Arsenal’s days of dominating the Premier League seem like a distant memory. Riddled with crushing debt and instability, the club has been losing its significance with each passing year. Now, in the face of crisis, Arsenal have looked to their youth systems for salvation. For many seasons, the Premier League has seen floundering numbers of academy players making it into the first team. However, the emergence of the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and their prominence in Mikel Arteta’s system has paved the way for Arsenal’s academy players. This has increased the competitiveness of the players in the lower ranks, but only a few have truly caught Mikel’s eyes. The latest hot prospect? Marcelo Flores.
So, Who is Marcelo Flores?
An incumbent of the midfield, the 18-year-old from Mexico first caught the eye of the senior team scouts during the U18 Revelations Cup. His consistency in the grueling competition was admirable, and he was even named as the Player of the Tournament. Since then, Marcelo has been making quite the name for himself. He has stitched together several exquisite performances for the youth teams of the London based club, making himself a regular feature. In December 2021, Flores made his international debut. The Mexican press went on to label him as the star of Mexican football.
The hype around him is real and with reports claiming that Arteta is set to call him up after the international break, the question looms large – what does he offer Arsenal?
Football constantly evolves. The mutations in the formations and various interpretations of how the game should be played has made football more technical. With it, the amount of technically adept players has risen. Marcelo Flores falls right under this category. His precise control in the half spaces and agility to turn away from challenges has set him apart in the youth ranks. Like any good midfielder, he scans his surroundings before the ball reaches him and collects the ball with a deft touch towards the direction he wants to progress the ball in. Even when he finds himself in tight spaces across the pitch, he heavily relies on his speed and dribbling abilities to get out of the compact areas rather than simply playing a safe pass. Dribbling, speed, agility, improving spatial awareness, the Mexican sensation has displayed all the signs to thrive in Arteta’s system. But, where does he prefer to play?
Initially, the youngster broke into the youth ranks of Arsenal as a No.10. He likes to receive the ball in between the lines and play on the half-turn. The ‘trequartista’ has also been crucial in unlocking defences with his elegant, yet simple through balls played to the waiting wingers and strikers. When he gets into the final third, the Mexican is not one to shy away from taking a shot, and he is potent even from outside the box.
Unlike most No.10’s, he is a workhorse who constantly tracks back. Albeit he isn’t the best tackler, his willingness to constantly press and pressurize his opposing midfield is a big positive.
When he isn’t tasked with playing in the advanced playmaker role, the Mexican has also exhibited his prowess on either wing. His propensity to dribble and his raw speed make him a great asset on the wings. Although he constantly cuts in and struggles to maintain width, showing his tendencies of playing in central areas, he is quite an asset even on the wings, especially on the break.
Last, but not least, Marcelo can also function as an interior in a 4-3-3. He is more comfortable in the right half-space, but he can function even on the left. His link-up play with the striker is really strong and his runs into the box make him a constant threat on goal.
The Mexican is a great creative outlet, but there are a few weaknesses in his game as well. His habit of deserting his assigned zone and moving into central zones while playing as an interior, clogs the middle channel of the pitch. This also, in turn, opens up spaces for the opposition to exploit on the break. Not being the best at winning the ball back either, creates an issue in the heart of the midfield.
Despite his flaws, which can be ironed out, Marcelo is an asset in the middle of the park. But, how does the asset’s attacking threat convert into numbers?
(*All stats from Scoresway.com)
For the U18’s, Marcelo has been fabulous. Having played 938 minutes over 11 games for them this season, the midfielder has accumulated 6 goals. His conversion rate has been a measly 20% but given the zones he’s taken shots from, justifiable. When on target, he has taken 15 shots on goal, scoring 6 of them.
Flores is also a good distributor of the ball. Boasting a success rate of 81.35% passes, he has made 408 successful passes, averaging 48.2 passes per 90. The playmaker has made 23 key passes this season, averaging 2.1 key passes every game. His passing has also been quite progressive, making 26.3% of his passes into the final third, one of the top progressive passers in the league.
His consistency with the U18’s earned him a call from the U23 side in January. He started for them in the Premier League Cup and slotted home twice against Bournemouth. He was influential in all the goals the youth team scored that day.
At 18, Marcelo Flores is already showing the potential of ruling the midfield for Arsenal. He might not be perfect and still has a long way to go before he becomes a regular starter for Arsenal, but who doesn’t want to see his trampoline combination jump inspired celebrations on the centre stage. With the Arsenal returning to action on 11th Feb, hit with injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if the youngster makes the team sheet.