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Jul 23, 2014

Arsenal youngsters struggling to stake their claim

Thomas Eisfeld was tipped for a bright future at Arsenal but ultimately failed to make the breakthrough.

After the exciting additions of Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy, most of the transfer talk around Arsenal has focused on who could be coming in. Little thought has been given to those who might be sold off to make way for new talent. The sale of Thomas Eisfeld to Fulham has subsequently caught many by surprise.

- Dall: Sanchez not the answer

Many Arsenal fans had high hopes for Eisfeld. He arrived from Borussia Dortmund late in the transfer window of January 2012 with a burgeoning reputation as a promising and prolific midfielder. In his final season with Dortmund's U19s, he had scored six times in 12 appearances.

When the deal was announced, a delighted Arsene Wenger said: "Thomas is a player we have liked for some time. We've watched him closely this season, where he has excelled for Dortmund's youth team. He is young but has proven to us that he can play, that he has the attitude and technical ability to be a valuable addition to our squad."

Eisfeld carried his goal-scoring form in to the Arsenal youth setup, becoming something of a regular scorer for the U21s. His versatility allowed him to play in a variety of positions, but he excelled when deployed as a central attacking midfielder. His runs from deep and composed finishing earned optimistic comparisons with Arsenal greats like Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires.

It was no huge surprise when Eisfeld was asked to train regularly with the first team. The young German was included in the squads which travelled to Asia in the summers of 2012 and 2013, scoring on both tours. In 2013-14, he notched his first senior goal in English football, finishing with typical aplomb against West Brom in the League Cup. After the match, Wenger reinforced Eisfeld's credentials: "He is a Pires type. He appears to be in the box without being noisy and appearing suddenly. When he is there, he finishes well. Thomas has that kind of quality that some midfielders have -- not many. They have the timing to get in dangerous situations."

However, despite his undoubted quality, he never quite developed further. For all his predatory instincts, he seemed to lack the mobility to operate in Arsenal's fluid midfield. Throughout last season, he was superseded in the pecking order by two younger Germans: Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem.

At 21, Eisfeld is at an age where he needs to play regularly to continue his development. At Arsenal, that's impossible. Fulham is a good club with an emphasis on young talent who will grant Eisfeld the opportunities he needs to progress. It's possible that Arsenal have even inserted a buy-back clause as they did when selling Carlos Vela to Real Sociedad.

Eisfeld may not be the last young player to leave this summer. The 25-man squad rule ensures that once players reach 21, their position in the first-team setup comes under serious threat.

There is another quartet of players who could be headed towards the exit door. Striker Benik Afobe, now 21, has endured a series of unfortunate injuries and uninspiring loan spells. He needs to move if he is to fulfill his once considerable potential. Another young forward likely to leave is Ryo Miyaichi. The Japanese winger doesn't appear to be cut out for the physicality of the Premier League, and a permanent switch to Swiss football has been mooted.

On the defensive side, there could be impending departures for Francis Coquelin and Ignasi Miquel. Coquelin has returned from a loan spell at Freiburg, which did little to suggest he is ready to take over from Mikel Arteta at the base of the Arsenal midfield. Meanwhile, Miguel was a peripheral figure in Leicester City's promotion campaign. The one thing working in his favour is Arsenal's chronic lack of central defenders. Until new recruits are made in that position, he may be required to plug the gap.

It's always disappointing when young players fail to make the grade. However, Arsenal fans should take heart: this means those players' places in the squad will be taken by superior new signings.