Arsenal are yet to hand a Premier League debut to academy graduate Ben Sheaf, who is currently on loan at League One Doncaster Rovers.
If you haven’t made your breakthrough at a bonafide Premier League giant by the age of 22, there is a temptation to assume that you’ve missed the boat. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
Just ask Jesse Lingard.
A Warrington-born academy graduate who first stepped foot in Carrington all the way back in the year 2000, it took Lingard until 2014 before a Premier League debut came his way.
Starting in an unfamiliar wing-back role against Swansea City in Louis van Gaal’s first game in charge of Manchester United, the 21-year-old was finally handed an opportunity many thought had passed him by long ago despite impressive loan spells at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby.
So if Ben Sheaf felt his Arsenal career was over before it even really begun, he could do worse than to look at Man United’s number 14 for inspiration. Like Lingard, Sheaf has been forced to make a name for himself away from his parent club, representing Stevenage and Doncaster Rovers in the lower leagues.
The technically gifted central midfielder will be 22 years of age when he returns to North London this summer but that does not mean he is destined to follow in the footsteps of Henri Lansbury, Krystian Bielik and co.
According to The Sun (6 April, page 54), Arsenal are already drawing up plans to loan him out again next season – albeit to a club playing at a much higher level than Doncaster. A move to Europe is on the cards with The Gunners intrigued to see how Sheaf handles a step up in quality and opposition.
If he impresses, in Germany or Holland for example, his progress will not go unnoticed by Mikel Arteta and his team of coaches.
As it stands, it looks like Sheaf will have to wait until he is 23 before he can really start thinking about a Premier League debut in Arsenal colours. But, as Lingard will tell you, sometimes good things come to those who wait.
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