Amidst all the belief, hope and, ultimately, pride in valiant defeat last night, the fact that a promising 19 year old midfielder came perilously close to making his Champions League debut for the club against seven times winners AC Milan went largely unnoticed.
Oguzhan Ozyakup, a Dutch born youngster who recently switched his international allegiance to Turkey, was sent to warm up on several occasions and looked poised to be coming on at one stage before Arsene Wenger changed his mind.
In normal circumstances, Ozyakup wouldn’t have been anywhere near the matchday squad but, with a midfield casualty list containing no fewer than seven first-team players, he was called upon to make up the numbers.
He has certainly enjoyed a proficient season to date, often starring for the Reserve team as either a deep lying or, increasingly, an attacking midfielder, creating numerous chances for others and finding the net five times himself. Extremely comfortable on the ball and possessing pinpoint passing accuracy, Ozyakup made his first team debut against Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup earlier this season and added to that with another cameo against Bolton in the following round.
Wenger, has, however, hitherto been reluctant to deploy him on the big stage. Ozyakup was left unused on the bench in the final group game this season, a dead rubber away to Olympiacos, and was similarly neglected yesterday, suggesting that a loan spell is likely to be required before he is to make further inroads on the first-team picture.
Just a year ago Ozyakup was sat watching from the stands as Arsenal beat Barcelona at Emirates Stadium in the Last 16 of the Champions League. Last night he got a step closer to the action, but the final step, to actually make it onto the pitch, will be the biggest task of all.
There is something of a chasm between Reserve football and loan spells in England’s lower leagues. Fellow midfielder Chuks Aneke recently returned from a loan spell at League One Stevenage where he struggled to impose himself and Ozyakup will be wary of similar pitfalls, having previously stressed that he will not leave Arsenal on a temporary basis until he finds the right club to go to.
At stages last season it appeared Ozyakup was close to an exit from the club, as he deliberated on signing a new contract, but eventually agreed a new deal and his confidence has been reflected in his subsequent displays at second string level.
He will be all too aware, though, that this is only the beginning and much effort will be required to make the step up.