Arsene Wenger is convinced he has bequeathed his Arsenal successor an enviable crop of stars of the future after his young guns impressed in a 2-1 defeat at Manchester United.
Though Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time header secured victory for Jose Mourinho’s side, there was much cause for optimism in the performance of an Arsenal side that was without a host of key starters ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg at Atletico Madrid.
Youngsters including Reiss Nelson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and debutant Konstantinos Mavropanos were all handed chances to prove their worth at Old Trafford, with Joe Willock also introduced as a second half substitute.
All four impressed, with Maitland-Niles claiming the man of the match award, whilst Wenger was also confident enough in their talents to name highly-rated striker Eddie Nketiah and full-back Jordi Osei-Tutu on the bench.
Recent weeks have seen a great deal of success for Arsenal youth sides who have won the Premier League 2 and reached the final of the FA Youth Cup, with the youngsters’ performances at Old Trafford further proof that whoever follows Wenger into the Arsenal hot seat will not be short of talent.
“Can they be part of the future for Arsenal Football Club? I think some of them have shown today yes, 100 per cent.”
Utility player, Maitland-Niles has been a familiar face in the Arsenal squad this season, making 25 appearances in all competitions and filing in as a wing-back, left-back and in central midfield, his preferred position and one in which he flourished yesterday.
Mavropanos’ appearance in the starting lineup was much more of a surprise. The Greek youngster, a £2 million signing from PAS Giannina had initially been expected to spend the season out on loan in Germany but has so impressed Wenger that he was thrust into the heart of defence, where he ably repelled Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford.
“Maitland-Niles slowly gets to the player I think he can be in defensive midfield,” Wenger added. “He can create as well.
“Mavropanos in training has shown top quality. But then you always have a question mark as long as you don’t see that under pressure in big games. Can he show that in a big game? You never know.
“The big players do better in competition than in training. They make a career. We have many players at our level who do less well in the competition than in training.
“So that was the question mark before the game and I think he did well. He surprised everyone by his quality today.”