A Blade, a Terrier and a Cumbrian - Arsenal's Football League loanees #1
Arsenal – just a training academy, according to Patrice Evra. If anything, though, the most important learning curve of all for Gunners youngsters is their grounding out on loan in the Football League. Ian Rands, Andrew Gibney and John Byrne take a look at three of Arsenal’s young prospects currently on temporary Football League duty.
Kyle Bartley (Sheffield United)
Kyle Bartley is now in his second spell on loan at Sheffield United. To date, he has made 25 starts and 4 substitute appearances. Yet, despite this experience, it is hard to make a fair assessment of his abilities and impact so far.
Bartley arrived in the latter stages of last season, as Arsenal reserve team captain, with one Champions League appearance to his name. Last season, United started with a small but expensive first team squad which was rapidly decimated by injuries.
The fact that Bartley was one of 14 loan players to wear a Blades shirt last season and the fact that he played as part of five different back four combinations in ten starts did little to help the 19-year-old’s cause.
Neither has the further chopping and changing this season, nor the fact that he has played under three managers at Bramall Lane, with a fourth and possibly fifth more than likely to follow.
Where Bartley has looked best is as the more athletic partner alongside captain Chris Morgan, although those opportunities have been few and far between.
With Morgan now injured and out for the remainder of this season, it is a pairing with fellow loanee Nyron Nosworthy that needs to develop in order to help secure the Blades’ safety.
Given that most fans are not sure Nyron knows what he is going to do sometimes, this cannot be easy for Kyle.
Kyle has made mistakes. It could be argued that both goals conceded in the home defeat to Ipswich were due to his indecision and a failure to impose himself on the opposition. His pace and strength often help him recover from problems that are initially created by his own positional failings.
However, it is easy to forget he was only 18 when he first joined United and is still learning his trade. This probably plays a part in him not receiving the same level of criticism that other players receive.
In the absence of a potent strike force at Bramall Lane, Bartley’s early experience as a striker at Bolton Wanderers has led to him being thrown forward when the Blades are chasing goals late in a game. Although this is yet to bear fruit he is willing to put himself about, which is a facet always appreciated by Blades fans.
The next six months of Kyle’s career will be a good period in which to judge him. With the club having little room to manoeuvre in the transfer market, he will have a pivotal role to play in the remainder of United’s season. It could be a make or break period for
both club and player.
Having only signed on loan at the start November, Benik Afobe has already become well-liked in his short time with Huddersfield Town. Afobe has only made one start in the league but has featured in both the Football League Trophy and the FA Cup. With three goals to his name, he is certainly one for the future.
A dazzling turn of pace with a strong physique, Afobe looks hungry for football. From his performances, he seems to have all the ability needed to one day deserve a spot in the Arsenal first team.
“Benny” will stay with The Terriers until January at the earliest – although Clark has been told not to overuse the 17-year-old.
There will be plenty of chances for Benik to continue his apprenticeship, competing with Joe Garner, Jordan Rhodes and Alan Lee for a place upfront, and the Terriers still in the hunt for three trophies.
Clark’s options up front are superb for League One and Afobe will benefit from the competition for places as well as learning from established Football League strikers.
Thomas Cruise (Carlisle United)
Due to a season-ending injury to Carlisle’s first choice left-back Sean McDaid, Thomas Cruise has been thrown in at the deep end a little, struggling to find his feet at first. But Cruise is adapting and looking stronger by the game as the defence begin to settle again.
Cruise still looks a little off the pace, even at this level, but has a lovely left foot, is very capable of delivering an attackable cross and is better going forward than when facing opposition players with the ball.
Despite improving with Carlisle United, Cruise will be nowhere near threatening the place of Kieran Gibbs or Gael Clichy at Arsenal. The loan has been good for all parties, and it was certainly a wise move to bring him in.
Many thanks to Ian, Andrew and John for these contributions. If you would like to write a similar piece about any more of Arsenal’s youngsters currently out on loan in the Football League, please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. Once we’ve covered Arsenal, we’ll move on to Tottenham…