The first-team’s start to their latest Champions League campaign may have been hugely frustrating, but Arsenal’s youngsters returned from Dortmund in a much happier mood this week after prevailing 2-0 in their opening UEFA Youth League fixture.
An Arsenal U19 team will be facing the same group stage opponents at the senior side, and there were several positives to take from Wednesday’s win. Both goals came courtesy of striker Kaylen Hinds, who was one of three first-year scholars in the starting line-up.
Arsenal were without many of the players who helped them to reach the Quarter-Finals of this competition last season, with the likes of Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden and Jack Jebb now too old to feature in this tournament.
Instead, an exciting young side, containing the technical talents of Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley and Chris Willock, was very impressive in Germany, with the young Gunners hopeful of making further progress in the tournament.
Crowley and Willock provided the assists for the goals, and, whilst Dortmund were without a couple of their key players, Arsenal fully merited their victory.
Another point of note was that, with the exception of Zelalem, the entire Arsenal squad for this fixture was English, a commendable achievement for an academy that has been accused of favouring foreign youngsters in the past.
Whilst the youngsters returned from Germany with a win, Hector Bellerin, a player with much experience of playing for the youth teams, endured a very difficult evening on Tuesday as he made his Champions League debut at the Westfalenstadion.
Bellerin, like most of Arsenal’s players on the night, looked nervous from the offset and struggled to retain possession for any length of time. It was a little surprising to see the Spaniard, a bastion of consistency at youth level, suffering in such a manner. In mitigation, however, he wasn’t afforded much protection by his team-mates.
That performance will not cause Arsene Wenger to lose faith in Bellerin, however. Since joining from Barcelona three years ago, he has developed well and remains one of the club’s best prospects. A good performance against Southampton in the Capital One Cup next week could go some way towards restoring Bellerin’s confidence, even if Tuesday night provided an indication that perhaps he is not quite ready to compete for a regular starting berth.
Bellerin is unlikely to be the only youngster involved against Southampton, with Akpom, Hayden, Zelalem and Semi Ajayi amongst those who could be included in the squad against Ronald Koeman’s team.
The composition of the team is set to be split between senior players and young prospects, with Wenger likely to hand out starts to players such as David Ospina and Tomas Rosicky, who haven’t featured in the Premier League so far this season.