Julio Pleguezuelo
Julio Pleguezuelo signs deal with the Gunners.@JPleguezuelo

Spanish starlet Julio Pleguezuelo has signed a professional contract with Arsenal, the club have confirmed.

The 17-year-old defender became the latest youngster to controversially leave Barcelona's youth ranks after being lured to the Premier League by Arsenal, following in the footsteps of fellow La Masia graduates Fran Merida, Hector Bellerin, Jon Toral and most infamously, Cesc Fabregas.

In a practise that Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have also carried out in recent years, the Gunners exploited a loophole in Spanish football that enables them to sign young players before they are eligible to sign professional contracts once they turn 17.

Following a move to north London Pleguezuelo has been a regular in the club's uner-18 ranks and the under-19 side that reached the quarter finals of the Uefa Youth League. He has also impressed in the Gunners' FA Youth Cup run where they trail 2-1 to Chelsea after the first leg of their semi-final.

"Everyone at Arsenal would like to congratulate Julio on his first professional contract and we look forward to his continued progression with the club," a statement on Arsenal's website read.

Pleguezuelo is the second Arsenal prospect to commit himself to the club in recent months. The highly rated Gideon Zelalem signed his first professional contract in March having made his first team debut in the 4-0 victory over Coventry City in the FA Cup fourth round.

Both Pleguezuelo and Zelalem were involved for the Gunners on Thursday night as the youth side met their Chelsea counterparts.

Chuba Akpom, who was sent out on loan to Brentford and Coventry earlier in the season, opened the scoring for Arsenal early in the second half. Their lead lasted less than 10 minutes however as the highly rated Ruben Loftus-Cheek teed up Charlie Colkett to level the game before Alex Kiwomya headed in a rebound to leave Chelsea on the brink of reaching their fourth FA Youth Cup final in four years.