David Showell

As a beleaguered Liverpool found out in the Carling Cup, there’s yet another new star in the sky at the Emirates Stadium. As a loose ball on the edge of the area was hammered home with a cut-throat precision that would have made Fernando Torres proud, observers started to ask questions about yet another product of the all-powerful Arsenal production line.

Francisco Merida Perez is 19, and hails from Barcelona. A product of the Camp Nou youth system, his parents were reluctant to keep him at the club. Feeling that a glut of players at the Spanish giants would hinder his chances of success, they took the unusual step of approaching the agent of Cesc Fabregas, with a view to moving the boy elsewhere.

Barcelona’s loss turned into Arsenal’s gain. A move to England was followed very quickly by a putting of ink to contract, and Merida joined the promising set-up in north London. The signing proved controversial, with the Catalan club winning a court case and a rather large sum in compensation. Legal wrangling aside, The Gunners were more than happy to acquire another potential superstar on the cheap.

It is obvious to all and sundry that Merida has the skills required to make it all the way to the top. He’s skilful and quick-footed, and has an excellent eye for the killer pass. Unusually in someone so young, he’s also more than strong enough to take the plethora of knocks on the pitch that English football specialises in. His goal against Liverpool was belted in with his preferred left foot, but his right isn’t bad, either.

In 2007, the youngster returned to Spain to join Real Sociedad on loan. Merida took the chance to further his football education, and played to rave reviews, reviews which were loud enough to be heard in London. As is often the case at Arsenal, the loan period is the equivalent of junior school. Senior school, also becoming a tradition with The Gunners, was to be the Carling Cup.

A 6-0 thumping of Sheffield United was followed by a 3-0 triumph over Wigan, and the young Spaniard looked more than good in both games. Praise was coming in from all angles, not least from Arsene Wenger himself. The new kid was well and truly on the block.

On the international front, in 2007, Merida helped Spain win the Under-17 European Championships, and it surely won’t be long before the national senior squad give him a call. The evolution of Francisco Merida Perez is continuing, and the future looks extremely bright.

Arsenal are currently in talks with Merida and his agent, as they strive to fend off what amounts to a hostile takeover attempt from Atletico Madrid. A new five-year deal has been on the table for some time now, but remains unsigned at the moment. Despite his current deal running out at the end of the season, Merida appears keen to continue with Arsene Wenger’s project, stating recently, “I am committed to Arsenal and I am only thinking of playing there.”

The club are keen to hold on to Merida’s talents, and the next few weeks will be interesting as Gunners fans wait for the Spaniard to sign that new deal on offer. Arsenal are used to hanging on to their young talent, and won’t be happy to say adios to such a special prospect. If they hold on to him, they’ll be looking to use him to augment a midfield already bristling with skill, pace, commitment… and form.

Merida, his parents and his agent will be well aware that he’s going to be contending with the likes of Song, Fabregas, Walcott, Diaby, Rosicky, Arshavin, Nasri, Ramsey and even Wilshere. But with many a vote of confidence from Wenger coming his way, Merida must be sure he has a big part to play in the evolution of the perfect footballing side at the Emirates.

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