Arsène Wenger had to be convinced to sign Thomas Eisfeld in January. He’s glad he did now.
Arsenal had been expecting to sign out-of-contract Eisfeld this summer, but were forced to move in January, over fears that his club Borussia Dortmund were ready to offer bumper terms, to make him stay in Germany.
Wenger described bringing the 19-year-old to North London, six months early, as an opportunity to allow him time to settle. A handful of reserve team run outs and a good holiday later, and Eisfeld’s period of transition looks to have been most valuable.
A diminutive, intelligent and technical play-maker, he returns to London this week having made a notable impression during Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Asia. Three late substitute appearances, two goals and a feeling that this boy really is one for the future. Not bad, considering he only made the trip following a late injury to Henri Lansbury.
Eisfeld is one of Wenger’s most intriguing signings. At 19, he had made little influence on a Dortmund first-team geared to promote from within, and while he might have been given chances by now, he looks to be a genuine talent who has slipped the net.
His inclusion on the trip to Asia has presented Wenger with a key opportunity to take a close look. Eisfeld is a quiet, shy character, who is yet to associate himself with any of the groups within the current setup. Yet his awareness and appreciation of a pass, means he is a valuable and trusted ally on the pitch.
Arsenal just need to find him a position. New first-team coach Neil Banfield operated Eisfeld in an advanced number 10 role on his reserve team debut, but believes he could be a useful false nine – a position where he scored his first goal for the club, in the tail end of last season.
In Asia, Wenger has played him on both flanks, and also as a free player in a three-man central midfield. Either way, Eisfeld has qualities that are adaptable. He makes clever runs into the box, finds space, and can score goals.
Wenger must now decide what next to do with Eisfeld, but the general consensus is that he will spearhead Arsenal’s assault on the NextGen Series, while the Capital One Cup offers further opportunities for him to thrive.
He isn’t the only player to show positive signs in Asia, though. Chuks Aneke, Benik Afobe and Ignasi Miquel all showed glimpses of their potential, but all three are likely to spend next season on loan, polishing their craft.
All in all, the Asia experience will go down as one where youngsters and individuals benefited, and with a handful of squad places up for grabs, there’s plenty for Wenger to muse over.