It wasn’t a game that will be remembered for the right reasons from an Arsenal perspective, but the 3-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup last month provided evidence of Arsene Wenger’s faith in a 17-year-old midfielder who has an extremely bright future ahead of him.
After injuries forced Arsenal to withdraw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, subsequently, Theo Walcott, Bennacer was called upon to make his first-team debut as a substitute against Sheffield Wednesday and, although his performance was far from perfect, there were some surefire signs that he is a player who is extremely talented.
One nutmeg on an opponent stood out, as did his calmness on the ball. Bennacer was also tasked with corner-taking duties despite his youthfulness and the fact that he only joined the club in the summer.
Bennacer’s arrival at Arsenal could hardly have been more under the radar as far as official channels were concerned. There was no announcement on the club’s website, and only a brief mention in some of the national newspapers.
The fact that he appears unfazed by the big stage is of little surprise, however, given that he featured in Ligue 2 for his former side Arles-Avignon last season.
Although he is an intelligent passer and a sublime dribbler, that is far from the sum total of Bennacer’s abilities. As he demonstrated during the recent UEFA Youth League game away to Bayern Munich, the youngster is capable of scoring from distance, whilst his off-the-ball work has also been mightily impressive, with Bennacer closing down opponents with regularity.
The outing against Sheffield Wednesday was, in truth, perhaps a little too early for Bennacer in terms of him being able to make a significant impact in a first-team game. He certainly has some improvements to make physically, whilst tactically he also needs to make advancements in some areas.
Overall, however, the early signs have certainly been very encouraging indeed about the French youngster. The Arsenal academy was in dire need of an overhaul in the summer, and, with the signings of Bennacer, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Donyell Malen, Yassin Fortune, Vlad Dragomir and Kostas Pileas, Andries Jonker and his staff acted accordingly.
Reine-Adelaide has received the most plaudits out of the new arrivals so far, and deservedly so, but Bennacer hasn’t been too far behind in terms of the influence he has had during his short Arsenal career so far.
There will be plenty of football for Bennacer to play during the remainder of the season, given that he is eligible to represent the club at U18, U19 and U21 levels.
It may well be some time before he is selected to represent the first-team again, particularly given that several players are on the verge of returning from injury, but Bennacer will be back in the senior set-up in due course and, having already gained a fleeting taste of competitive football, he will be ready to contribute, hopefully in more favourable circumstances, in the future.