On Sunday, Arsenal got their Premier League campaign off to a satisfactory start. The Gunners secured a 1-0 win over Newcastle United at St James’ Park. It wasn’t a thrilling game, but Unai Emery’s side looked comfortable throughout. What’s more, an away clean sheet is something to savour, considering Arsenal only managed to keep one in the Premier League last season.
Another positive aspect of the north London club’s victory was how well the young players on the pitch acquitted themselves. For the first time since 1998, Arsenal began a league game with two teenagers in their starting XI. On this occasion it was the pair of 19-year-olds, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson. Both have emerged through the club’s academy, as did 21-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who started the game at right-back.
Willock and Nelson both showed plenty of confidence and flashes of real attacking quality. Maitland-Niles also shone, and showed great awareness and vision set up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s match-winning goal.
In the middle of the park, 20-year-old Matteo Guendouzi produced a brilliant performance too. The Frenchman demonstrated maturity and confidence beyond his years to stamp his authority on the midfield battle.
Unai Emery will be delighted that the faith he showed in these youngsters paid off. This will especially be the case given one of his established stars, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, failed to impress at all. The 30-year-old ought to have led by example. Instead, he made numerous mistakes and showed a concerning lack on end product.
Since his arrival from Manchester United in January 2018, the 84-cap Armenia international has regularly disappointed in an Arsenal shirt. Despite all his experience and talent, it is clear that Emery cannot rely upon Mkhitaryan to deliver this season. The same goes for German superstar Mesut Ozil. The playmaker endured an ineffective season last time out and may well never get back to his best.
Considering this is the case, Emery may well need the young prospects in his squad to step up and shoulder plenty of responsibility for Arsenal’s fortunes this season. If Sunday’s opening game is anything to go by, this crop of youngsters may well prove up to the task.