ONE name who will be hoping to retain his spot in Arsenal’s Europa League squad this season is Joel Lopez.
The 17-year-old isn’t a man many Gunners fans would’ve heard of when he was made a surprise inclusion by former manager Unai Emery in September.
But among those in the know at their Hale End academy, the Spanish defender is well-worth his place and is destined for big things.
FOLLOWING BELLERIN’S FOOTSTEPS
Like Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin, who went from the youth team to the first team with the Premier League giants, Lopez was plucked from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy.
The Catalans were desperate to keep the promising talent on their books, and offered him a deal last summer.
Liverpool were said to be monitoring the situation, aware that an opportunity might arise to prise the prodigy away from the La Liga champions.
Instead it was Arsenal who swooped first, acquiring Lopez on a scholarship deal, before signing a professional contract when he turned 17 last May.
The deal was rubber-stamped by former Barcelona Sporting Director Raul Sanlleh, now Head of Relations at the Emirates, who reportedly swayed his fellow countryman in furthering his football education at North London.
And since then, Lopez has gone from strength-to-strength for the Gunners’ youth sides, and proved to be a key member of Per Mertesacker’s academy set-up.
JORDI ALBA 2.0
Predominantly a left-back in the mould of Jordi Alba, Lopez loves to get forward and support the attack.
Joel is a left back with a lot of future, Barcelona reporter Albert Rog told football.london last year.
He loves to get forward and attack the penalty area. He combines very well with those inside him and has a good touch of the ball.
In defence he is intense and his speed helps him to correct his position when he makes a few mistakes.
“He is a player that coaches always like. Very discreet on and off the pitch and always good.
BARCA TRIED TO KEEP HIM
Lopez reportedly left Barcelona because the club are pinning their hopes on Juan Miranda, who plays in his position and is two-years his senior.
They tried to keep him because they do not want any player to leave,” Rog revealed.
“However, they were aware that they had opted for Miranda so it was difficult to retain Joel for sporting reasons.
Barcelona loss could be Arsenal’s gain, with Spain Under-17 international Lopez clearly impressing the coaching staff to warrant inclusion in his Europa League squad, despite failing to feature as the Gunners topped Group F.
And like Fabregas and Bellerin before him, you wouldn’t bank against another Barcelona starlet wowing fans in North London.