On Thursday night, Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez, and Ben Cottrell underlined the role the Arsenal academy can play for Mikel Arteta.
Arsenal’s starting lineup to face Dundalk in midweek wasn’t short on academy graduates, with Emile Smith Rowe joining Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Joe Willock. But the second-half substitutions showcased some of the newer names in the side.
First, there was Folarin Balogun, making his fourth appearance for the club. The young striker had already come on as a substitute against Dundalk, Molde, and Rapid Vienna, but this was another chance for him to show what he can do.
The 19-year-old didn’t fail to grasp the opportunity, setting up Joe Willock for Arsenal’s third goal of the game within five minutes. He even had time to add another himself, after Nicolas Pepe played him in on goal.
Ben Cottrell and Miguel Azeez got chances in the final 10 minutes or so as well, and immediately showed some nice touches. One clip of Azeez cleverly turning away from two opponents quickly blew up on Twitter.
‘See you later’ – Miguel Azeez, probablypic.twitter.com/28F1Z0bznd
— Top Bins Talk (@TopBinsTalk) December 10, 2020
It wasn’t as if the other former academy players starting the match failed to make their mark either.
Nketiah added another goal to his tally to become Arsenal’s top scorer this season, Smith Rowe provided an assist to hit three goal contributions in three games, Willock’s goal brought him to three goals and four assists in the group stage.
Maitland-Niles may not have had any goal involvements, but he created a couple of chances, saw a curling long shot just barely saved, and linked up really well with Smith Rowe all game.
The game was a dead rubber against Dundalk, so we shouldn’t read too much into it. But Arsenal’s young players are ready and waiting to help out the struggling first team, the least they deserve is the chance to prove it in matches that matter.