Mikel Arteta says playing Arsenal’s kids is worth the risk and that he’s really enjoying the chance to coach a group who are both talented and hard working.
The Spaniard took a chance fielding six players under the age of 20, including four who’d graduated from the Gunners’ Academy, for last night’s FA Cup trip clash with Portsmouth, but was pleased with the way they performed as we secured a place in the quarter-finals with a 2-0 win.
Reiss Nelson starred with two assists, Eddie Nketiah got on the scoresheet, Bukayo Saka produced another composed performance at left-back, while Joe Willock, Gabriel Martinelli and Matteo Guendouzi were energetic and physical in equal measure.
“It’s a difficult place to come but I have faith in these kids,” Arteta told BT Sport.
“They always respond and I always knew they would do that. They have to learn from the difficult moments and manage them but they have the talent and desire – look how hard they work.
“The clean sheet is really important and we defended set-pieces much better.
“We have pace in a few players up front. Reiss [Nelson] is a special player and can eliminate players one on one. He’s been out for a while but he’s back now and he showed what he’s capable of doing.
“I’m really enjoying working with this group of players. It’s a process. I know [people think] everything has to be today or yesterday but in football it doesn’t happen like this.
In his post-game press conference, he added: “I am pleased with all of them, the kids really responded really well.
“The energy…I was looking at them in the 94th minute and they were still pressing and going and chasing. It is a joy and I am really enjoying working with them.
“They fully deserve the chance and I don’t know if it risky to play them in this competition but they are worth a risk.”
Given the club’s established stars have often been the ones who’ve failed to deliver when it matters, it’ll be curious to see how the boss treats the closing months of the season. He may well be tempted to stick with youthful starting lineups as he lays the foundations for the years ahead.
One Academy graduate who appears to be fighting for his future at the Emirates is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The 22-year-old has fallen down the pecking order both as a midfielder and auxiliary right-back leading to much speculation about his relationship with Arteta. Last night, the boss addressed the situation head-on.