Wenger: Our next generation is ‘exceptionally strong’

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Arsene Wenger says he’s determined to give Arsenal’s Academy graduates a chance to shine this season claiming the current crop of 18-year-olds are exceptionally strong compared to previous years.

Already this season the boss has used the Carabao Cup and Europa League to hand first-team debuts to Reiss Nelson, Jo Willock, Josh Dasilva, Eddie Nketiah, Marcus McGuane and Ben Sheaf. He’s planning on doing the same against Norwich City this evening with young keeper Matt Macey due to start in goal in place of the injured David Ospina.

On the responsibility he feels he has to give youth a chance, the boss told Arsenal.com: “We didn’t have that strength for a while and now we have a generation of 18-year-old players who are exceptionally strong.

“I still believe that one of the problems in the Premier League at the moment is that these boys do not get enough chances. That’s why I’m keen to do it and I want to do it. If you look around you, the fact that the Premier League is so demanding means the young boys are very quickly under pressure, and that’s why you maybe see less of them appear.

“If you look at the results of the English national youth teams, they look like one of the best nations in the world, but the responsibility falls on club managers like us to give them a chance.”

One player who is building on the chances handed to him last season is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The versatile 20-year-old became a World Cup winner with England’s under-20s in the summer and has already featured for the first team five times this term.

So strong is Wenger’s belief in the youngster that he’s warned his established midfielders to watch their back.

“The huge advantage of Maitland-Niles, and the disadvantage as well, is that he can play everywhere,” said Wenger.

“Sometimes when you’re a manager, you use the comfort of being able to get him to play wherever you need him to. He can play on the flanks without any problem because he has pace, he’s an intelligent boy and I think he needs to add that little bit of extra force for 90 minutes. But he’s so comfortable on the ball, so quick, so good and can steal the ball too.

“He can also play central midfield, but I must say that he’s close now to being a regular in the first team as well. I would be on my toes if I was a regular player in the Arsenal first team. His preferred position is central midfield and that’s where I believe he will end up.”

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