The Gunners have had several young talents come through their Hale End academy recently, and the next crop were on display in their thrilling Papa John’s Trophy victory over Newport
While Bukayo Saka was off representing Arsenal on the international stage for England against Hungary, the player seeking to follow in his footsteps was turning heads in his own fashion.
Omari Hutchinson is a name quickly becoming hot on the lips of those familiar with the Gunners youth set up as someone who could follow the likes of Saka and Emile Smith Rowe into the first team at the Emirates.
His backheeled assist for Zak Swanson’s goal in the Premier League Cup draw with Bournemouth sent social media into a frenzy, but as with any young player doubts still remain about his ability to make the step up.
Given a rare taste of ‘men’s football’ in the Arsenal under-23s Papa John’s Trophy match against Newport, the 17-year-old proved he could be ready to the next level.
The game started quietly for Hutchinson who was given a free role to float around the front three and exchange positions with Kido Taylor-Hart and Joel Ideho who took turns as the false nine in absence of Mika Biereth and Flo Balogun.
But it was when switched out wide that the Hale Ender’s class really began to show.
With Arsenal trailing 1-0 they won a corner that was Hutchinson’s duty to take. The youngster played a quick one-two before seemingly deciding it was time to take the destiny of the game into his own hands.
Skipping past two challenges from Newport defenders, the 17-year-old cut into the box and sent a curling left footed effort in beyond Nick Townsend in the League Two side’s goal.
Hutchinson is not a particularly intimidating figure in terms of stature, and you would have assumed this would have made it easier for Newport’s more rugged experienced players to muscle him out of the game.
That was not the case though as the winger stood up to the unique physical test provided by the Papa John’s Trophy.
He will rightly have his sights firmly set on eventually breaking into the first team, after having proved that he is capable of doing it at a senior level.
Hutchinson was given a taste in the summer, travelling with Mikel Arteta’s squad on their pre-season tour of Scotland and making his debut against Hibernian.
The teenager has seen fellow Hale Enders, Saka, Smith Rowe, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson, make their way into the first team and admitted that that is an inspiration for him.
“When we were at Hale End as U12s, we would see Joe (Willock), Reiss (Nelson) and that lot and we would think they were superstars,” he told Goal in an interview..
“Even going to Emirates games and bumping into them, we would always want a picture, and when they used to play for the U23s, we would go and support them.
“Growing up, we wanted to be like them. Saka used to tell us to work hard and that we were not far behind and that used to give us confidence.
“At Hale End there are pictures up on the wall of the boys that have made it and you just want to be up there as well so all the youngsters are looking at you.”
For now though his focus has to be on getting regular starts for the under-23 side.
Omari Hutchinson hasn’t managed to get consistent starts for Kevin Betsy’s under-23 side at Arsenal this season
It is difficult for a player like Hutchinson – who is seemingly at his best when out on the wing – to find a consistent spot in Kevin Betsy’s 5-3-2 formation.
Also the need to play Balogun – who has dropped down due to competition from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah at senior level – combined with the form of young striker Mika Biereth and fellow talented wide man Kido Taylor-Hart, means that competition for the forward positions in the Premier League 2 side is fierce.
The amount of wingers in the first team right now means that perhaps there could be a barrier for Hutchinson if he is to make it to the first team.
However, Nicolas Pepe could well be on his way out of the Emirates this summer with just two years left on his deal at the end of the season, while Gabriel Martinelli has been touted as a centre forward by many.
While talent is of course a huge part of players transitioning from youth set ups into the first team at any club, timing is a huge part as well.
Hutchinson’s idol Saka may not have got his break at first team were it not for a spate of injuries to Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac at left back, proving that opportunity could knock at any time.
If the 17-year-old keeps up the kind of form displayed against senior opposition at Newport, then it seems highly likely that he will be ready to take his chance when it comes