Photo by Dave Howarth – CameraSport via Getty Images

Arsenal starlet Daniel Ballard is making a huge impression on loan at Blackpool with Neil Critchley hailing the youngster’s “outstanding” form at Bloomfield Road, speaking to the Blackpool Gazette.

At the age of 21, this three-time Northern Ireland international is at a crossroads in his career.

Ballard is rapidly approaching the cut-off point for under-23 football and a place in Mikel Arteta’s first-team plans is still, for now at least, out of his reach.

What If The ‘Big 6’ Left The Premier League? PART 2 – Football Manager 2020 Experiment

What If The ‘Big 6’ Left The Premier League? PART 2 – Football Manager 2020 Experiment

So a loan spell at Blackpool felt like a major acid test for a player who, before this season, had just three senior appearances under his belt.

Fortunately, however, Ballard is passing those tests with flying colours.

He was man of the match as Blackpool kept their first clean sheet since mid-September during Saturday’s 1-0 triumph over fellow strugglers MK Dons. And former Football League journeyman Sam Parkin lauded an “exceptional” performance during the EFL on Quest highlights show.

While Critchley is determined to avoid raising expectations too high, the Blackpool boss couldn’t contain himself after a superb showing from his star centre-back.

Photo by Dave Howarth – CameraSport via Getty Images

“I don’t want to get too carried away with him because I don’t want to put a spell on him or anything,” the former Liverpool reserve coach says of Ballard.

“But he’s been outstanding in the two games he’s played and I thought he was nearly faultless defensively on Saturday.

“He has an assurance. He plays like a man and he defends well, competes well. I thought he was terrific.”

Ballard, a product of Arsenal’s academy since the age of eight, was rewarded with a new contract by the London giants last year.

Arteta has shown plenty of faith in youth since taking over from Unai Emery and, with Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis out of favour, more performances like Saturday’s could open a door for Ballard at the Emirates.

Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal’s record transfer deals

  1. Nicolas Pepe

    £72 million

  2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

    £56 million

  3. Alexandre Lacazette

    £52 million

  4. Thomas Partey

    45 million

  5. Mesut Ozil

    £42 million

In other news, Report: Newcastle United ready to sell 26-year-old, want £20m