The latest crop of rising stars gunning for the first-team at Arsenal show great promise

Barnet’s Underhill stadium isn’t perhaps the glamorous of venues, but for one half of north London, it was the only place to be on Tuesday night.

As Tottenham were jumping ship from the Champions League in Madrid, Arsenal Reserves were playing their last home league game of the season against Sunderland.

The attacking intent of both teams was a joy to watch in an exciting game that ended 4-2 to the hosts.

There were a few familiar faces on show, including the Grandad of goalkeepers Jens Lehman (right), who reminded everyone of his calm and casual manner on the ball when being closed down by the opposition and also Jeremie Aliadiere, who is currently training with the Gunners until he finds a club.

These two former Premier League stars were not the main attractions though.

They were merely there as support acts to the next generation of Arsenal’s latest crop of rising stars, hoping to impress themselves on Arsene Wenger in time for the arrival of next season.

Many of them will be sent on loan to see how they cope with the rigours of competitive league football and some might not return to the top-flight, but certainly a few showed enough promise on Tuesday night to imply they have sufficient skill to follow Jack Wilshere into the first team.

Here’s my pick of the best.

Ignasi Miquel

Described by as a “cultured Catalan centre back” the Spanish defender, 18, is far more than an excuse to express your fondness for alliteration.

Captain for the evening, Miquel was a calm presence at the back, whose positional play and effective use of the ball displayed why he was drafted into the starting line-up by Wenger for the FA Cup games against Leyton Orient.

He joined the Gunners from Tercera División side Unió Esportiva Cornellà in September 2009 and he told me he knows his progression into a first-team regular is far from assured, despite his couple of appearances earlier in the season.

Upon reflection of his and the team’s performance he was pragmatic: “I think we’ve got a lot to do to improve ourselves and to improve our game.”

Time will tell, but with Arsenal consistently struggling in his area of the pitch through injuries, Miquel could be a useful addition if his talent is nurtured in time.

Oguzhan Ozyakup

Appearing in a midfield alongside Conor Henderson – who appeared for the Gunners against Orient in the cup – the Dutch midfielder was in danger of being overlooked by his seemingly more successful midfield partner.

It was Ozyakup, 18, that shone though. The midfielder was instrumental in linking the play and was a constant outlet for his team-mates.

His use of the ball was efficient and always accurate, as he sought to maintain possession and push his side further up the pitch when possible.

Signed from AZ Alkmaar in September 2008, the Dutch youth international faces stiff competition for a first-team place, but a successful loan move could bring his composed manner to the attention of the manager.

Luke Freeman

Arsenal slipped into a malaise for periods of the game against Sunderland, reminiscent of the first-teams current slump. Freeman however was the Gunner’s most consistent performers and a constant menace to Sunderland’s defence.

The sprightly and diminutive winger, 19, was full of running and was constantly finding himself in threatening attacking positions.

His quick feet and turn of pace were matched by his awareness of where his team mates were on the pitch.

An excellent performance was rewarded with an assist and a well taken first-time goal from the edge of the area, which was deserving of the first-team.

Freeman has already achieved in a sense, as when he made his debut and only appearance as a substitute for Gillingham in an FA Cup tie against Barnet on 10 November 2007 aged just 15 years and 233 days, he became Gillingham’s youngest ever first team player and the youngest player ever to appear in the FA Cup.

Having spent part of last season on-loan at Yeovil, Freeman looks to have learned from his experience in League One and will hopefully impress his attacking play on Wenger. I sincerely hope he does, as he’s a truly exciting prospect.

Tags: , Arsenal, Premier League

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