Charlie Nicholas thinks Arsenal’s youth players are being punished for the first-team’s failures, and I can’t say I disagree with him.
Ahead of Arsenal’s match against Östersunds FK on Thursday night, Nicholas wrote: “I like the look of the young lad Eddie Nketiah in the Carabao Cup but he hasn’t had a sniff in the Premier League because the first team go through hardships. It’s like the young lads get punished for the senior players’ failures.”
The tie against Östersund hammered that point home.
With Alexandre Lacazette injured and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied, and Mesut Özil’s illness for the second leg, gaps opened up in the team.
After Arsenal won the first leg 3-0, the match at the Emirates was a perfect opportunity to start some of the young players.
Unfortunately, Arsenal’s disappointing league performances this season leave them desperate to keep their Europa League chances alive.
Wenger couldn’t risk playing all his youngsters in Sweden, or at the Emirates. The team don’t have the safety net of top four to fall back on for Champions League qualification.
Plus, players like Welbeck need the chance to play their way back into form. If the 27-year-old was scoring every game in the Premier League, I’m sure he wouldn’t have started both matches against Östersund. But he needs the games to find his feet.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as Arsenal are still a lot better than many other clubs at giving academy prospects game-time.
Nonetheless, here are some of the young players who have suffered from the first team’s problems this season:
As Nicholas points out, Nketiah made a great start to life in the senior side with his efforts in the League Cup. Yet, four months later, we still haven’t seen him start a match for the first team.
The tie against Östersund felt like the perfect opportunity, particularly after the first leg result. But Welbeck needed the game-time more, and Arsenal were desperate to progress, so the striker has to settle for substitute appearances. If he’s lucky.
Early in the Europa League group stages, Nelson was a frequent fixture of the team. He started three of the first four matches, and performed well. Unfortunately, in order to keep Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott happy, he played at right-wing back.
Then, when Arsenal’s league form didn’t improve and the competition became more important, Nelson stopped getting starts altogether. Now he has to settle for a few minutes here and there at the end of matches.
Like Nelson, Willock got a number of starts early on in Arsenal’s campaign, but then they all dried up. He was impressive against West Ham in the League Cup quarter-finals, but didn’t make the squad for the semis. He started three matches in a row in the Europa League, but then only played 13 minutes of the next three.
If Arsenal were still in the top four, and the FA Cup, perhaps Willock could’ve retained his place in the two competitions.
Maitland-Niles is the closest to becoming a regular in the Arsenal first-team, but even he has had problems caused by the first team. It took 20 appearances this season for him to finally play in his preferred position in the middle.
Playing Francis Coquelin despite then selling him in January, and Wenger’s problems with new signing, Sead Kolašinac, meant Maitland-Niles’ only way into the team was to start at wing-back. Hopefully now he can get a few more chances in the centre.