[dropcap]A[/dropcap]rsenal fans will be delighted with how their side have performed in the second half of this season, with the Gunners having the opportunity to finish second in the Premier League and potentially retain the FA Cup.
Ahead of next season, one or two players of top quality will surely be added in the summer by Arsène Wenger to provide further strength in depth and have the North London club fighting for the title.
Arsenal have a sizeable squad with international quality throughout, with a core group of English players in Wenger’s contingent.
There are seven Englishmen in the current 28-man squad, all of which have been capped by The Three Lions except young defender Isaac Hayden.
Arsenal’s squad is similar to many other Premier League teams; full of talent from all over the world but lacking in homegrown stars and particularly youth-team graduates.
Although Jack Wilshere remains at the Emirates Stadium and the likes of Chuba Akpom, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and a couple of others potentially have the ability to become first-team members, the lack of young Englishman typifies a growing trend in the game.
With global scouting networks and little patience afforded to managers, it is only natural that ready-made foreign superstars are selected over blooding a homegrown youngster with potential.
The example of Benik Afobe is testament to the growing trend of the big teams parting company with gifted young players before giving them a chance to prove their worth at the highest level.
The 22-year-old striker had been on the Gunners’ books for 14 years when they offloaded him to Wolves in January, with the attacker leaving before he was give a chance to play a single Premier League game.
Afobe has been a player on the radar for some time, with hatfuls of goals at Arsenal youth levels leading to Gunners fans raving over the potential for a top-class striker being promoted to the first team.
These hot streaks were replicated at a national level, with the rangy forward scoring consistently at England under-16, 17 and 19 level, before being elevated to the under-21 side.
After signing a professional contract with the Emirates Stadium outfit in 2010, Afobe was farmed out to various Football League sides to give him experience of the senior game.
Spells at Huddersfield, Reading, Bolton, Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday all gave the youngster a chance to play, but the breathtaking goalscoring feats he displayed in junior football were not replicated.
However, this season Afobe has been a revelation and showed exactly why he has been so highly rated in the past.
The first half of the campaign was spent on loan with League One side MK Dons, where the attacker slotted a cool 19 goals in all competitions.
Arsenal made the choice to sell their youth graduate in the January window, with Afobe joining Championship side Wolves for a modest £2 million fee and continuing his goalscoring prolificacy.
Thirteen goals in 20 outings for the Molineux outfit in the second tier fired Kenny Jackett’s men within a whisker of the play-offs and have reconfirmed Afobe as one of English football’s brightest young talents.
Talk of a Premier League return have been touted in the press already, while Gunners fans will be scratching their heads to just why Afobe was firstly allowed to leave and for such an affordable figure.
Given the stellar success of Harry Kane on the other side of the North London divide, Arsenal could well be guilty of an oversight in their willingness to part company with Afobe.
Looking at Wenger’s first-team striking options, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are likely to keep someone like Akpom on the fringes.
However, is Yaya Sanogo’s presence in the Gunners first-team squad more warranted than keeping Afobe would have been?
Unfortunately in the modern game, youngsters that develop through their respective youth academies are faced with daunting tasks in breaking into Premier League contention.
The likes of Patrick Bamford, James Wilson and countless others will face the same unenviable task at other top Premier League teams.
As such, as has happened with Afobe, taking one step back to take two forward seems like it will continue to be commonplace for potential future England internationals.
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