Arsenal Under-23 Stars Who Could Make Europa League Impact

BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - MARCH 03: Kevin Appin of AS Monaco FC is challenged by Miguel Azeez of Arsenal FC during the Premier League International Cup match between Arsenal FC and AS Monaco FC at Meadow Park on March 03, 2020 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)
BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - MARCH 03: Kevin Appin of AS Monaco FC is challenged by Miguel Azeez of Arsenal FC during the Premier League International Cup match between Arsenal FC and AS Monaco FC at Meadow Park on March 03, 2020 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images) /

This season’s Europa League will be different to the Premier League.

A decision was made to limit the number of substitutions to three, and thus overall squad sizes, whereas the Europa League will continue to allow five in-game changes and up to 12 players on the bench. Due to that, Arsenal will be able to blood a few youngsters in the team.

Having submitted their primary squad for the competition, Arsenal are also allowed to submit a B-list squad, one that includes players born on or after January 1st, 1999, who have played for Arsenal for at least two years.

A few select first team regulars have made their way onto the list – Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe – while the rest is made up of Under-23 and Under-21 stars looking for a taste of European action.

The rest of the list is made up of Ryan Alebiosu and Karl Hein (first time inclusions), Folarin Balogun, Ben Cottrell, Joel Lopez, Jordan McEneff, Arthur Okonkwo, Charlie Patino Miguel Azeez and Tom Smith.

Based on the level of opposition Arsenal will face in the group stages, we can expect to see a few of them get a nod. Here’s who to look out for.

Joel Lopez – Left-Back

Remarkably…well, not really, this is Arsenal after all, Mikel Arteta is short on central defenders heading into the coming fixtures despite boasting eight first team centre-backs. Just Gabriel and David Luiz are fit and ready, with Calum Chambers and Shkodran Mustafi not expected to return until after the international break.

There is also Pablo Mari, but he has only just resumed training having been out since June. Furthermore, with no William Saliba or Sokratis in the Europa League squad, it may be the case that we see Sead Kolasinac drop into central defence, opening the door for Lopez to come in at left-back.

A product of Barcelona’s legendary La Masia academy, he may only be 17 years old but he has been making a fine impression in the Under-21 squad since joining two years ago. A full-back who loves carrying the ball into the final third, he returned from injury just recently and may be in with a shout this campaign, albeit potentially bit-part.

Ben Cottrell – Midfielder

All those who kept an eye on the pre-season clash with MK Dons will have had a good look at Cottrell, who has been tipped to make the leap up into the first team under Arteta. Not quite yet, I hasten to add, since he’s only 18, but he’s been superb for the Under-23 squad so far this season.

Likened to former Gunner Jack Wilshere (his injury record is good, don’t worry), Cottrell is someone who is content playing in a deeper midfield role but loves using his quick feet and impressive technical ability to drive forward with the ball.

There is an intelligence to his game which has caught the eye, too. The midfielder’s dictating of play and timing of distribution have been lauded, while he’s also a great reader of the game. He understands when to make certain runs, as demonstrated with two goals from his four Premier League 2 matches thus far this term.

Arsenal are, even with Thomas Partey, thin in central midfield and players capable of putting in a shift to lessen the strain on the first team are wholly welcome. Could definitely get minutes in home group matches, at least.

Miguel Azeez – Midfielder

The same from above applies to Azeez, who is the name on everyone’s lips and perhaps the one most expected to be breaking into the first team next. A string of excellent displays for the youth sides both this season and last have catapulted him into the limelight, where there is little doubt he won’t be giving Arteta some increasingly searing headaches. He really is that good.

Positionally, Azeez has said he idolises Sergio Busquets, but that his mobility and energy have been highlighted as key attributes.

"“At the moment, I’m mainly playing as a CDM, so like a number six or an eight. I’ve always said that I can do all three, so I’m a midfielder. Per Mertesacker, he said he’s seen a specific trait I have, which is obviously that I’ve got a good range of passing as well as that I can run a lot. He said that there could be an opportunity in the first team in that position.”"

To use a phrase those of a younger generation are more familiar with, he is a ‘baller’. His distribution with both feet – whether instep or outstep – is exceptional and his burning inner drive sees cover every blade of grass. A quite superb talent.

Folarin Balogun – Striker

I’m surprised Balogun is still at the club. Many are, considering he’d been linked with clubs across Europe as no new contract appears anywhere near being signed. This coming from a player who is in his final year, I add.

A few meagre bids failed to adequately tickle Arsenal taste buds and he remained in north London, where he’s continued to do what he does best: score a bucket load of goals. His latest brace for the Under-23s brings him up to a cool 47 goals and 12 assists in 56 matches playing as a centre forward, a position where he excels.

In every way a classic number nine who loves being touch tight with centre-backs and physically imposing himself on matches, cries from Arsenal fans for Balogun to get a chance in the senior team have be prevalent for a number of months.

Next. EL Squad Questions. dark

Should Arteta be content with leaving Alexandre Lacazette out of the Europa League matchday squad if qualification is sealed with matches still left to play, then Balogun should be granted the chance to stake a claim.