Arsenal’s Most Promising Young Players: A deeper look (Part 2)
By James Whiffing
This season has seen all three Arsenal managers (Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg and Mikel Arteta) consistently utilise the talented young players at their disposal, and they have ultimately not disappointed.
Arsenal are renowned for putting their faith in youngsters throughout the years; a trend seemingly started by the legendary Arsene Wenger, who promoted the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin (to name a few) to the first team. They began to blossom into important members of the side in the latter years of his reign as Gunners boss. With Hale End becoming a breeding ground for top young talent in recent years, it should come as no surprise to see several breakthroughs from Arsenal's young players this season.
Matteo Guendouzi (20 years old)
Matteo Guendouzi was bought into Arsenal from FC Lorient in Ligue 2 for £7.2 million in the Summer of 2018; a fee which shows looks like something of a bargain now, with the Frenchman’s estimated value now around £50 million.
Guendouzi is often perceived to be at a later development stage than the likes of Nelson and Willock, and people seem to forget that he is still only 20. This is probably because of the huge amount of game time he has had- Guendouzi has made 32 appearances across all competitions this season for the Gunners, registering 3 assists along the way.
The 20-year-old also has an impressive 89% pass completion rate this season, as well managing an exceptional 8.3 deep progressions per 90 minutes last campaign. It’s clear where his strengths lie- Guendouzi is a reliable and consistent ball player who is effective at playing expansive passes from deep and driving the team forward with aggressive bursts from midfield.
Where Guendouzi has struggled is fitting into a structured system under Arteta, rather than the chaotic one he played in under Emery. He has positional discipline problems, and thus often leaves his back four exposed- Arteta has evidently began working on improving this aspect of his game.
With reported interest from PSG and recent call-ups to the French National Team, Guendouzi’s talent is there for all to see, it just needs some toning. Arteta could be the man to do that.
Bukayo Saka (18 years old)
Bukayo Saka has been excellent this campaign for the Gunners, making 28 appearances and registering 3 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, in 2,008 minutes of football. The Englishman is predominately a left-winger, although has been deployed at left-back due to injuries to Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac. He has been exceptional in this role considering his limited experience there, and has formed an excellent partnership with Gabriel Martinelli down that side.
Saka has also solidified his place in the England under-19 squad, with the winger scoring 4 and assisting 3 in all competitions for the Young Lions. His willingness to adapt and learn the left-back role has won over the admiration of Arteta, who has recently expressed his desire to tie the 18-year-old down to a new long-term contract.
Saka has registered an 82% pass success rate, as well as a 76% dribble success rate and a 43% tackle success rate. His superb xA per 90 in the Europa League this season of 0.52 demonstrates his creative assets. He’s pacey, direct running style and quality of deliveries from out wide are reminiscent of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane, someone Arteta helped develop into a world class player.
Gabriel Martinelli (18 years old)
Gabriel Martinelli has undeniably been the Arsenal player who has most overly exceeded expectations this season. At just £6 million from Ituano, a Brazilian regional side, no-one could have foreseen the impact he has made. The Brazilian has been on fire this campaign for the Gunners, making 26 appearances, scoring 10 and assisting 5 in just 1,463 minutes, making that a goal contribution every 98 minutes.
Martinelli has averaged a 73% pass success rate, as well as a 51% dribble completion rate- an indication of his erratic nature, but also his willingness to take risks in possession. His relentless work rate stands out- Martinelli chases the ball and pressures opponents constantly, whether it's in the opposition's half or his own box; this trait is similar to that of former Gunner Alexis Sanchez.
His outstanding xG+xA per 90 in the Europa League this season of 0.92 demonstrates his ability to both create goal-scoring opportunities and get into them. Whilst his talent does need maturing and nurturing, the raw technical ability and pace is there for him to develop into a world class player.
Martinelli's outstanding form has seen several of Europe's biggest clubs show interest in him with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool keeping a close eye on the Brazilian. However, Arsenal are set to treble the teenager's wages from £10,000 a week to £30,000 a week in order to ward off other clubs from one of their prized assets: and deservedly so.