Ramsey -
His rugby-playing past could play into his favour more so than first realised. Arsenal are often criticised for lacking the necessary bite in midfield, and even former Liverpool legend Alan Hansen said this week that Arsenal's away form is lacking because they have not honed in on the physical aspect of the game. Upon Ramsey's arrival in north London, goalkeeping coach Bob Wilson spoke of his excitement at a midfield partnership of Fabregas and Ramsey, which confused certain people who saw the Welshman's ideal position on the wings or further up field, as a deeper role would seemingly stifle his attacking flair. But he seems capable anywhere across the midfield line, can pick a pass from deep and, like Wilshere, is strong on the ball. Also, like Fabregas, he seems content to play for the assist rather than the glory of finding the goal. He has outstanding technique and was a wise - and brilliant - summer purchase from Wenger considering the competition from Manchester United. The future of Arsenal's midfield is secure if Ramsey and Wilshere both stay at the club - and if they do, the media will no doubt lay off Wenger's back because they are both British.

Fran Merida -
The Arsenal training ground in Hertfordshire may as well be renamed the home of the pass. Merida's recent efforts will be eclipsed by those of Ramsey and Wilshere, but Fran is the one whom makes the midfield tick. He will hardly misplace a pass and has an understanding in the middle of the park like Ruud van Nistelrooy has on the rebound. He has an in-depth reading of the game and has shown in recent matches precisely why Barcelona were equally as miffed about the loss of Merida as they were with the departure of Fabregas. He is perhaps not as ready as Ramsey and Wilshere, but will see increased pitch time next season.


Potential future pupils: Henri Lansbury; Pedro Botelho; Emmanuel Frimpong; Cedric Evina; Nacer Barazite


Special mention: Francis Coquelin - Signed in the summer from little-known French side Stade Lavallois but enjoyed a good pre-season with Arsenal's first team. Is a combative and strong defence-minded midfielder with a good range of passing and is in the Makelele/ Diarra mould. At 17 years of age he is some way off Premier League quality, but could quite feasibly develop into a force.


Attack:

Carlos Vela -
He is there already. Arsene Wenger has dubbed Vela, 19, the best finisher at Arsenal, which is some accolade considering they are still paying Eduardo da Silva's wages. A bargain buy in 2005 for £125,000 Vela spent the past three years in Spain while he obtained a work permit to play in England. His hat-trick against Sheffield United in the third round was awe-inspiring, and his deft dink over Chris Kirkland on Tuesday evening was a near replica of his second goal against Paddy Kenny and the Blades. Murmurs of his quality - he repeatedly made a mug of Sergio Ramos during an Osasuna and Real Madrid fixture last season - filtered through to England over the past couple years and now Premier League fans are seeing it first hand. Arsenal have abundant options up front with Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo da Silva, Theo Walcott, and now Carlos Vela. While the Mexican will push for a place and will no doubt be gifted the opportunities to impress in the league like he has the Carling Cup, the same can sadly not be said for two-goal hero Jay Simpson.

Jay Simpson -
He has an unselfish style, he runs the lines and also through the centre getting himself into great positions, and he is comfortable in front of goal as displayed with his two assured finishes against Wigan Athletic. He was on loan at Millwall last season, played over 40 games, and was eventually named the PFA Fans' Player of the Season. His talent is undoubtable, and if he were at any other Premier League club he would have been talked up more so than he currently is at Arsenal. The hype of Arsenal's young forwards though currently falls on the shoulders of Carlos Vela and Theo Walcott, so Simpson will, unfortunately, find it increasingly difficult moving up the ranking as seventh-choice striker.


Potential future pupils
: Giles Sunu; Luke Freeman; Rui Fonte; Sanchez Watt


Special mention: Benik Afobe - Benik is two years ahead of schedule and last season, at 14-years old (now 15), was banging in the goals for fun (he netted 40 times in 33 appearances!). He is a pacey forward full of tricks, flicks and flair. He is good in the air and on the ground and is yet another fantastic youth prospect. He is English, too. To put things in perspective, he is in year ten at school and will take his GCSEs not this summer, but the one after that. Last month he scored twice for England Under 16s. Arsene Wenger has said in the past that he has a couple of 13/14-year-olds with so much ability that he can't teach them much more. The chances are that Afobe constitutes one component of the couple he was speaking of...


Alan Dawson


What are your thoughts on this subject? Out of Arsene Wenger's young guns, who do you think will likely make the grade and feature in the first team over the next few seasons considering the competition ahead of them? Is Jack Wilshere the diamond in Wenger's academy? Will Afobe grow up to outgun Ted Drake's old goalscoring feats? Goal.com wants to know what YOU think!!!