Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi’s departures this summer mean Arsenal now have no choice but to put deserved faith in their talented crop of youth players.
Against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, Unai Emery showed the first signs that he’s willing to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe regularly as an attacking trio this season.
If that’s the case, Arsenal will need backup options in wide areas, yet they’ve let Mkhitaryan and Iwobi leave the club for AS Roma and Everton. As a result, with no other established wide options available, the responsibility falls to the youth.
Reiss Nelson (19) is already a familiar figure to the Arsenal fans, having played 18 games for the first team. He scored seven goals on loan in Germany with Hoffenheim last season, and he’s been waiting for this kind of opportunity.
Then there’s Gabriel Martinelli (18), who joined from Brazil over the summer. Martinelli made his Premier League debut against Newcastle last month, and he was with the squad for the Spurs game even though he missed out on the final 18.
Bukayo Saka (17) has also travelled regularly with the squad this season just to miss out on the bench. The winger scored 14 goals and assisted 10 for the academy last season, as well as winning three penalties.
Mkhitaryan’s departure opens up a spot for at least one of Saka and Martinelli to step up. They’ll have competition from Emile Smith Rowe (19), however.
Though Smith Rowe often plays in the middle, he’s just as comfortable in wide areas, as he showed with a couple of goals from the wings for the first team last season. The teenager is finally fully fit after his injury problems this year.
These are arguably four of Arsenal’s most talented teenagers, and they’re all capable of playing in the exact positions Mkhitaryan and Iwobi have just vacated. It’s great news for them that they now have this opportunity to impress, it’s just about taking it.