Myles Lewis-Skelly: Arsenal's latest wonderkid midfielder who looks destined for the top
There were just seconds left of extra-time when Myles Lewis-Skelly set off on one last run forward against Manchester City in the FA Youth Cup semi-final.
The tie, which was locked at 1-1 after 120 exhausting minutes, looked destined for penalties, with players from both sides struggling to even muster the energy to get through to the final whistle.
But Lewis-Skelly, who had been the best player on the pitch, had other ideas.
When Bradley Ibrahim got the ball, Lewis-Skelly could sense one more opportunity. So off he went into the box.
It was a great run, and when Ibrahim’s excellent lofted pass fell for him, he planted a header past the onrushing City goalkeeper to send Arsenal through to the final in the most dramatic of circumstances.
At the age of just 16, Lewis-Skelly had shown once again why so many at Arsenal believe he is destined to make it to the very top.
But who is the teenage midfielder, and why is he so highly-rated? NXGN takes a closer look at one of Arsenal’s most promising youngsters...
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Where it all began
Lewis-Skelly has been at Arsenal since he was nine. Spotted at an early age by the club, he was invited to Hale End and has been quickly working his way through the age groups ever since.
Along with fellow 16-year-old Ethan Nwaneri, who is a bit younger than his team-mate, the pair have been progressing through the academy playing in higher age groups due to their stand-out ability.
The big break
Probably the first time that people started to notice Lewis-Skelly was when he came off the bench to make his Under-18s debut against Reading as a 14-year-old.
Even before that game, there was hype about what the young midfielder could do, but that only increased when he waltzed through the Reading defence just minutes after coming on and fired a thunderous left-footed shot into the top corner.
It was a goal that went viral on social media, with Arsenal fans around the world being given their first real taste of the talent that was progressing through at Hale End.
Lewis-Skelly hasn’t looked back since and has become a regular around the first-team squad this season, even travelling for the training camp in Dubai during the break for the World Cup, where he came off the bench in a game against Lyon.
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How it's going
Lewis-Skelly has been one of the stand out players from the U18s run to the Youth Cup final, showing exactly why he is viewed as one of the best young talents coming through at Arsenal.
His excellent header in the last minute of extra-time against Man City in the semi-final was the goal that sent Arsenal to the final and capped a Man-of-the-Match display from the midfielder.
It’s easy to forget that Lewis-Skelly is still just 16, given the physical presence he plays with on the pitch and the way he can impact games, even at U21s level.
“We give him the tools he needs to develop,” said U18s coach Jack Wilshere, when discussing Lewis-Skelly. “But you see certain moments that are not coachable. Certain players can’t do that, only certain players can, but there’s much more that comes with it like how he lives.
“He’s a top kid, but he has to manage that going forward when he gets a bit more attention. He comes from a great family, which is massive, and I know that they’ll steer his journey and be present throughout that, a bit like me with my dad and family. That’s so important.”
Lewis-Skelly possesses almost everything you need to be a top player.
He’s excellent with the ball at his feet thanks to his impressive technique and he has the engine needed to be able to get from box to box.
The driving run he produced in the Youth Cup quarter-final against Cambridge, which led to Nwaneri scoring, perfectly highlighted the qualities he possesses.
Arsenal’s young midfielder picked up the ball from his centre-back deep inside his own half before running the length of the pitch, taking at least four Cambridge players out of the game as he made his way into the visitors’ penalty area.
It was a fabulous run, as was the late surge he produced in the semi-final to head home the dramatic extra-time winner.
While almost every player on the pitch were out on their feet after 120 minutes, Lewis-Skelly found the energy to make a run into the box to get on the end of Ibrahim’s pass to make the difference in a game that seemed destined for penalties.
Room for improvement
Lewis-Skelly is still just 16 so has lots to learn.
His decision-making is obviously something that will improve as he gets older, but the teenager has already shown he can be decisive in big moments when he gets a chance.
He also needs to nail down a position. At the moment, such is his quality, he can operate anywhere across the midfield, and he’s even operated as a makeshift left-back for the U21s.
That’s all well and good for now, but he will want to make one position his own as he continues to progress towards senior football.
“I don’t think he’ll be a left-back; he’ll be a midfielder,” said Wilshere. “But if we give him a little bit of everything (it will help).
“It’s important for him. You look at our first team and the way football’s going with players like Oleksandr Zinchenko, the full-back has to be able to play inside.”
The next...Michael Essien?
It’s hard to predict just what sort of player Lewis-Skelly will become given his age and the fact he has yet to really make a position his own yet.
But he has all the qualities to become an excellent box-to-box player who can drive a team on from the central areas.
He doesn’t have the physical stature of someone like Patrick Vieira in terms of his height, but he is extremely strong and looks like he will grow and mature into a powerful presence in midfield, but one who also has the impressive technical ability to make something happen out of nothing.
He can run from deep, like a Vieira or a Casemiro or a Paul Pogba-type midfielder. Someone who, once he gets the ball in front of him, can just stride away from the chasing pack as he turns defence into attack.
But he also has the engine to get around the pitch like N’Golo Kante, Michael Essien or even fellow Arsenal academy graduate Joe Willock. He can clean up, turn the ball over and use his physical ability to protect the back four whenever he is needed.
Lewis-Skelly’s wide range of qualities are exactly why Arsenal are so excited about his progress. It is also, however, why it is so difficult to predict exactly what sort of midfielder he will develop into.
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What comes next?
There has been lots of talk about Lewis-Skelly’s future. Both he and Nwaneri are being targeted by clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, given they are unable to sign a professional contract until they are 17.
But Arsenal are believed to have come to an agreement with Lewis-Skelly which will see him sign scholarship forms in the summer and then a senior deal on his 17th birthday.
That will be a huge boost to the Gunners, especially with Nwaneri’s future far from secured, as the prospect of losing both of their star 16-year-olds at the same time was a frightening one.
For Lewis-Skelly, the focus now will just be to continue doing what he has been and getting more and more game time for the U21s.
A loan move will certainly be on the agenda at some point, but it’s likely he will stay and continue his progress at Arsenal next season as he tries to catch Arteta’s eye whenever he gets the opportunity to train with the first-team.
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