“We’ve lost even before the starting whistle has been blown…”
I was resigned to yet another Arsenal loss to Manchester United the moment I saw Wenger’s lineup for his last ever Old Trafford game as manager.
90 minutes and a bit later, we lost, as I had rightly predicted. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t too miffed about it. Of course, it was painful to concede in added-time and lose all three points at the death but there was something about Arsenal’s performance that gave me a little bit of hope.
It was the YOUTH; THE YOUNG BLOOD. Didn’t mean to make that sound like a Twilight sequel. Now, before you rattle on about all the careers of promising young players that Wenger has destroyed, please just shut that golden trap and let me say what I have to say.
Monsieur Wenger is widely known to be a proponent of grooming youth and academy players over splashing out exorbitant amounts of cash on star signings. Throughout his tenure at Arsenal, he has overseen the rise and development of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Thierry Henry, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, so on and so forth. The Frenchman also once said that his record for nurturing talent at Arsenal is “second to none.”
While I agree to a certain extent that Wenger has been massive in the development of said players, is an advocate of using youth and his philosophy certainly vital to the Arsenal academy set-up, I cannot help but wonder: when was the last time he brought in a genuinely good youth player to the first team? Heck, don’t even try and bring in Alex Iwobi’s name. I’d much rather choke on a fishbone.
Wenger started Konstantinos “Dinos” Mavropanos, Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles on Sunday afternoon. While Nelson and Maitland-Niles have made a couple of starts and first-team appearances over the course of this season, Mavropanos hadn’t even kicked a ball in at senior level for Arsenal prior to his debut in Manchester.
It was a pretty hard pill to swallow when the lineups were released. United were going with all their best players and here Arsenal was, throwing in some young blood and not including the likes of Ozil, Ramsey and Koscielny.
My first thought was, “We are going to be slaughtered.” And briefly, just ever so briefly, did the 8-2 thrashing of yore cross my mind. Thankfully, we only lost by one goal and not six.
And, it had a lot to do with how the youths played. They were energetic, resolute and confident despite their inexperience. It was unusual to see such a young team so calm in the face of pretty decent opposition. Maitland-Niles ran the midfield down like an absolute beast, impressing even Pogba with his performance. Nelson’s display down the wing was assured and promising and Mavropanos extinguished the threats of Lukaku and Sanchez, as if he were a Prem veteran. Calum Chambers was equally impressive, marshalling the backline with strong leadership skills and much composure. Plus, he is really handsome.
I truly believe that Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Chambers (not exactly a youth team player but a young player nonetheless) and Mavropanos all have a future with Arsenal. This is obviously largely dependent on who Wenger’s successor is and if his successor is of a similar mould (supporter of youth) then I’m sure these young lads will have the chance to develop and grow into their roles. Fingers crossed that Wenger gives them more opportunities to play as the season draws to a close.
Rob Holding, it was announced, signed a new long-term contract with the club. While there is no doubting his talent, I am always a little anxious when he’s on the ball because he has the tendency to slip up quite often. A loan move to another Premier League club might just do the trick, just as it did for his compatriot and friend Chambers.
I am not quite a fan of Iwobi, in all honesty. He broke into the first-team to much hype but he hasn’t been able to replicate that form this season. When he’s on the pitch, he is all over the place and not in a good way. He tries too much sometimes. He doesn’t seem to fancy keeping things simple. He is easily dispossessed and I really don’t see him fitting in long-term. Like Holding, maybe a loan move might do him some good. Or, we could just sell him for a nice profit. At the moment, Iwobi just isn’t good enough to be starting or anywhere near the first team.
Next, we have an interesting case of Bellerin – Arsenal fan favourite, resident fashionista, social media king and speedster. The Spanish amigo has been doing alright, not made too many errors but his crossing is lazy and he is slowly becoming sloppy in possession. This season has to be his worst yet. Bellerin has to start finding his footing again before it’s too late when the new coach comes in.
Post-Wenger era is an era that I am genuinely excited about and that’s because I have never known an Arsenal without him. The group of players we currently have can do great things; the talent and ability is undeniable. We just need the right man (and a couple of new goalkeepers) to manage and harness that wealth of talent properly and we very well might we on our way to a title. That’s the delusional fan in me speaking.
Either way, to Wenger’s replacement, if you’re reading this, please keep aforementioned players except Alex Iwobi. Thank you.