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With the big London derby taking place this weekend, Talent Radar takes a look at a combined XI of the best young players in the two sides’ current squads.
A clash between Chelsea and Arsenal is always highly anticipated, as much as for the football on the pitch as for the antics off of it. Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger aren’t particularly likeable to each other, but they are two of the most highly respected managers in the English game.
Wenger built up a reputation of providing opportunities to youngsters, developing them, while maintaining the side’s consistency towards the top of the domestic league table. Mourinho on the other had chosen to purchase quality individuals and find success, but now has an alarming army of youngster bursting through the U-21s and beyond.
As unlikely as it seemed a couple of season’s back, both Chelsea and Arsenal have young talents playing an integral part of the first team. Chelsea’s U-21 side did the double, winning the UEFA Youth League and the Youth FA Cup last season, putting to bed criticism of their ‘unfair’ use of the loan system and their youth players. While Arsenal’s youth side has struggled in comparison, there is no doubt about the potential the club possesses.
We have thus compiled a combined XI of the young players in these two massive London clubs’ squads.
Note that the following XI has been created keeping in mind first team opportunities and appearances already made, while the formation has been positionally adjusted. Outfield players eligible are those 21 and under as of June 1st 2015, while goalkeepers 22 and under as of the same date were eligible to make the team. To know more about Talent Radar, head this way.
Defence: In goal for this combined XI is lesser know youngster, Jamal Blackman who was promoted to the first-team for the 2015-16 season and is expected to be named on the bench until Thibaut Courtois remains out injured. An exciting central defensive pairing lies ahead of him, with Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma and Arsenal’s converted central defender Calum Chambers. Zouma who was named in our 100 to Watch in 2014 as the #1 defender, joined Chelsea from Saint Etienne but struggled to earn his spot in the first team. Given the defensive issues faced by Chelsea, this season is a good opportunity for the Frenchman to establish himself in Mourinho’s side. Chambers had a different journey into Premier League football; after initially impressing with Southampton, Arsenal snapped up the Englishman and immediately put faith in his abilities with the first team. Starting out as a full-back, Chambers is now confidently deployed in a central defensive partnership.
One of Chambers’ primary rivals for the right-back spot is Spaniard Hector Bellerin, who serves as a perfect example of Arsenal’s handling of their youth. Signed from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, the defender was developed in London and now finds himself a regular (plus a fan favourite) with the Gunners. On the opposite side is Chelsea’s summer signing, Abdul Rahman Baba. The ex-Augsburg man is another player who featured in our 100 to Watch list, making it into the defenders’ category at #21 in the more recent 2015 version of the feature. With Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic troubles at right back, we may see some changes from Mourinho that could fit Baba at left-back.
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Midfield: Right at the heart of midfield is Arsenal’s January signing, Krystian Bielik. At 6’2, the Polish midfielder certainly appears a beast in the centre of the field, though equally capable of playing in defence. He’s supported by Chelsea youngsters – Charlie Colkett and Ruben Loftus Cheek. Both were part of Chelsea’s successful UEFA Youth League winning side. The latter has now been entrusted into the first team, with Mourinho showing faith in the young Englishman. But similar excitement exists among the fan base for Colkett too, certainly giving the impression of a bright midfield future for the club.
Attack: It’s hard to believe 22-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, taking up the right side of the attack in our combined XI, has already amassed over 160 competitive senior club games and 20 senior international caps. Despite the experience to his game, the youngster is still yet to fulfill his true potential. He’s supported by Chelsea’s Brazilian signing, Kenedy on the left-wing. His signing surprised many, almost as much as the opportunities he has been given thus far. Coming on as a substitute in Chelsea’s losses to Crystal Palace and Everton.
Leading the line is another experienced head in Bertrand Traore. The man signed from Auxerre’s youth side has already played 24 games for Burkina Faso, while playing more than 50 for Vitesse during his two year loan spell, scoring an impressive 20 goals. That experience was enough to convince Mourinho of the youngster’s ability, promoting the 20-year-old to the first team for the current campaign.