18+ | Commercial Content | T&Cs apply | Begambleaware.org
While some Arsenal fans may not be too enthused about the club playing in the Europa League this season, it does at least provide youngsters with a chance to shine.
Arsene Wenger has already stressed multiple times how the Premier League is the Gunners' priority and, on the eve of their first match in Europe this season against Koln, he was no different.
“It is one of the opportunities,” said Wenger, when asked if winning the Europa League was Arsenal’s best route back into the Champions League.
“I came out many times and said I think the best way is through the Premier League.
“This is a different competition and we want to win every competition we play in, but we don’t calculate that this is the best way to the Champions League qualification.”
Arsenal are expected to rotate heavily for Europa League games this season and the competition’s importance to Wenger was shown by the attendees at training ahead of their first match.
Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette, Danny Welbeck, Granit Xhaka, Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Petr Cech were all not involved and rested instead.
That, though, opens the door for Arsenal’s youngsters to state their case and here Football Whispers takes a look at five players who could shine in the Europa League this season.
Name: Reiss Nelson
The teenager is the talk of the training ground at Arsenal and he is the one to watch out of all the youngsters who may appear for the Gunners this season.
Naturally a winger, Nelson can also operate behind the striker but for the first team he is likely to play at right wing-back.
That is where he starred during Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Australia and the Emirates Cup, and Wenger has already mentioned him as a long-term replacement for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Nelson has started the season in fine form for the club’s under-23 side, scoring five goals in three games. It landed the 17-year-old the Premier League 2 Player of the Month award for August and his form is deserving of a chance in the first team.
Blessed with blistering pace and an eye for a pass, he looks like a typical Arsenal player and certainly one to keep an eye on.
Name: Joe Willock
Another youngster who shone during pre-season for Arsenal, Willock has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years.
His family has plenty of footballing pedigree, with his oldest brother Matty playing on loan at Utrecht from Manchester United and middle sibling Chris at Benfica. All three are blessed with plenty of talent, but Joe may well turn out to be the pick of the bunch.
During pre-season, he operated in the centre of midfield for Arsenal and he did not look out of place at all.
The Gunners have long been crying out for a defensive midfielder and a recent injury to Francis Coquelin could give Willock a chance to state his case.
He is not someone who is going to go hurtling around, throwing himself into tackles. Instead, the 18-year-old looks to sit and intercept attacks before giving the ball quickly and simply to a more offensive player on his team.
Name: Eddie Nketiah
Along with Nelson and Willock, Nketiah has been training with the first-team this season after impressing for Arsenal’s youth sides in recent years.
The striker first caught the eye during the 2015/16 campaign, when he bagged an impressive 24 goals in just 28 games for the Gunners’ under-18 team.
Nketiah has since carried on scoring for the under-23s and he was rewarded with his first professional contract in September 2016.
Having been plucked from Chelsea by Arsenal when he was just 14, those at the club are hopeful he can go on to be a star in the future.
As his goal record at youth level shows, he is a lethal finisher and his pace makes him a nightmare for defenders.
He has been likened, perhaps a bit ambitiously, to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. However, there are similarities and it will be interesting to see how Nketiah makes the step up to the first team.
Name: Marcus McGuane
McGuane has captained England at under-18 level and big things are expected of him going forward. A tough-tackling midfielder, the 18-year-old looks physically ready to compete for a spot in the first-team.
More recently, he has been playing at centre-back for the under-23s and it could be that Wenger slots him into a back three if he calls him up.
Alongside Nelson, he is one of the biggest prospects at Arsenal and a run in the Europa League should see talks over his new contract accelerate.
Or, more worryingly, notify other clubs to how big a talent he really is.
Name: Ainsley Maitland-Niles
The oldest of the five players tipped to get a chance in the Europa League this year, Maitland-Niles featured heavily in pre-season for the Gunners.
Able to operate anywhere in midfield, the 20-year-old also filled in at centre-back during the Emirates Cup.
His best position is probably in the heart of midfield, but it is most likely that his first-team opportunities will come at wing-back.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s move to Liverpool has presented an opening there and Maitland-Niles should compete with Nelson for that spot.
Having spent a season in the Championship on loan at Ipswich Town, Maitland-Niles is further along in his development than some of the other youngsters in Arsenal’s Europa League squad.
That may well give the edge when it comes to selection and he has shown flashes of brilliance when given the chance before.
An extended run in the Europa League could be exactly what he needs to make that final step.