Contrary to last season, when only a small number of youngsters were called upon, Arsene Wenger has reverted to his usual Carling Cup policy of, at least in part, providing promising players from outside the first-team squad with their initial experiences of competitive football.
Last night, as Bolton visited North London in the Fourth Round of the competition, Nico Yennaris was handed his debut at right-back, with the 18 year old, whose preferred position is in central-midfield, acquitting himself well, pushing forward when provided with the opportunity and also making several impressive interceptions.
The other full-back berth was occupied by Ignasi Miquel, who was making his fifth senior appearance for the club. Like Yennaris, although he was not operating in his preferred position, the Spaniard gave a good account of himself and was not fazed when encountered by Premier League opposition.
In the second period, after Andrey Arshavin and Ju Young Park had inspired the Gunners to take the lead having gone a goal down to a strike from another Academy graduate in Fabrice Muamba (who, incidentally, also cut his footballing teeth in this competition) , two further youngsters were introduced to the fray.
Oguzhan Ozyakup, on for his second competitive appearance, was assured in possession as Arsenal held on to reach the last eight and, as the game drew to a conclusion, Daniel Boateng had the honour of replacing Thomas Vermaelen for the final few minutes.
Chuks Aneke, who came on against Shrewsbury in the last round, remained an un-used substitute on this occasion, as did Sanchez Watt and Jernade Meade, the latter earning his first call-up to the squad.
What will the next step be for this generation of youngsters? Well, the likelihood is that, regardless of who Arsenal are pitched against in Saturday’s Quarter-Final draw, Wenger will, injuries permitting, call upon a considerably stronger side as a chance to repent for last year’s Wembley capitulation draws ever closer.
The younger players are, then, less likely to be involved, and, with many of them having been regulars at Reserve level for at least 12 months, the time would seem right for at least a few to bolster their experience by going out on loan.
Watt has already had spells at Leeds and Southend, and, having recently signed a new contract with the club, will be seeking to prove that he is still capable of prevailing in the long-term.
For the others, though, it will be their first experience of life outside of the comfort zone of Arsenal’s London Colney training ground. They will be plunged into lower-league life, and, particularly for the foreign youngsters such as Miquel and Ozyakup, this should enable them to adapt to the intensity of the English game.
Meanwhile, their temporary departures will allow players further down the system, such as Zak Ansah, who scored the only goal as the under-18s beat Chelsea in a friendly at Emirates Stadium last weekend, to push into the Reserves on a more regular basis.