Last season consisted of multiple steps forward for Marcelo Flores.
At club level, he started the campaign with Arsenal Under-18s before breaking into the under-23s after the turn of the year. After scoring six goals and assisting twice for the under-18s, he scored five and assisted once for the under-21s / 23s. The 18-year-old also made the first-team bench away at Crystal Palace in early April.
He ended the season by confirming he would represent Mexico – Flores was born in Georgetown, Ontario and has a British passport through his mother, who is Canadian but of English descent, while his Mexican father, Ruben, played in the Primera Division with Atlante. After being capped twice in friendslies, Flores Jr has been named in Tata Martino’s 23-man CONCACAF Nations League squad for games against Suriname (June 12) and Jamaica (June 15).
Here’s something I’ve been wanting to share for a while 👇🏻🇲🇽 pic.twitter.com/9VdMdeWTp0
– Marcelo Flores (@ 10marceloflores) May 16, 2022
“The change in tempo (is the biggest learning curve),” Flores told The Athletic about stepping into the first-team environment after Arsenal Under-23s’ final game of the season in April.
“Any first team is better than any youth team, so just getting the feel of it is good. Especially for a great country like Mexico. I’m just trying to get used to it and trying to bring what I learn from there here (Arsenal) and vice versa.
“Mikel Arteta looks for a lot in rising talent and work rate is the most important. Everything off the pitch comes first and then the work rate comes before talent. But any time I get a chance, I try and show him who I am and how I can help him in the future. ”
Flores, who was initially spotted by Ipswich Town’s youth development coach, Steve Foley – and joined the club’s academy before moving to Arsenal on a free transfer in 2019 – arrived at the under-23s with an urgency both on and off the ball that benefited the side, especially as he has a very clear idea of how he likes to play.
“I prefer playing in a No 10 / left-wing position in more of a free role. I like getting the ball to feet, being isolated on the wing and beating a man so I can get in one-v-one opportunities to score goals,He adds.
“I’m quite a flexible player, I do not mind playing as a No 9 or on either wing, even as a No 8 and I’ve always been an energetic person so I like pressing a lot.”
All of these aspects of his game have been on show when playing at both Meadow Park and Emirates Stadium towards the end of the season. Coming on against Chelsea Under-21s in the Papa John’s Trophy quarter-final in more of a free role, he applied pressure off the ball to force a turnover before entering the box late to score in a 4-1 win (below).
Arsenal struggled in a 4-1 loss to Liverpool Under-23s in February, but Flores was a constant threat, injecting pace into the attack with first-time passes and runs in behind, eventually scoring a fortunate goal for his efforts.
Given the fluidity of Kevin Betsy’s set-up, Flores would often start off the left for the under-23s. Yet he will often move around the pitch, switch wings, or go up front. That is a luxury unlikely to come in first-team football but remains beneficial to the development of the player.
“You have to be adaptable when you play for Arsenal,” Betsy said in February. “You have to be able to receive the ball in tight spaces, play wide, play inside and he can play off all four positions: No 7, No 11, No 10 – and he’s also played as a No 9 at times too.”
That adaptability will be particularly important when Flores returns for pre-season with Arsenal, whether it be with the first team or with the under-23s. Arsenal are back in Europe and if he is to be given opportunities in the Europa League group stage – as those matches could be good chances to rest Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and / or Gabriel Martinelli – having a rounded skill set can only help.
There are, of course, areas for the 18-year-old to develop heading into 2021-22 – a fact he is fully aware of.
“I was trying to develop my dribbling and driving with the ball a lot,” adds Flores. “Finishing at top speed is a big thing and I constantly try and improve off both feet.
“There’s a lot of video analysis after sessions, sitting down with coaches who tell me what I can do better. Also, training at Arsenal and away from Arsenal to try and perfect it. ”
Arsenal are already benefiting from a player who plays with tremendous urgency both with and without the ball, who can play across the front line and is proficient at finishing at top speed in Martinelli. The Brazil international turns 21 this summer and will likely be fighting for that left-wing spot with Smith Rowe next season.
The competition between the pair throughout the last campaign helped drive Arsenal forward. These different types of players in the same position help Arteta in different ways. The senior squad members, who are used in similar roles, can do the same for Flores when the Mexico international returns to London hoping to take more steps forward in the 2022-23 season.
(Top photo: David Price / Arsenal FC via Getty Images)