Arsene Wenger’s new-found admiration for playing fringe first-team players in the Reserves paid further dividends last night as five members of his squad helped the second-string dispatch of a young West Brom side at Underhill.
Ju Young Park got on the scoresheet with a fine finish in a 3-0 victory, whilst Johan Djourou was impressive at centre-back. Full-backs Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos got forward well as they received some much-needed game time, whilst up front Marouane Chamakh’s lack of success in front of goal continued, although the Moroccan did demonstrate some good link-up play.
Despite the involvement of the first-team contingent, though, it was two younger members of the side who stood out most, with Chuks Aneke and Serge Gnabry, who scored the other goals, impressive throughout. Aneke has returned in impressive form since a frustrating loan spell at Stevenage, whilst Gnabry, at just 16, continues to cause havoc for opposition defences and, given that he is highly regarded by the club’s coaching staff, seems set for a promising future.
With such a strong side in comparison to their opponents, it was perhaps to be expected that Arsenal would win this game by a somewhat comfortable margin. West Brom offered little by way of attacking threat, but the Gunners were professional throughout and the presence of the first-team players seemed to bring out the best in their younger counterparts.
First-team players have turned out at this level before, of course, but now it seems that Wenger is more open to the idea of allowing a group of individuals who aren’t receiving regular run-outs to gain some match practice. With only three more Reserve games remaining this season, the policy is likely to continue until the end of the campaign, especially with the likes of Jack Wilshere possibly using the second-string as a foothold on the way back to full fitness.
There is something of a downside to this in that it means fewer members of Steve Bould’s under-18 side will get game time at Reserve level, but, as the likes of Gnabry have shown, if you’re good enough you will still be provided with opportunities and this is likely to spur on those not involved to raise their game.