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Jack Henry-Francis continues to impress and surprise

One of the standout performers from Arsenal’s opening pre-season fixture against Hibernian FC on Tuesday, Jack Henry-Francis continues to impress with the chances he’s given.Henry-Francis wasn’t exactly the young player on everyone’s lips ahead of pre-season. In fact, it was somewhat unexpected for him to be involved in the trip to Edinburgh at all. Yet his brief cameo in the first senior friendly of the summer underlined his impressive and perhaps surprising rise over the last 12 months.From the u18s to the first teamWinding things back to the start of 2020/21, Henry-Francis was a fringe member of the Arsenal u18 squad. He didn’t make a single league start until December, only appearing as a substitute twice in the first three months of the season.But around the turn of the year, things started to change. The 17-year-old defensive midfielder suddenly began to nail down a starting spot, making Ken Gillard’s lineup for 10 league games in a row between January 30th and April 20th.He also made himself a key player in the FA Youth Cup, with followers of the Arsenal academy taking particular notice of his tireless performance in the dominant Round-of-16 victory over West Ham United.By the end of the campaign, Henry-Francis had even made a couple of starts for the u23s, including in the key final-day draw that ensured their safety in the top division of youth football. A few days later, he dropped back down to score his first goal in an u18 win over Chelsea, following up three assists in his previous four games at that level.I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that even those of us who follow the academy closely were expecting the next step to be more regular involvement with the u23s. But evidently, the midfielder made an impression on Mikel Arteta in training to earn a first-team call-up last week.The senior call-upDespite reportedly not having even been offered a professional contract with Arsenal yet, Henry-Francis found himself on the bench for Tuesday’s game.There are some mitigating circumstances to his senior opportunity. Many of the club’s first-team midfielders are on holiday or leaving, Joe Willock has a knock, and two of the academy’s top midfield prospects in Miguel Azeez and Charlie Patino are both out injured.Other youth midfielders like James Olayinka, Ben Cottrell, and Tim Akinola seemingly stayed behind to search for loan moves.Advert InsertedBut when you’re a young player at a huge club like Arsenal, you need that bit of luck. It’s up to you to take your chance when it comes.One of the key positive attributes Henry-Francis brings to a team is his excellent workrate and bravery to get on the ball as often as possible. Those traits will always serve a player well when making the step up to senior football, as it’s better to make some mistakes and put them right than just to disappear into the background for 90 minutes.We saw that in evidence on Tuesday, as the youngster quickly buzzed about winning the ball, but he was also positive in possession. He took opponents on and he didn’t just play the safe pass every time.It was only a brief glimpse, as he played the final 15 minutes of the game. Still, it was arguably enough to show Arteta that he can use the midfielder in further pre-season matches if he needs to.What's next?I wouldn’t expect Henry-Francis to become a first-team regular this season, by any means. A return to the u23s when the competitive games begin is still the most likely outcome, or perhaps a good loan if he can continue to catch the eye.If there’s one thing the teenager is teaching us though, it’s not to underestimate him.