Arsenal's academy has taken a hit in recent years. After bringing through the last generation of youngsters, namely Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Nicklas Bendtner and Johan Djourou, all of whom made various positive contributions, the recent production line stagnated. Henri Lansbury and Jay-Emmanuel Thomas never made the step to the highest level, and there was a huge clear out over the summer, including a revamping of the coaching staff and director. Players who some had high hopes for, such as Oguzhan Ozyakup and Martin Angha have been moved on. But Wednesday's penalty win over Stoke showed that there is hope once again.
Three youngsters made their debut for the club: Isaac Hayden, Hector Bellerin and Kris Olsson, and there were first starts for Ryo Miayichi and Thomas Eisfeld. Chuba Akpom made his second appearance and Serge Gnabry made his third start for the club. Not all of those players shone; despite scoring, Eisfeld very rarely contributed, and made the fewest touches of any starter, and only made 4 more touches than Kris Olsson, who played half the amount of time. For a central midfielder, that is not enough, and he often shied away from moving towards the ball when Mikel Arteta or Nicklas Bendtner needed him to. Yet he still made a positive impact, and if there is anyone to get the best out of a youngster, it is Arsene Wenger.
The two wide players, Ryo and Gnabry, showed flashes of quality. Miyaichi made crosses of various success, but showed good pace and stretched play. His final ball, though, needs a lot of work. Gnabry too was inconsistent, which will happen. He, though, showed a reminder of his quality with a fantastic through ball for Nicklas Bendtner, and will continue to get chances with Theo Walcott absent. He grew into the game, much as he did against Stoke, and it is that rate of improvement that gives Arsenal high hopes for him.
Olsson, Hayden and Bellerin, playing midfield roles, also impressed. Hayden had one error, a bad tackle on Youssuf Mulumbu, but he showed good positional sense, a decent range of passing and useful physicality, allowing Mikel Arteta to play a more attacking role. Olsson, who looks far stronger now than he did 2 years ago, also played well, and Bellerin showed exceptional nous when he replaced Arteta, as he is a right back who was converted from a winger. Perhaps he was proving the "All La Masia graduates can play midfield" theorem.
Meanwhile, the returning senior players showed Arsenal's depth issues are perhaps not as disastrous as made out. Nicklas Bendtner showed enough to get another chance, showing some nice touches and control, including a fantastic pass for Eisfeld. When he was through on goal, he showed rust, but if he gets sharper, he could be a viable backup for Olivier Giroud. Meanwhile, alongside the ever-influential and excellent Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen had a calm performance, a word not often associated with Arsenal's captain over the past year. If he can find his old form, he too can be a viable backup for Laurent Koscielny or Bacary Sagna.
They may have not been at their best as a team on Wednesday, but the individual performances show that this could be a very promising season for Arsenal. While there are still some depth issues, there is certainly reason to believe that the players who played on Wednesday could easily be a short-term replacement if Arsenal need to rotate or replace. The squad isn't perfect, but it's far less disastrous as some of us had thought.