By Rob Kelly
It is a measure of Nigel Neita’s character that even in the aftermath of last week’s disappointing NextGen Series defeat in Marseille, he was happy to talk. And not just to express his understandable disappointment at the state of the Marcel Cerdan Stadium’s pitch, but to reflect on the squad’s entire experience in the south of France.
“We tried to do the right things in the right areas, we didn't just lump it up the field,” he told Arsenal.com. “At times when we needed to keep the ball we did so, and when we had to go in behind them, we did that as well. Defensively I think we were sound and that is one of the biggest positives.
“I don't think they outplayed us, it wasn't really a game where either side played that well. It was more of a grafting match, but they nicked it right at the end [with an injury-time goal].
“What we can learn from this is that we are not always going to have the greatest of surfaces to play on, but we will come to places like Marseille in the future and have to adapt. We can't make excuses, we just have to adapt to the day and play with what is given.”
It is a remarkably philosophical and mature assessment of a defeat that left a bad taste in the mouth of many. But Neita is growing up quickly, and making obvious strides on and off the pitch. Indeed, his disciplined and hard-working display in Marseille will have been a major positive for Terry Burton, who is likely to call on the striker again for the under-21s against Bolton tonight.
The 18-year-old also featured in last week’s keenly-contested 2-1 victory at Everton, and said that playing alongside the likes of Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna at Finch Farm was a “great experience”.
But the Arsenal squad for this evening’s game is likely to be somewhat younger than the last, and neither of the two aforementioned players are expected to take to the field, having faced QPR with the first team on Saturday. With the Gunners also in Capital One Cup action at Reading the following day, Burton is likely to be without a number of his key personnel.
But with Neita available and hungry for action, the Arsenal head development coach will know he has a mature and reliable presence to call upon. And one keen to continue the progress he has made this term.
- We will have live, minute-byminute tweets from this evening's match from 6.55pm (UK time) on the @ArsenalLive account