Arsenal claimed a massive six points thanks to the contributions of the club’s exciting youngsters.
However, Arsenal fans must remember that these players need to be protected from being overplayed. Mikel Arteta has stopped the rot of this season with back-to-back wins against London rivals Chelsea and recent nemesis Brighton & Hove Albion.
While it is far too early to begin popping champagne bottles in celebration, this is an opportunity to acknowledge the improvement from the manager and the players. It’s no secret that Arteta can thank his youthful contingent for this upturn in fortune, but fans must temper their expectations for this precocious revolution.
There is no way of knowing whether or not Arteta would have put his trust in the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli had Willian been available for selection. However, the forced absence of the experienced Brazilian winger has created a gap for rising stars to fill.
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s recent injury has also turned the dynamic of the entire squad on its head. With the Gabonese striker’s departure coinciding with Martinelli’s return, Arteta has had to adlib a team mixed with youth and experience.
Bukayo Saka‘s status as perhaps the very first name on the teamsheet has made his selection over Nicolas Pepe on the right-wing a foregone conclusion. So, due to a mix of bad form and injury, Arteta has had to completely overhaul his sputtering Gunners attack. Thankfully the likes of Smith Rowe and Martinelli have brought qualities into the squad that were desperately lacking, and are helping bring out the best in their more senior teammates.
Martinelli’s incredible energy and potent attacking intent on the left-wing has put Aubameyang’s anemic performances to shame. The young Brazilian affects the game in so many facets with his intelligent movement, relentless pressing, and sophisticated interplay.
Kieran Tierney, who has already been one of Arsenal’s brightest spots during this turgid period, looks even better with Martinelli ahead of him. This left-sided duo has garnered immense praise from the gaffer himself, and fans will be salivating at the prospect of that relationship developing further.
Smith Rowe is the most exciting development in this recent turnaround. This team was crying out for an advanced midfielder who could take the ball under pressure and advance play up the field with speed and purpose. The young Englishman from Croydon has answered that call beautifully.
After his impressive loan spell at Huddersfield, the major question looming over Smith Rowe was whether or not he could make the jump up to Premier League football. Now with two very effective performances against top-four incumbents Chelsea and infamously frustrating Brighton, the 20-year-old has more than lived up to the hype and displayed the aptitude to compete at the highest level.
Golden boy Saka continues to shock and inspire fans with his uncanny performances. It seems that there is no apparent position on the pitch that Saka can not be a catalyst from. His recent blockbuster stint at right-winger has been an absolute joy to behold. His combination of athleticism, intelligence, technical acumen, and most of all determination makes Saka a bonafide game-winner.
Yet, with all this excitement surrounding these young players, we must realize the other side of this coin. Arsenal fans around the world hold their collective breath whenever Martinelli or Saka hit the deck.
Against Manchester City, there was a truly terrifying moment involving Martinelli literally in tears on the pitch. Against Brighton, Saka was seemingly stomped on and the collective dread of the fanbase was palpable. Smith Rowe is only just coming back from another injury recovery and his young career has already been stymied by niggling setbacks.
As exciting as this youthful revolution is, Arsenal and Arteta can not develop an over-reliance on these players. Saka, Martinelli, and Smith Rowe are the future of this club and while they must be played and developed, the coaching staff must keep an eye on the load they are being asked to carry. Likewise, fans must temper their expectations about what these lads can deliver in the short-term.
There is already talk of fans being concerned that an attacking addition or additions in January could stunt the growth of a player like Smith Rowe. This notion has to be put aside. One glance at Arsenal’s absolutely brutal February schedule and anyone can clearly see that the squad is nowhere near the quality of challenging on three separate fronts.
The young players have done incredibly well and Arteta must make it his priority to nurture their development if he truly sees himself as the manager of this club and not simply the head coach.
Furthermore, fans must realize that there will be a time in the near future when these young players are rested and benched for their own good. We will see Willian again in big games. We will be frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm and drive at times, but better we suffer a short-term frustration in pursuit of long-term success and the overall betterment of the club as a whole.