Mikel Arteta has a lot on his plate at Arsenal, but the very first question he has to answer is a complicated one—how much does he trust youth?
Arsenal are in need of establishing an identity. Right now they’re trying to walk the line between fielding an equal amount of exciting youth products and superstars, many of whom are overpaid. Mikel Arteta‘s task starts with discerning how much he trusts the former, because that will impact how he handles the latter.
If you take the best case scenario, Arsenal can be powered by youth in all the major positions save one. If Eddie Nketiah proves a steady goal scorer and Gabriel Martinelli proves that he has no downside and Bukayo Saka continues to thrive and Reiss Nelson contributes, then that’s all we need. Throw in Nicolas Pepe and a striker, doesn’t even have to be a great one, and we’re set.
In the midfield, if Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe can grow and mature and Matteo Guendouzi can cement his place all over again, then that’s all we really need. Dani Ceballos might be an interesting audition, but hypothetically, we wouldn’t even need him.
These are the big questions. Because fielding Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette is pricey, and we can redistribute that wealth to the one outstanding position—centerback—and count on youth to carry this attack.
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But how much do you trust this youth?
For Martinelli and Saka, I think that the trust can be locked in. They’re contributing to goals left and right. They’re growing each and every match and they’re proving to be invaluable across the board. Together with Pepe, that’s all the wing solidity we need. And it’s deadly.
Turning to Nketiah, we haven’t see enough. 116 minutes and a goal. Fantastic return, he’s looked great, but counting on him to be an auxiliary striker is risky. But do you then block him and loan him out again? Because that’s the kiss of death.
Then there’s Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe. Both immensely talented, but both immensely raw. Game time may sort that out. Or it may exacerbate the problem and leave us wondering when they will mature into their roles. That’s when Dani Ceballos could be crucial. Honestly. if you were to tell me we’d have Willock and Smith Rowe to support the Ceballos role next year, I’d be all for it. Sell Ozil and build off of that talented young base.
Obivously we can put our faith in Guendouzi. He earned that years ago. Which makes for three central midfield options, all unique and capable. Maybe bolstering that with another defensive midfielder wouldn’t be the worst idea.
The short answer to the question? Trust youth a lot. The long answer? See above. By the end of the year, this will be an easier question to assess, and that’s when the decisions will have to be made. Optimistically, we will only have to buy a defender and a midfielder for next season. Why spend money on anything else?