Mikel Arteta has handed eight teenagers debuts across his time in charge of Arsenal.
The Spaniard mentioned in his press conference ahead of Saturday’s game against Manchester City that nobody has given more youngsters opportunities than the Arsenal boss himself.
Emile Smith Rowe, Folarin Balogun and Miguel Azeez are among the names Arteta has blooded in the first team – but could that list be broadened out even more?
Academy graduates Bukayo Saka and Smith Rowe are now mainstays of the Arsenal first team, with other youngsters hoping to get their opportunity this season in the cup competitions.
At just 19-years-old, Omar Rekik has become the leader at Under-23s level for Arsenal.
Netherlands-born Rekik, a senior Tunisian international who has previously played at youth level for the likes of Feyenoord, Manchester City, PSV and Marseille, was assured by Arsenal academy manager Per Mertesacker that he will get to train regularly with the first team when he joins.
Rekik, a left sided centre back who has been playing on the left and in defensive midfield, received offers from clubs across Europe, with his brother Karim – who plays in the same position – leaving Hertha to join Spanish giants Sevilla on a five-year contract earlier in the year.
The signing follows a long list of players Arsenal have added to their Under-23’s set-up over the past year.
Among the names to arrive are Nikolaj Moller (Malmo), Jonathan Dinzeyi (Tottenham), Tim Akinola (Huddersfield), George Lewis (Fram Larvik), Joel Ideho (Ajax U18) and Catalin Cirjan who have all been signed by Mertesacker over the past year in a bid to bolster a depleted squad.
But it is Rekik who stands out as someone who could be blooded by Arteta in the cup competitions this season.
He is a versatile centre back, able to play at right back or defensive midfield too – positions where Arsenal are looking to strengthen this summer.
Indeed, Rekik is unlikely to get many first team opportunities this season but if he does enough to impress at Under-23 level then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him integrated into the senior set-up.
Pablo Mari has struggled in the opening games of the season while Gabriel has only just returned from injury.
There are doubts over Hector Bellerin’s future at right back, while Cedric Soares and Calum Chambers are unlikely to be first choice starters for Arteta.
That would pave the way for someone like Rekik to break through and get some minutes.
It may be considered a gamble by some, but taking chances on raw youngsters has worked in the past for the Arsenal boss – and it could easily work again with their latest talented academy starlet.
Source by Football London