A highlight of Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Burnley on Sunday was seeing Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock take their opportunities, showing what can happen when you put faith in youth.
It took until the final day of the season, with nothing much to play for, but Willock and Nketiah finally got proper chances to show what they can do in the first team.
Willock was making his first Premier League start of the campaign, the second league start of his career, whilst Nketiah came off the bench for his longest appearance of the league season.
Both took full advantage, with Willock’s improved passing and physicality impressing fans in the first half, as he also went inches away from scoring. Then Nketiah secured the result in the second half with his first Premier League goal from a very tight angle.
It’s one of very few games this season where Unai Emery has put faith in youth players, but it’s hard to see why he does it so infrequently, because they’ve always lived up to expectations.
Willock scored a brace in the FA Cup against Blackpool, and Emile Smith Rowe got the winner against the same side in the League Cup. The pair both starred and scored in a 3-0 win over FC Vorskla, whilst Bukayo Saka was man of the match in his only start against Qarabag.
Whenever the academy players have been called upon, they’ve stepped up to the task, but they’ve had so few opportunities to show what they can do.
No u20 player has played over 450 minutes (five games’ worth) for Arsenal this season, bar non-academy midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, who has played over 3,000.
The Arsenal u23s won the league last season, they finished second this season, they’ve taken pretty much every first-team chance they’ve been given. Nketiah, Saka, Willock and John-Jules have all scored double figures for the youth teams and then impressed for the senior side. Why aren’t they playing more?