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Is Chuba Akpom the answer to Arsenal's striker problems?


When you’ve been at the same club since the age of six, you usually have an attachment and connection to the institution which only your fellow academy peers can understand.

Chuba Akpom is one of those youngsters, quite literally growing from a boy to a man at Arsenal. The 20-year-old forward had played at every level of the Gunners’ youth setup before making his first-team debut in 2013. As is the case with many young talents trying to prove themselves at Arsenal, Akpom has had short loan spells at Brentford, Coventry, Nottingham Forest and most recently Hull City.

It was on Humberside that Akpom finally made inroads at a crucial point in his career. He scored in his first two games against Huddersfield and Accrington Stanley before notching his first professional hat-trick against Bury in the FA Cup. Impressively, Akpom’s first full season in English football ended with promotion to the top flight and a cap for England Under-21s. Those kind of experiences turn a shy young boy such as Akpom into a determined, success-driven man.

"He’s going to be a very, very good," said then-Hull manager Steve Bruce.

"He’s still got a lot to learn. He’s still got to keep his feet on the ground and work hard at it but we’re starting to see him."

There is now a distinct possibility Akpom will get the chance to establish himself in the Arsenal first team as Olivier Giroud, returning late from Euro 2016, will not be match fit for the Premier League opener against Liverpool. While the majority of fans, pundits and even players accept to the widely held opinion that Arsene Wenger’s side will not win the Premier League without a high-profile new striker to help Giroud, it is Akpom who is quietly making an impact on and off the pitch. 

Since returning for pre-season training, the Newham-born hotshot has scored in two consecutive friendlies on Arsenal’s tour of the United States. Both were finishes with all the hallmarks of a clinical goal poacher. The Gunners' coaching staff have been highly impressed with Akpom’s work ethic in training and somewhat surprised at how he looks sharper than the likes of Theo Walcott, a player who spent much of the summer in the gym after hiring a personal trainer. 

Wenger’s search for a new striker has not produced a signing so far. The pursuit of Jamie Vardy failed after he rejected Arsenal to sign a contract extension at Leicester, while a bid for Alexandre Lacazette has been turned down by Lyon, who are currently drawing up a new deal for their talismanic frontman. Talks continue between the two clubs over Lacazette, but Arsenal's slim chances of doing business before August 14 could be to Akpom’s gain. Despite playing just 28 minutes of Premier League football, he is in with a genuine chance of starting up front against Liverpool when the two teams meet at Emirates Stadium.

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If Akpom has any doubts about being good enough to lead the line for Arsenal, he only has to look at fellow academy graduate Alex Iwobi for encouragement. The Nigerian broke into the first team last season and there is no doubt that he will be given further opportunities in 2016-17. Iwobi's highlights include starting in Champions League matches against Bayern Munich and Barcelona and also featuring in the north London derby. If any young player is likely to follow in his footsteps this season, it is probably Akpom.

Based on what we have seen so far this summer, Akpom should now be ahead of Theo Walcott in the pecking order unless Walcott can suddenly rediscover his form during Arsenal's pre-season-concluding trip to Scandinavia. Joel Campbell is more likely to be used on the wing, while the absent Yaya Sanogo has been told that he needs to go out on loan.

Whoever Wenger selects on day one, now would seem to be his best chance to challenge Akpom to become a first-team regular. It happened with Iwobi and there is no reason why it cannot happen with a player who looks set to join his long-time team-mate and friend as a Nigeria international. Wenger has always given youth a chance when he feels the player is ready and there is no time like the present for one of his most highly rated academy graduates since Jack Wilshere.