After being added to Arsenal’s Europa League roster for the knockout rounds, Miguel Azeez is already looking forward to his European debut
Exciting midfielder Miguel Azeez has been added to Arsenal’s Europa League roster for the knockout rounds of the competition.
The Hale End Academy product is among seven Nigerian-eligible players under the age of 21 in the Gunners Europe League squad list announced on Tuesday, the others being goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo, defenders Joseph Olowu, Tobi Omole and Tolaji Bola, strikers Bukayo Saka and Folarin Balogun.
Should Azeez make his European debut against Olympiakos Piraeus on February 20, he will wear the number 79 jersey, the same number he used when he faced Peterborough in the EFL Trophy last October.
Saka has been allocated the number 77 shirt, Okonkwo 76, Bola 40, Olowu 53, Omole 54 and Folarin Balogun 38.
Azeez signed his first professional contract with Arsenal after reaching 17 years of age. He has developed his game in North London since he joined the Gunners’ academy at the tender age of five.
In November 2016, Arsenal sent a youth team to non-league club Hitchin Town to mark the successful installation of new floodlights at their ground Top Field.
That night, Emile Smith-Rowe, Dominic Thompson and Zech Medley all turned out for Arsenal as the two sides drew 1-1.
Three years on and those three youngsters have a summer pre-season tour with Arsenal’s first team under their belts, and their path to the first-team squad looks mapped out.
Although Smith-Rowe did not play on the US tour, he has been involved in Unai Emery’s squad in the Europa League and Carabao Cup this season.
They’ve all come a long way since that night at Hitchin.
With a real emphasis on youth emerging again at Arsenal, who can be the next youngsters to follow in their footsteps towards the first team?
In the summer, Steve Bould’s Arsenal development side made the short trip to North Hertfordshire to play a pre-season friendly. The squad was essentially an U-18 team, with the older players in the development side travelling to Sittingbourne Town for a less-publicised friendly.
The squad featured nine of Arsenal’s new first-year scholars, including centre back Mazeed Ogungbo, who started the game, and wingers Kido Taylor-Hart, Luke Plange and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, all of whom caught the eye.
However, the one player who looked most advanced in his development and capable of playing above his age group was midfielder Miguel Azeez.
Azeez came off the bench against Barnet in the second half and competed well against his senior opponents. Operating as a left-sided attacking midfielder, he was not afraid to take on defenders with his pace and was unlucky not to score with an audacious chip over experienced goalkeeper Scott Loach late on in the game.
Playing for the U-18s against Hitchin, Azeez was utilised as a holding midfielder, frequently picking the ball up in front of the defence and looking to drive the play forward, or spray it wide to Taylor-Hart down the left.
Ultimately Azeez didn’t provide any vital contributions that could change the result at Hitchin but he takes to the pitch with a general air of confidence that belies his young age.
Playing the full ninety minutes, it is apparent that he is viewed as a leader and one of the most mature among the U-18s.
Indeed, he has long held a positive reputation within the Arsenal academy and was handed his debut for the U-18s when he was still 15.
That experience of playing ahead of his age group should stand Azeez in good stead when opportunities to play with the U-23s and even the first team arises. He is also an England youth international, having been capped at U-17 level.
The consistent promotion of Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka through the academy sides to becoming a senior player stands as a good example to Azeez of what is possible.
Similarly, fellow midfielder Robbie Burton has seemingly come out of nowhere to put himself in the first-team picture.
Azeez’s versatility in different roles aided byhis exciting technique should give him a decent chance of emulating that trajectory.