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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Star Gazing

After watching the side - minus Nicklas Bendtner for Jay Simpson - that beat Sheffield United 6-0 a month ago dismantle Wigan 3-0, Arsene Wenger has hailed his latest crop of Carling Cup wonderkids as his best yet. Here's the lowdown on the 11 for the future...

Lukasz Fabianski
The 23-year-old Polish goalkeeper was the oldest Arsenal player on the pitch last night.
It is rare for goalkeepers to reach their peak - both in terms of power and appreciation - before the age of 25, so Fabianski is already ahead of his time. Promoted to be Manuel Almunia's deputy following Jens Lehmann's summer departure, Arsene Wenger says the Pole is on the brink of a first-team breakthrough and is likely to keep Fabianski active over the coming months: "I am convinced that with only one goalkeeper you do not have a chance in a season like ours." A better shot-stopper than Almunia, only his decision-making remains suspect.

Gavin Hoyte
The 18-year-old right-back younger brother of Middlesbrough's Justin Hoyte
Recognised as a better player than his brother, there is no reason why not. At the very least, a Premier League career, as with Hoyte Senior, should await. "He had an outstanding game," eulogised Wenger in his post-match press conference. Currently the captain of Arsenal's reserves, Hoyte is unlikely to dislodge Bacary Sagna but could provide satisfactory cover.

Johan Djourou
21-year-old centre-half who spent the first half of last season at Birmingham.
If he were to make it with Arsenal, it would probably have happened by now - Djourou made his Arsenal debut as long ago as 2004. Regressed during his stint with Birmingham, Djourou seems to have lost Wenger's confidence ever since. A decent player but probably one who is too lapse-prone to be a regular starter in a Big Four team.

Alex Song
21-year-old Cameroonian who can play either at centre-half or in midfield.
Song's future looked bleak after a disastrous first-team debut at Fulham two years ago - he was substituted at half-time - but the African has found a niche for himself in the seniors' squad as the only player suitable for the midfield anchor role. Demonstrated his versatility on Tuesday with an outstanding display in defence to subdue Amr Zaki.

Kieran Gibbs
19-year-old full-back or winger who spent a chunk of last season on loan at Norwich.
Wenger is a fan but Gibbs' way into the first team, if he continues at left-back, is not only blocked by Gael Clichy but also the unforgotten 19-year-old Armand Traore (currently on loan at Portsmouth). Another player who surely have a long career in the top flight - but not necessarily in a red-and-white shirt.

Jack Wilshere
16-year-old who played from the right of midfield against Wigan despite being predominantly left-footed.
This boy could be special. The jewel in the crown of Arsenal's Academy, Wilshere was even on the substitutes' bench this weekend against Manchester United. Similar in style to Joe Cole, Wenger believes the youngster - so young that he couldn't drink the champagne awarded for his man-of-the-match display - has "the same potential" as Cesc Fabregas. A terrific prospect - and an English one. Tomas Rosicky's latest (but sadly predictable) setback means Wilshere might even make a few first-team appearances this season.

Aaron Ramsey
17-year-old Welsh midfielder bought by Arsenal for £5m in the summer.
Ramsey is set to make his full Welsh debut next week and looks to be Fabregas' replacement-in-waiting. On this evidence, however, he will be pushing for a first-team spot next season. An awesome talent.

Mark Randall
19-year-old English midfielder born in Milton Keynes.
The only disappointment in the victory over Wigan was the number of misplaced passes and unnecessary flicks made by Randall. A lot of work is still to be done before his future is secured.

Fran Merida
18-year-old Spaniard who spent three months on loan with Real Sociedad at the start of the year.
Overshadowed on Tuesday by Ramsey and Wilshere, Merida still provided enough cute touches to explain why Wenger rates him so highly and such a fuss was made when Arsenal poached the then 15-year-old from Barcelona. Not yet ready for first-team action, expect Merida to go on loan again in the new year - but don't forget about him either.

Jay Simpson
19-year-old Tottenham-born striker who won the PFA's Fans' League One player of the year award for 2008 after scoring eight times while on loan at Millwall last season.
At any other club, the buccaneering Simpson would be regarded as a star in the making, although that discrepancy is in part made by the impression that he is not the sort of striker Wenger prefers. Nonetheless, even before his excellent two-goal performance against Wigan, the Frenchman made no secret of his admiration: "At the moment it is too early to say if he has a future, but I think so yes." At the very least, a lucrative career in the top flight should await.

Carlos Vela
19-year-old Mexican bought by Arsenal as long ago as November 2005 for a fee of just £125,000.
Wenger has hailed Vela as the best finisher at the club and his two stunning chips against Sheffield United and Wigan demonstrated precisely why. Already on the verge of a first-team breakthrough, Vela will surely be provided with a few opportunities to impress before the season is out. Claims that Arsenal lack strength in depth seem laughable given that this youngster is currently only their fifth-choice striker.

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