Why Arsenal will let one of their biggest young talents leave this summer

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One of Arsenal’s best young prospects now looks set to leave the Emirates - so what went wrong?

Go back a couple of years, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal fan anywhere who wasn’t thrilled by the prodigious talent of Charlie Patino. Described by Brain Stapleton, the scout who discovered him for the Gunners, as “the best kid I’ve ever seen,” Patino was earmarked for greatness from a very young age. Now, after two years on loan in the Championship, the 20-year-old Patino is likely to leave Arsenal for good this summer. So what happened?

A report from The Evening Standard suggests that Patino wants to move on due to his failure to break into Mikel Arteta’s first-team plans, and the suggestion is that he will likely move overseas. But why is Patino, so heavily hyped a couple of years back, now seen as surplus to requirements?

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His spell at Blackpool last season offers plenty of clues. For all his obvious talent and technique – Patino plays as a deep-lying playmaker in the vein of Andrea Pirlo – he struggled with the physicality of the second tier. A rangy, willowy player, he was often left battered and beaten in one-on-one duels and his lack of pace meant that he struggled to make an impact in the press.

The reviews from Blackpool fans were less than kind. A foolish red card against Swansea City didn’t help to improve public opinion – he also picked up 10 bookings, often simply because he struggled to make up the ground needed to make a tackle rather than because of any particularly aggressive play. For all that his passing range was extravagantly lauded in the youth ranks, he struggled to translate his talents to senior football straight away.

He picked up six goal contributions in 34 Championship matches but only managed an awful 68.8% pass completion rate, often trying killer balls and long-range passes which failed to find their target. Pirlo might have been the comparison in terms of playing style, but a teenage Patino was struggling to clear that bar. Blackpool were relegated.

This season, he has tried his luck at Swansea City, and there have been plenty of signs of improvement as he gains experience – that pass completion rate, for starters, was up to a far more acceptable 79.3%. He was creating many more shooting chances, too. Nevertheless, despite being a regular in the first half of the season, he hasn’t been named in the starting XI once since new manager Luke Williams took over in January.

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Williams has been happy to discuss the issue facing Patino: “If you can’t effectively take the ball off the other team then it doesn’t matter how much ability you’ve got.

“He’s very passionate and has so much desire. At the top level of the Championship the physicality is just mind-blowing. I think this is probably the toughest thing for Charlie at the moment. I think if the team plays with control more and controls the game with the ball more, Charlie’s going to be exceptional.”

The problem, in other words, isn’t talent. It’s his lack of physical attributes. He’s slow and fairly weak, at least by the standards of elite football. Which is why the reports suggesting that he will leave the Emirates this summer have him moving overseas – English football may just be too physical for his skill set, and he might shine more brightly elsewhere. It’s not as if he doesn’t have supporters in England, and he was called up for his England Under-21 debut last September, but he’s struggling to make a mark in a division where the ability to mix it up in and against the press is essential.

The problem is that while the Championship is notoriously physical, the Premier League isn’t all that far behind. Arteta’s system at Arsenal focuses on a pressing unit, looking for midfielders who can win the ball back out of possession and get the ball quickly upfield. In the modern English game, Patino is something of a misfit.

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In truth, there are few leagues in which the deep-lying playmaker is in fashion. The age of the persistent press means that deeper midfielders need to be tough tacklers and impressive physical specimens. To make it as a Pirlo-style player in this day and age, you would need to be as good as Pirlo himself was, and even then it would be an uphill battle. Patino isn’t ready to clear a bar that high yet anyway, and as such he is something of an anachronism, a talented young player stuck in the wrong tactical era.

Perhaps life overseas will be a little kinder to him. There is no arguing against his talent, but he needs to find a team whose midfield set-up gives him space on the ball to work with and doesn’t rely on him to win it back in narrow areas. He shouldn’t have too much issue finding a team willing to take a chance on him, at least, with a Spanish passport (courtesy of his father) meaning that registration rules won’t be a problem in most countries either.

Hopefully, he will find his niche. He may be out of step with the tactical tenets of much of the modern game, but he has a gossamer first touch and can pick a pass from anywhere on the field. His Arsenal dream is probably over, but perhaps he can find a club who will take care of him and who play in a way in which his deficiencies don’t matter quite so much. Hearing his manager at Swansea talk about his passion and determination is, at least, reassuring. Even if Arteta and Arsenal have given up on him, he shouldn’t give up on himself just yet. The boy can play. He just needs to find somewhere he can play his way.

As for Arsenal fans – it’s always a shame when a hype train loses steam. But there’s always another one ready to leave the station soon, and Ethan Nwaneri seems to gathering speed as he chugs along down the tracks. Perhaps this one will reach its final destination on time.

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