02 August 2013

Box to box, from Vieira to Touré to Aneke.

Continuing a series of looking at Arsenal's young Gunners, I bring to you today Chuks Aneke, a powerful, imposing young midfielder who brings to mind the likes of Yaya Touré or Patrick Vieira. Though deployed most often in the midfield, he has shown defensive prowess as well with the ability to play center-back (he subbed on for Sagna against
Vietnam, for example). Standing at 1.91m/6'3", Aneke has shown the versatility to play all over the pitch, from center-back to attacking midfield and even as a forward, possessing a range of skills and awareness that belie his age. At 20, he is still growing into his own body as well as his potential. He'll be out on loan to Crewe Alexandra until January 2014, but we might see him feature for Arsenal not too long after that.

 In 41 appearances across all competitions (U21s, league cup, FA Cup, Johnstone's Paint Trophy), Aneke netted eight goals and added eleven assists. While he may lack pace, he more than makes up for this not just through strength—something we're lacking in the first team—but through vision and technique. On the ball, he's just as likely to unleash a Podolski-esque volley as he is to thread a Artetian through-ball. The Arsenal site calls him a "technically gifted playmaker", and his tackling and tenacity are something to behold as well. In short, without overselling it, should Aneke continue to develop, we could see the emergence of a swash-buckling, box-to-box marauder who links defense to attack and whose breath-taking runs leave opponents (and, on occasion, teammates) gasping—both in awe and for air.

He's only 20, though, so let's rein in the hyperbole. I get carried away when I get excited, and Aneke has me excited. In the video below, for example, check his volley at 0:27. See how he checks his kick? His ankle, knee, and shoulder are in near-perfect alignment, which keeps the ball from sailing high. Solid.

If there's one area that he'll have to work on, it might be in stride. It seems that he's still getting comfortable with his height, but this is something that can change with time. I wasn't able to find any data on his height from a few years ago, but it's likely that he's gone through a recent growth spurt, and he's still adjusting to that. The good news, then, is that as he makes this adjustment, his pace will likely increase as well, and that technical ability, that tenacity, and that tackling will become all the more powerful.

Do yourself a favor and find ways to watch his development with Crewe in the upcoming season. As with Zelalem and Akpom, players I've profiled here and here, respectively, we have another young talent on the verge of breaking through with the first team. We may lament the dearth of new signings, and these young men might be a few years from breaking through to the first team, but we must always have one eye on the horizon. At the risk of straining the metaphor, that horizon looks bright indeed, thanks to Aneke.

Last but not least, go vote in the 2012-13 YAMA Awards for Arsenal bloggers and writers. Woolwich 1886 is honored to be nominated as a Best New Arsenal blog. Thanks!