How Arsenal's youth team policy could aid Portsmouth in their reported interest of starlet defender Omar Rekik with former Blackburn and Rotherham figures sidelined

Arsenal’s recent youth team policy may help Pompey in their reported pursuit of youngster Omar Rekik in January.

By Sam Cox
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 11:00 am

That’s the belief of Gunners academy expert, Jeorge Bird, who detailed how the club’s ethos has changed since Per Mertersacker’s appointment as head of academy.

Since the World Cup winner’s took the role in July 2018, the North London club have been actively seeking loan moves for their emerging talents – with Danny Cowley already utilising this.

The 43-year-old struck a temporary deal for Emile Smith Rowe with Huddersfield in 2020, then repeated the trick by tempting Miguel Azeez to the south coast this term.

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And with the former Lincoln boss actively seeking to bolster his backline this winter, he could use this to his advantage for a third time.

However, it’s still unclear whether the Blues will make a move for the 19-year-old, with Cowley having recently watched him against Bournemouth and Ipswich.

Omar Rekik helped Arsenal under-21s to knock Ipswich out of the EFL Trophy last week. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

Here’s what Bird, founder of Jeorge Bird’s Arsenal Youth, told The News regarding the starlet...

Q: Would Arsenal be willing to let Rekik go out on loan?

A: ‘I think so. In recent years when Per Mertersaker came into the academy, they’ve been looking to move the older players out on loan as quickly as possible as they don’t want them taking up too many spaces as there’s a lot of other young players breaking through.

‘I think it would be quite a good thing if he does go out on loan, but I’m unsure whether it will be in January or if they’ll wait until next season.’

Q: What attributes does Rekik Have?

A: ‘He’s a centre back, and Arsenal under-23s usually play a back three where he usually plays in the middle. Sometimes he’s even the furthest player forward on the pitch and he’s really strong physically with good passing and technique.

‘He’s still quite raw as he can often make a few silly mistakes at times, but he looks like a really good prospect. He’s been one of the best players for Arsenal under-23s this season.

‘He can play in a back four and in midfield as well as a defensive midfielder, but sometimes in a back four he’s a bit vulnerable and can get caught out. I do think he can adapt if he plays in that role more regularly.’

Q: How has he performed this season?

A: ‘He’s done very well and his passing is exceptional too. He often starts attacks quite well and his overall performances have been very good. He started off slightly slowly because he had quite a few injuries last season and unfortunately is quite injury prone. When he’s usually fit, he’s been a good performer and he’s certainly someone you can rely on.

‘He joined Arsenal in January 2021 and he didn’t feature until May last season because he was injured, then missed the start of this campaign for the same reason.

'He’s had a few niggles here and there, but should be okay eventually. If he went out on loan, it initially might be a bit of an issue to step up to the physicality of league football.’

Q: How has he performed in Papa John’s Trophy games this season?

A: ‘It has been a bit difficult for him this season. He played in the under-21s victory over Ipswich last week, where he made a few mistakes in the beginning of the game because he can’t take as many risks on the ball as he does in the under-23s.

‘Overall, he has adapted quite well and the more he plays against senior opponents, I think he’ll do well. He’s already been capped by Tunisia at senior level and he seems like someone who is quite mature for his age.

‘He knows what he wants to achieve and I don’t think will be playing in the under-23s for too long because he’ll really want to test himself at senior level.’

Q: How often does he train with Mikel Arteta’s first-team?

‘He’s trained with them quite a lot, but not so much recently because the youth team have been playing quite a lot of games. When he’s not playing for the under-23s, he trains with the first-team.

‘It is difficult at Arsenal because they’ve got quite a few centre-backs who can’t even get in the team, so he’s not really close to the first-team at the moment.

‘But they see him as someone in the future who definitely could have a chance of breaking in.’

Q: Is he able to step into League One?‘Personally, I think he should wait until next season before going on loan as he’ll then have a whole season of under-23 football under his belt.

‘It’s possible he could go in January, but it may be early for him. I also think he may find it difficult to get into the team in January with other established players at Pompey.

‘It would still be okay for him, but it’s probably better to wait until next season.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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