Miguel Azeez excelled in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Crawley Town in the EFL Trophy- a competition already proving to be of value for the top academy talents.
Miguel Azeez’s man of the match display against Crawley Town relates well for the future in a competition where Arsenal has witnessed young stars come of age.
Two years ago, Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock were among those excelling for Freddie Ljungberg in the EFL Trophy. Currently, they are cornerstones of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal first-team.
As Ljungberg explained when he lobbied Arsenal to join the party in 2018, this is an opportunity for youngsters to learn harsh truths about “men’s football”, to understand what it is to be buffeted by bigger and stronger defenders. Similarly, when they excel against senior opponents it teaches academy chief Per Mertesacker and technical director Edu something new.
They will not get carried away just because Azeez shone in a 2-1 win against lower league opposition but will view it as another encouraging step on the path. On his current trajectory, it is hard to see how the 18-year-old doesn’t eventually end up in Mikel Arteta’s plans.
Certainly, the senior coaching staff takes a keen interest in the progress of young prospects at Hale End; unlike in Unai Emery’s tenure, there is no Ljungberg-style figure that is expected to link up the academy with London Colney. Part of Mikel Arteta’s new remit as a manager is to have a more wide-ranging view of the club, meaning he and his staff take a close interest in the best and the brightest Steve Bould has to offer.
And as a general rule if you are spraying passes around with the zip and accuracy of this one in the dying minutes then Arteta is going to like what he sees.
Azeez has trained with the first team on occasions but having only turned 18 last month he does not have an extensive resume of youth football, there is still sufficient value in his involvement at the academy that the thought of sending him out on loan was not seriously entertained by Arsenal this summer.
Azeez’s numbers tell much of the story about his all-round midfield display. Per WyScout, he 45 of the 51 passes he attempted found their man, including all six he played forward and every one of the nine he played to the final third of the pitch. Three of his four through balls did not quite find his man, although they generally asked questions of the Crawley defense.
The one that did was the pass of the night, releasing Kido Taylor-Hart to round the Crawley goalkeeper and square for Jordan McAneff to score.
Defensively Azeez put in quite the shift with seven interceptions, two ball recoveries in the Crawley half and three of seven loose ball duels won, the latter more encouraging than it might seem when one considers that this teenager was up against opponents with many more years’ experience than him.
The most immediately apparent trait that Azeez displayed at Broadfield Stadium was an ability to continually find pockets of space in which to operate. That was apparent as early as the seventh minute when the youngster kept slipping into the interior channel between Jack Powell and Archie Davis, finding himself just enough space to collect possession, turn with the ball and drive forwards.
An equally common thread throughout Azeez’s man of the match display was what happened after he had made that initial pass. Though he is inspired by the likes of Sergio Busquets he does not sit deep and function as a metronome but rather looks to drive into the box.
Throughout the win, he was combining effectively with the other standout prospect from his age group, young winger Ben Cottrell. On Tuesday’s evidence, there is already a symbiotic link between the two, when Azeez darts into space around he can be sure that Arsenal’s No.41 will find him.