An XI of Prem loanees who have earned a first-team chance

Matt Stead
Arsenal's Folarin Balogun and Conor Gallaghe

Premier League teams will be monitoring their loanees to see who might be worth welcoming back next season. Arsenal have a couple of players.


GOALKEEPER: Kjell Scherpen (Brighton, on loan at Oostende)
Lacina Traore and Costel Pantilimon remain locked in a heated battle to decide the identity of the tallest Premier League player ever; think Godzilla in a 2013/14 Everton kit and Kong wearing goalkeeper gloves. Outside of the most scientific possible method – getting them to stand back to back and unevenly running a hand across the top of their heads – it might never be known who truly claims the crown. But Kjell Scherpen is watching from a distance with a vested interest. Brighton signed the 6ft 8ins shot-stopper from Ajax in July but only gave him a solitary appearance by mid-January, in the FA Cup victory over West Brom. Scherpen was otherwise tasked with watching Robert Sanchez from the sidelines before being sent out to Oostende in the Jupiler Pro League. The 22-year-old has kept a couple of clean sheets since, while his parent club have collapsed with Sanchez particularly culpable. Perhaps he needed the incredibly overbearing competition.


RIGHT-BACK: Neco Williams (Liverpool, on loan at Fulham)
Jurgen Klopp is not a typical subscriber to the loan market, preferring that even his fringe players be meticulously coached using the club’s methods rather than picking up bad habits elsewhere. But needs must and when Neco Williams requested a clearer path to more regular opportunities, the Liverpool manager acquiesced. Trent Alexander-Arnold was not for moving at Anfield so Fulham obliged, strengthening their Championship title pursuit with the addition of a prodigious defender and his supreme attacking instincts. Williams has a couple of goals and assists each in nine starts for the Cottagers and the chance to impress has done him the world of good. The Alexander-Arnold barrier will remain well beyond the end of this season but the Wales international has proven himself a capable deputy.


CENTRE-BACK: William Saliba (Arsenal, on loan at Marseille)
The method in the madness that has been William Saliba’s apparent Arsenal exile is becoming clearer. Unai Emery sanctioned a ¬£27m deal for the centre-half in the summer of 2019, allowing him to stay on loan at Saint-Etienne for another season. Mikel Arteta inherited the Frenchman within that mess of a team he has spent the past couple of years tidying. But Saliba was omitted from the club’s Premier League squad, was sent out to Nice for six months and then stayed in France after joining Marseille for the 2021/22 campaign. Many were aghast at the decision to sign Ben White while sending a ready-made defender packing but both Arsenal and Saliba have benefited. The Gunners have improved markedly in defence, while an international debut has followed another standout season in Ligue Un for a 21-year-old pencilled into Arteta’s plans. “I know that sometimes it’s difficult to explain or understand after the money that the club has spent trying to bring him in, to send him on loan,” the manager said in September, adding that “he’s a long-term player for us and we need to protect him as well”.


CENTRE-BACK: Levi Colwill (Chelsea, on loan at Huddersfield)
After Thomas Tuchel orchestrated ‘the culling of the kids’ at Stamford Bridge upon his appointment as manager, it is difficult to envisage any product of the club’s famed academy breaking into the first team. Reece James has been cast aside. Mason Mount is a distant memory. Trevoh Chalobah provides the foundation for the scrapheap of shattered young dreams. But Levi Colwill could finally change all that. The teenage centre-half has shone at Huddersfield, playing as big a part as anyone in their Championship promotion challenge. Leicester and Crystal Palace have both been credited with an interest and his recent England U21 debut marks the latest chapter in a potential international future. But the volume of centre-half churn expected at Stamford Bridge this summer could open the first-team door for Levi to put down roots.


LEFT-BACK: Niels Nkounkou (Everton, on loan at Standard Liege)
“I am learning a lot to return to my club stronger. It was not easy to change leagues, there was a period of adaptation which is now over.¬†Physically, I am well and I hope to continue in this way,” said Niels Nkounkou in November, reflecting on his prescient decision to leave Goodison Park in search of more minutes. The left-back landed at Standard Liege in Belgium, deducing that his path at Everton was blocked by the imposing figure of Lucas Digne. But his compatriot has long gone and the position is proving problematic for Frank Lampard, who has used Jonjoe Kenny, Ben Godfrey and Vitaliy Mykolenko on the left of his defence to varying degrees of non-success. Nkounkou has had his vociferous supporters in the fanbase since signing almost two years ago and would be worth trying out, whichever division Everton end up in.


CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Donny van de Beek (Manchester United, on loan at Everton)
Depending on who Manchester United choose as their guiding light into the brave new world of actually governing a club properly and not sustaining it on an exclusive diet of nostalgia and vibes, Donny van de Beek might play an integral role. Erik ten Hag derided the “mortal sin” that was committed by not picking him regularly, while Mauricio Pochettino once lauded his work rate and aptitude in front of goal. Everton have given the Dutchman no more stability but a consistency in selection has at least been welcomed. Van de Beek has strived to return the favour, showing glimpses of talent and application but understandably no ability to single-handedly drag the Toffees out of an increasingly sticky situation. With more support and trust in the Manchester United midfield, he could thrive under a manager able to work out how best to use him.


CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves, on loan at Sheffield United)
Nine goals and seven assists in 27 Championship appearances is a fine way to make the most of a less than optimal scenario. Morgan Gibbs-White made 26 Premier League appearances in Wolves’ first season back in the top flight, but only 18 in the two campaigns thereafter. A grand total of seven combined minutes in Bruno Lage’s opening trio of losses in August signified that a change was needed, temporary or otherwise. Sheffield United offered safe haven to Gibbs-White and he has¬†carped the life out of the subsequent diems. The 22-year-old has also underlined his versatility, starting games as a centre-forward, second striker, attacking and defensive midfielder and right winger. Wolves would be foolish not to find a place for him.


CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Conor Gallagher (Chelsea, on loan at Crystal Palace)
Chelsea could not really have planned the development of Conor Gallagher much better. The midfielder emerged with immense potential and expectation from the club’s youth system, signing a three-year contract ahead of a spell with Charlton in 2019. After being recalled from that loan, Gallagher was immediately sent to Swansea for the rest of the season. Another five-year deal followed, as did a first top-flight campaign with West Brom. Chelsea then entertained vast interest in the 22-year-old but opted to align him with Patrick Vieira and Crystal Palace for a year. Gallagher has gone from a Championship relegation battle to a play-off finish, Premier League relegation and now mid-table with two England caps in under three years. His next steps will surely be taken with the Blues, who have played this perfectly.


RIGHT WINGER: Philip Zinckernagel (Watford, on loan at Nottingham Forest)
It was December
when Philip Zinckernagel outlined one of the “agreements” he had struck with Watford. “I’m willing to¬†go here on loan for the full season,¬†I don’t want to go here for a couple of months and then go back,” said the Dane when the existence of a recall clause was reported.¬†“I want to just play regularly, play a lot of games over a period.” And he has certainly done just that: 37 appearances for Nottingham Forest have produced five goals, nine assists, a promotion tilt and some standout performances against Premier League teams. If Watford survive, a top-flight chance is due. But in the event of relegation emergency, they can break the glass and welcome back a proven Championship commodity.


CENTRE-FORWARD: Deniz Undav (Brighton, on loan at Union Saint-Gilloise)
Brighton have scored 26 goals in the Premier League this season. Deniz Undav has matched that tally in 33 appearances for Union Saint-Gilloise, the unlikely Belgian leaders. The Seagulls swooped to sign him for £6m in January and wisely sent him straight back on loan to make sure he got all that scoring out of his system before next season.


LEFT WINGER: Folarin Balogun (Arsenal, on loan at Middlesbrough)
“I wouldn’t say every player needs a loan,” noted Folarin Balogun, a man who has clearly never been asked to come up with a feature idea for a football website during an international break. “Looking at mine, at the time a loan was the right thing to do so I went ahead with it,” he continued, adding that Middlesbrough has helped him “mature” and focus on “what I need to do to get into the team” at Arsenal. Two goals and assists each in six Championship starts ought to help, as should his status as a Gunners forward with a contract that isn’t about to expire.