After an outstanding performance with the Arsenal u21s on Tuesday night, Omari Hutchinson has given Kevin Betsy even more of a selection headache for the post-international break fixtures.
Away in Newport on Tuesday, Hutchinson made just his second start since the end of August. He hasn’t quite been completely frozen out of the u23 side lately, making substitute appearances in each of the last three Premier League 2 fixtures, but he’s certainly lost the starting role he had at the start of the campaign.
In a way, it’s bizarre that Hutchinson lost his place at all. In the games immediately leading up to his first exclusion from the u23 starting lineup, the winger scored two goals against Crystal Palace and assisted two against Spurs. He was the most dangerous player on the pitch on both occasions, and his first goal against Palace was one of the best of the season so far.
Back in the team and with Arsenal 1-0 down to Newport County in the early stages of Tuesday’s match, Hutchinson pulled off a superb individual goal to draw them level.
The 17-year-old picked the ball up from a short corner, nutmegged a defender, cut inside of another before curling a shot inside the far post. It was just the kind of inspiration Arsenal needed at that point in the match, and the kind that Hutchinson is always capable of providing.
Throughout the remainder of the fixture, Hutchinson continued to provide a forward thrust to Arsenal’s play. The Newport match commentators said afterwards that he would be the player they’d most want to take on loan, if they had the chance.
So why has a very talented young player in great form not started a single PL2 match since August 27th?
The answer is a combination of Kevin Betsy’s formation change and the addition of a few other big attacking talents to his side. Most notably, Hutchinson’s departure from the starting lineup coincided with Folarin Balogun and Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand’s arrival in it.
Betsy shifted from playing a front three with two wingers to a front two with two strikers, in a 3-5-2 formation. Hutchinson may well be Arsenal’s outstanding youth winger right now, but Betsy is playing a team that doesn't use wingers. A team on a run of wins against Manchester United, Chelsea, and Brighton, and one draw away to league leaders Manchester City.
Hutchinson showed on Tuesday that he could probably be successful playing in the front two alongside Balogun or Mika Biereth, but the two strikers are arguably in even better form than him. He could play in midfield, but that would mean dropping Oulad M’hand or Charlie Patino.
The versatile teenager could even play at right-wing-back, but you’d probably lose a bit of his attacking influence and risk exposing the team a bit more defensively. It’s also not as though Arsenal are lacking wing-backs, with Ryan Alebiosu and Zak Swanson currently fighting for that same spot even in Brooke Norton-Cuffy’s injury absence.
In each case, including Hutchinson would mean dropping another player in form, and messing with a winning formula.
The fact is, the youngster looks like such a promising talent that Betsy might have to do just that. He might have to accept losing some stability in the weekly lineup to ensure Hutchinson and the others don’t stall in their development.
As I've said on many occasions in the past, the only long-term solution to this problem is Arsenal cutting the squad down in January. They need to send players out on loan so those remaining can play consistently.
Until then, Hutchinson’s performance on Tuesday has underlined that he needs to be more involved.