Pre-season is traditionally a time when youngsters are given a chance to impress in the first-team and that was certainly the case yesterday as several prospects received run-outs in Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Sydney FC.
Reiss Nelson, who has been widely seen as Arsenal’s standout youth prospect for some time, acquitted himself well in the unfamiliar position of right wing-back as he linked effectively with Mesut Ozil and made several dangerous bursts into the opposing penalty area.
On a couple of occasions Nelson underhit his crosses slightly but his overall display was hugely encouraging and earned him glowing praise from Arsene Wenger.
Another slightly more surprising starter was Joe Willock, whose younger brother Chris recently left the club for Benfica.
At times last season Willock wasn’t even able to command a place in the starting line-up for the U18s but his ability was always clear and he certainly seized his opportunity against Sydney FC in a deep-lying midfield position despite the fact that he usually plays slightly further forwards.
Willock, evidently eager to make a positive impression, snapped into tackles with regularity and played some slick passes.
Cohen Bramall, who was playing non-league football as recently as last December, also slotted in well, even though it is clear that he still needs to improve somewhat if he is to play competitively for the first-team.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Krystian Bielik, two prospects who already possess a considerable amount of first-team experience, also featured, along with exciting young attacking talents Eddie Nketiah and Donyell Malen.
Overall, it was a positive experience as the youngsters combined effectively with their more senior team-mates to produce what was, in the main, a cohesive team performance.
Another friendly is in store tomorrow against Western Sydney Wanderers before preparations for the new campaign step up a gear with fixtures against Bayern Munich and Chelsea in China.
As pre-season continues the amount of youngsters being involved with the squad will gradually fall but so far it has been a valuable experience for those who have been selected.
The intensity of competitive games will certainly be much higher but the performances that the likes of Nelson and Willock produced yesterday will do them no harm as they look to edge ever closer to breaking into the senior squad.
They only need to look at the development of Alex Iwobi, who took his chance in pre-season two years ago before breaking into the first-team, to know that impressing in these games can lead to significant opportunities.