Competition amongst Arsenal youngsters a blessing for Unai Emery
Background photo : Nazmi Amin-Tai, CC BY-SA 2.0
Over the summer, Arsenal kicked things off by letting academy graduate Alex Iwobi leave. The winger would head to Everton, whine Henrikh Mkhitaryan would also pack his bags before close of play in the European transfer window. The departure of the pair, plus an injury to Alexandre Lacazette, meant a slot was up for grabs in the starting line-up; preferably a left-sided winger.
The door was open. It's up to youngsters including Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson to showcase their abilities and prove their worth to manager Unai Emery.
When players, particularly teenagers, spot a potential opening within the team, it spurs them on to run that extra yard and strive for more. After all, these opportunities don't come around every day. There's not a club in the world that doesn't want to integrate their academy players into the first-team, but the level of competition makes most managers have second thoughts about it.
At Arsenal, several factors have made the decision to trust youth a necessity rather than a choice. The Gunners have to rid of dead-wood and inconsistency and place faith in the talent that they have. There was seriously high transfer turnover in North London just a few months ago, but the decision to get rid of those players could eventually turn out to be a masterstroke from the ex-Sevilla man; though it may not feel like that now given Arsenal's recent form.
Make no mistake, it's a gamble putting youngsters into positions of power. That's probably why Manchester United have been so hesitant to throw in Mason Greenwood for regular Premier League starts. At this stage for Emery, though, it's definitely worth a try.
Arsenal already have two of the front three positions locked up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe guaranteed to play when fit. The pair are experienced, well-rounded professionals, though as mentioned earlier, that third place in the team is up for grabs.
This is where the competition comes into play. There's three talented up-and-comers pushing each other for one spot. In that regard, Arsenal has hit the jackpot. Let's say Martinelli trains extremely well, not wanting to be outdone, Saka and Nelson will take it up a notch in order to go punch-for-punch with their teammate.
Sure, it may cause a few sleepless nights for Emery as he ponders over who to select from game-to-game, but in the end, it's good to have this talented young trio pushing one another to the next level. Plus, when a certain individual has one or two bad games, another can step in and show their worth. Even if it's done by committee, Arsenal fans won't care provided the correct results are rolling in.
The future is bright for Arsenal's attacking options. Nelson's loan experience has shaped and prepared the 19-year-old to fight it out for a starting berth, while Saka's talent cannot be understated, though he's still raw and needs time to grow as a footballer. Martinelli was a top talent with several top clubs in Europe scouting the now 18-year-old - though it's Arsenal who were lucky enough to sign him. Alright, it may take time to reap the rewards, and no doubt they'll be some stumbling blocks along the way, but competition is healthy and in the end, it'll be The Gunners who'll benefit.