On the night they hoped to witness the debut of a teenager named as a centerpiece of the club’s future, Arsenal fans have instead received yet another reminder of how important their young stars already are to his present.
After speculation to the contrary, Mikel Arteta decided that Wednesday’s game against AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup was not the time to put 17-year-old midfielder Charlie Patino in the spotlight, as he opted for a A more experienced squad made up of players on the fringes of the Premier XI, but ultimately brought in academy graduates Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe to do the job and set up a fourth round clash with Leeds United.
Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty seemed to have paved the way for a comfortable evening, but while they weren’t troubled defensively, it wasn’t until after introductions from Smith Rowe and then Saka that the Gunners moved on to top speed to seal a 3-0 victory over the Ligue 1 outfit.
After many lost openings, it was Smith Rowe who finally doubled the lead at close range with just under a quarter of an hour to go before another Hale End product, Eddie Nketiah, added a formidable third move, Saka playing a key. role in preparing for both goals and then approaching them twice more himself.
“At 1-0 they’re still in the game and on a free kick we could concede, so we knew we had to close the game,” Arteta admitted afterwards. “We did it at the end and it looked comfortable, but it was a tough game.”
The night ended with Arteta posing for photos with young fans, a scene that frustrated the stewards desperately trying to clear the pitch, but spoke of an improved atmosphere inside the club, well only exaggerated by the cheap tickets and the new and exciting sections of the crowd they brought in on the three successive wins.
“To have 50,000 fans in the Carabao Cup on a Wednesday night is pretty special,” said Arteta. “The players are taking notice and obviously it increases the level of demands.”
There was a time under Arsene Wenger when League Cup nights in the Emirates often looked like this, an escape from the stress of the Premier League, a chance to get lost in a flurry of Carlos Vela and Jack Wilshere chips.
The fact that Arteta picked just a handful of untested youngsters into his squad of the day, let alone the massive injection Wenger often favored, spoke volumes about his position in managing this. who is still a bloated team; without European football, the fixture list seems uncomfortably thin and opportunities to save playing time are rare. Even Patino, around whom the hype is growing rapidly after a string of superb Under-23 performances, couldn’t make his way onto the bench.
“He was very close,” Arteta said. “But in the end, we decided that some players needed the minutes. This will happen naturally over time.
Amid ten changes, Thomas Partey was the lone survivor of the Burnley victory, having pushed for involvement as he sought clarity ahead of Sunday’s North London derby. The Ghanaian outperformed anyone looking to plead to start this match on his side, running the show for 60 minutes before his departure cleared the way for Smith Rowe to arrive.
Soon after, Saka brought about the loudest cheers of the night, with thousands of fans not having the chance to attend matches more regularly, arguably taking advantage of their chance to show their appreciation and appreciation. support after its glorious but traumatic summer.
The 20-year-old has been understandably slow to warm up in the new campaign, but there were as many encouraging signs in his 15-minute cameo as there were in Partey’s hour-long main event. As thoughts turn to Tottenham, this is really good news.