Last night’s Capital One Cup victory over West Bromwich Albion could not exactly be described as being easy on the eye, but the euphoria of a penalty shoot-out victory will no doubt have a positive impact on the several youngsters who were on show.
Three players made their first-team debuts for the club last night in Isaac Hayden, Hector Bellerin and Kristoffer Olsson, whilst there were also run-outs for Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom, the latter appearing as a substitute. Second-year scholar Alex Iwobi, meanwhile, earned an unexpected call up to the senior side, and, although the 17 year old remained an unused substitute throughout, his inclusion on the bench will provide motivation for fellow members of the U21 squad to follow suit.
Iwobi’s inclusion, in fact, demonstrated just how quickly progression can be made at Arsenal, with the winger having only made his competitive debut for the U21s at the beginning of the season. As for those who did feature, Hayden, in general, acquitted himself well, although the midfielder was perhaps fortunate not to be sent off for a challenge on Youssouf Mulumbu in the first-half.
Gnabry, however, like fellow winger Ryo, failed to make a sustained impact on proceedings, and the failure of those two players to impress last night will raise concerns as to who will fill in for the injured Theo Walcott on the right flank this weekend given that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also out. Gnabry certainly has promise and was effective enough during his first Premier League start against Stoke City last week, but, at the age of just 18, is not yet capable of delivering consistent performances at the highest level.
One thing is for sure, however, in that Gnabry certainly seems to be above playing at U21 and especially U19 level, so it would make sense for the German to be loaned out to a lower division side in the second half of the season in order to accelerate his development.
Akpom, meanwhile, showed some promise after coming on, as did fellow substitutes Olsson and Bellerin, who forged an unexpectedly effective midfield partnership in the latter stages. Bellerin, usually a right-back, replaced Mikel Arteta, who was struggling with cramp, and the 18 year old had an opportunity to score a late winner for Arsenal, which he squandered.
The Gunners’ only goal in normal time came courtesy of Thomas Eisfeld. In many ways it was a typical performance from the former Borussia Dortmund player as he remained completely anonymous for long spells before eventually providing an emphatic finish. Like Gnabry, Eisfeld could be heading out on loan later this season, but not before the Fourth Round of this competition against Chelsea, where it will be interesting to see whether Arsene Wenger opts to field a more experienced side than usual.