Opportunities for younger players

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When you have so many players from a squad of twenty-four unavailable you had better have some good young players ready to step up to the first team bench, and possibly a step further.

The one time selected youngsters were used this season saw us knocked out of the League Cup at Sheffield. In the wake of that match the manager was quoted thus.

“The occasion was too much for the young players. They were not ready to play at this level, none of them.”

I was surprised at the time, although thought later that he was caught in the disappointment of the moment and had he been asked about them the following morning his reaction would have been very different.

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This article first appeared on The Arsenal Collective in December


On the night we gave debut starts to Alex Iwobi and Glen Kamara. Before the match was 20 minutes old we had a third debutant, Ismael Bennacer replacing the injured Theo Walcott. On the hour a fourth youngster made his bow, Krystian Bielik.

With hindsight I’m sure Arsene might have been more critical of the senior players around the youngsters. There was little sign of advice or encouragement being given. With that same hindsight he might have shared that he had not intended, nor expected, to have four youngsters thrown in at the deep end at the same time.

That damning comment may well be used against Arsene as he is going to need to turn to the pick of his youngsters again in the short term to bolster the bench. So with this in mind I watched the highlights of last night’s victory for the U-21s at Brighton. Obviously one match is not going to enable a balanced assessment of the youngsters, which applies equally to that night at Sheffield, but it is an indicator of current form.

Calum Chambers was brought in to gain experience in the holding midfield role where an opportunity for immediate promotion exists. Steve Gatting, the U-21s head coach gave his opinion of his performance.

“I think it was good for Calum to get 90 minutes under his belt and for such a young lad he has got a lot of experience and tonight I thought he was excellent.”

It seems as though Calum is currently seen as being ahead of his team-mate last night, Krystian Bielik, in the pecking order for the defensive midfield position. I thought the Pole gave a decent cameo in his half an hour at Sheffield, although he has been used as a central defender in the U-21s this season.

With only Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey available for those deep-lying roles expect to see Calum in action there sooner rather than later.

On the left hand side of midfield, another area with a senior vacancy, we got another glimpse of Jeff Reine-Adelaide. As is often the case with precocious talent there is a danger of over-hyping the young man.

Already he is referred to as “The Jeff” on social media sites. Expectations are already perhaps too high for one so young. Having said that I thought he was impressive in his Emirates Cup performances against Lyon and Wolfsburg, and he made an impression in the U-17 World Cup in Chile.

The talented French lad can expect to be at least on the bench. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Campbell, and Kieran Gibbs might be preferred starters for the two wide positions, but we may just be about to see Jeff unleashed on tiring defenders at the tail-end of matches shortly.

Arsene may soon have to reflect, with a smile I’m sure, that he is very happy with the young talent available to him. (Typed with difficulty using tightly-crossed fingers!)

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