A young player’s debut is usually a memorable affair, particularly for the individual involved, as they are finally rewarded for their years of hard work by being selected for a competitive fixture.
Francis Coquelin’s Premier League debut, through no fault of his own, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, with the robust Frenchman, who had only just returned from representing his country at the FIFA U20 World Cup, thrust straight into action for the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford on Sunday, despite having only participated in a handful of training sessions with the club since arriving back in England.
Coquelin battled bravely but failed to make any kind of impact on the game as Arsenal were comprehensively over-run and ruthlessly punished for their defensive deficiencies. Coquelin himself may be privately astounded by how much has changed since he last turned out for the club, having spent last season back in his homeland during a fruitful loan spell with Lorient.
The 20 year old, who has previously featured in both domestic cup competitions for the club, was wanted by Lorient for a second loan spell, but Arsene Wenger has told Coquelin that he intends to keep him at the club until January at least, meaning that he may compete with Emmanuel Frimpong for first-team involvement.
Coquelin was not the only youngster called upon at Old Trafford on Sunday. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for his debut but the circumstances in which he did so were far from ideal for him to make an impact. Henri Lansbury, with the game long since over as a contest, replaced Theo Walcott to operate at right-back, and it would not be entirely surprising if it turns out to be his last league appearance for the club, with several sides reportedly interested in signing the England under-21 international on a permanent deal after the club refused to provide him with assurances regarding his long term future in North London.
Gilles Sunu, who also made the bench against United, is also reportedly seeking a permanent move away from the club after growing frustrated at the lack of opportunities that he has been afforded. The 20 year old, like Coquelin, spent last season with Lorient, and could yet return there, initially on loan, ahead of a concrete move next summer.
At the other end of the spectrum, Arsenal’s under-18s recovered from their opening day defeat to Barnsley to record an impressive and hard-fought 1-0 win over their Leeds counterparts at the weekend. Zak Ansah scored the only goal, with the 17 year old on course to become a regular at reserve level by the end of the season, whilst Jordan Wynter and the returning Alban Bunjaku also turned in impressive performances.
The club are currently unable to call upon the four promising foreign talents they acquired over the summer, including Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral, who were plucked from Barcelona, as the required paperwork that would enable them to play in England has not yet been sent to FIFA. Arsenal are hopeful, however, that the quartet could feature for the under-18s against MK Dons at the weekend.
Meanwhile,one member of Steve Bould’s under-18 side has departed this week, with Steven Smith joining Leicester City.