For the first time in what seems an eternity, there will be no stress in the Arsenal fan-base about the fact there were no new additions to the squad during the transfer window. Although still trailing behind Chelsea in the title race, the general consensus amongst Gooners is that the squad is strong, and there is no obvious area for improvement – reassuring to say the least. As a result, not only can we afford to keep the cash in our pocket, but we have also been able to announce the departure of some players, as Chuba Akpom and Stephy Mavididi both head out on loan, to Brighton and Charlton respectively.
Both center-forwards who have graduated from the famed Hale End Academy, each will hope to be the one to finally end the struggle of Academy strikers breaking into the first team. The extent of this struggle is outlined simply by the fact that I (nor Google for that matter) has no recollection of the last academy striker to become the main man in the first team. Much hype has surrounded certain reserves in recent years during their quest to nail-down a position in the starting eleven, though none of this ever came to fruition. Looking through names such as Benik Afobe, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Sanchez Watt, the lackluster eventualities of individuals who, at one time, were each hailed as the next big thing, is illustrated. Although some can pin the blame for this lack of development on injury (Afobe in particular), it is not an excuse that all can hide behind, and the stark reality is that, after all the hype generated within social media, these players simply have not been of the required quality.
Chuba Akpom’s name has been held in very high esteem since his breakthrough into the Reserves three years ago, a team which he arguably outgrew after only a year. Blessed with natural pace and strength, the Canning Town local quickly established himself as the main man for the Reserve side, and as the man many believed would be the next breakthrough player. Scoring became a habit, as his technical skills finally caught up with his physical capabilities, and he began to look out of place for all the right reasons in reserve football; it’s testament to his potential that he was seen as head and shoulders above players such as Iwobi, Bellerin and Gnabry, all of whom have gone on to be established, top-level players.
So the question is, why hasn’t Chuba Akpom yet reached the level everyone seemed to expect? You could point to a series of short-term loans he endured at the start of his senior career, as unsuccessful spells at Brentford, Coventry and Nottingham Forest resulted in no goals and a major blow for confidence. Furthermore,you could point to his lack of starts for Hull City last season; after impressing early in the season, Akpom was very much second-choice behind the experienced Abel Hernandez, and as such a lot of his game-time was spent in a wide position. Although it can be argued this was good for his football education and tactical understanding, he was not able to showcase his ability as a main striker on a regular basis. A return of seven goals for the season is no embarrassment, and an F.A Cup hatrick against Bury illustrated his obvious potential, but the problem faced by Akpom was inconsistency both in his own form and playing time.
Although his loan move to Brighton, a team sitting on the top of the championship, will see him play with obvious quality, it is a concern the same problem will persist. Despite his obvious talents, he is not a guaranteed starter for the Seagulls, and in Glenn Murray he has serious opposition for his place. Although it is not make-or-break in terms of his Arsenal career just yet, joining a team where your place is not assured seems a risk, for a man who needs guaranteed game time to fulfill his massive potential.
The situation for Mavididi meanwhile is very similar to that of Akpom’s three years ago. His move across the capital to Charlton Athletic is his first loan move, and therefore his first taste of senior football after beginning to dominate the reserves division. His campaign last season was his most productive yet, with 17 goals in 30 games, and he has netted six times in just seven appearances this year.
Although not blessed with the height of Akpom, his strength ensures Mavididi will not be bullied in senior football. His electric pace supplements this power, and it could be argued that his technical attributes and skill on the ball outweigh those of Akpom, though in terms of the superior finisher between the two, the jury is still very much out. The fact he regularly trains with the first team illustrates Wenger’s high opinion of him.
He is not the first to follow the passage to Charlton from Arsenal either. In recent seasons, Alex Song and Francis Coquelin arrived there as Arsenal fringe players and walked into the first team upon their return, an obvious source of motivation for Stephy. Performing in front of nearly 30,000 in the Valley will prepare him for the big crowds of Premiership football, and the promotion-race the Addicks currently find themselves in will educate him on the intense pressure of senior football; unlike the Arsenal reserves, he will have to fight for his place week in, week out, a work ethic he will need if he is ever to star under the bright lights of the Emirates.
Overall, these two loans present both young strikers with a tremendous opportunity. Not only will the experience of regular senor football undoubtedly improve them as players, but they are also in competition with each other, as there can only be room for one at Arsenal. Although at different stages of development, both need to impress, because there is always the ‘next big thing’ just behind you.