A preseason tour is a great time for development and discovery for any young player, but for the youngsters that happen to wear the Arsenal cannon on their chest, this preseason means just a little more than usual.
With Arsenal’s late-season capitulation, Champions League football was teased in front of us, and then cruelly ripped away as the likes of Brighton, Crystal Palace, and Everton took turns twisting the knife deeper and deeper into our top-four bid, cutting it down at the last possible moment. Chelsea then finished us off in Baku as we hopped around screaming “it’s just a flesh wound”, looking like Caesar during a impromptu March hangout.
For many players, this was a deep and painful blow (see Koscielny, Laurent). Another year of Europa League nights awaits.
For the Arsenal academy products, though, the Champions League slip-up could not have come at a better time.
The lack of financial replenishments that comes with the Champions League have limited Arsenal’s flexibility in the ever-complex and inflated transfer market (as you are probably aware of due to the one (ONE!) player signed with just weeks left in the window). Forcing Arsenal to look at internal options to fill the ever-growing holes in the squad.
Arsenal, in classic Arsenal fashion, seemed to have stumbled upon their solution. Critical long-term planning still seems to have not been spliced into the “Arsenal DNA” as of yet.
The likes of Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Tyreece John-Jules, Gabriel Martinelli, and a few more have a serious chance of solidifying themselves as rotatable squad members for this upcoming season.
In any other season, the playing time they would get this summer would be solely to attract loan offers, or they would get a minute here or there in the waning minutes of a game for novelty’s sake and then be stashed in the U-23’s until next June. That luxury, or tradition, is being put on hold, and Arsenal are better for it.
The youngsters listed above aren’t just being paraded out there in order to save the legs of the first-teamers this summer, there are some serious minutes up for grabs this season, and so far from the first two games, most of the names above are making every single minute count.
Willock was breath of fresh air in the midfield. Recovered the ball, passed it well, and was brave throughout. Nelson was inches away from putting away a chance. John-Jules set up Nketiah with a beautiful ball across the face of goal that ended up being the winner. Martinelli almost had two goals in his debut against Colorado.
All of this has happened in just two games, and it looks like there is more to come.
Unai Emery even alluded to using more of a youth-based squad in the Europa League this year compared to the senior laden squads of last fall in his press conference after the Bayern match.
And for many fans, that was music to their ears. Not only is it an opportunity for the youth players to develop, it also allows the first XI to have some rest, helping them focus on the Premier League fully. This also could help Arsenal withstand fatigue later in the season as the regular players will have less miles on their legs once it gets to the spring.
Everybody wins in this situation. Arsenal stay within their allotted budget, fill the holes in the squad with players who grew up at Arsenal, while also keeping Arsenal’s most important players fit for the business end of the season.
The impact these kids could have could change the scope of the season dramatically, and they look more than up for the challenge.
Judging by the fans in the stadium in LA, and by what was being said online during and after the game, you can feel an undercurrent of support that is swelling up for these kids. They are ”our” boys, they are fun to watch, and they look like they know what’s at stake and are going to give it everything they have.
For a fanbase that is looking for anyone and anything to love, and for some positives in what has been a pretty relentlessly negative 2019, you can’t get much better than that. When they are your own, it just means that much more. I wouldn’t know, I don’t have children (that I know of) but that’s just what people have told me.
These new kids are the shock to the system that not only the fans needed, but the squad as well.
A squad that many over this decade have claimed to be soft, spineless, and mentally weak is getting a much needed boost from kids who grew up Arsenal, are one step away from achieving their dream, and will do whatever it takes to achieve it.
There will be bumps in the road, as every journey has - it’s never going to be a straight line from “play the kids” to world sporting domination - but any detour from the road that we drove down recklessly, hanging on for dear life as the car fell apart around us, in the last season or two would be welcome by all.