The Gunners were beaten 2-1 by Lyon in the Emirates Cup on Sunday – but Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson showed they could be ready to star this season
All the chatter at Arsenal right now may well be centred around potential transfers, with a club-record €80 million (£72m/$89m) deal for Nicolas Pepe edging towards a conclusion.
But at the Emirates Cup on Sunday, two of the club’s youngsters took the opportunity to show that they are ready to step up and make their mark this season in Unai Emery’s first-team squad.
Arsenal’s summer has been dominated by youth so far, with Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Robbie Burton and Gabriel Martinelli all catching the eye during the pre-season tour to the United States.
And it was the kids who stole the show again as the Gunners had their first run-out in front of their own supporters ahead of the new Premier League season – even though two goals from Moussa Dembele in seven second-half minutes earned Lyon an undeserved 2-1 win.
Arsenal dominated the majority of the contest at the Emirates, with Willock and Nelson causing the visitors all sorts of problems.
Starting in the No.10 role in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Willock continued where he left off in the United States with the type of showing that suggests he could certainly help fill the void left by Aaron Ramsey.
The only thing that let him down was his finishing, twice he was denied by Anthony Lopes having worked his way into good shooting positions. Then he blazed over from close range after Lopes had superbly kept out Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s volley.
Nelson meanwhile, looked like he had a point to prove having replaced Alexandre Lacazette after just 12 minutes.
Lacazette had started the game against his former team, but within five minutes was sat on the sidelines receiving treatment on what looked like an ankle problem.
Emery didn’t take any risks and replaced him straight away, but the sight of the French striker watching the second half with his foot in a protective boot will be a worry with just two weeks to go before the start of the new season.
Nelson’s introduction, however, certainly didn’t seem to weaken Arsenal – with the winger combining excellently with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Willock.
Pepe’s arrival could have a significant impact on Nelson, with the Ivory Coast international’s preferred position on the right side of the attack.
But Nelson showed he could have plenty to offer Emery as he looks to make his mark in north London following his loan spell at Hoffenheim last season.
Aubameyang’s smart volley sent the hosts into the break with a deserved lead and they should have gone on to comfortably see the game out after the interval.
But after Nketiah had missed a couple of golden chances, Lyon levelled out of nowhere when Dembele glanced a fine header past Bernd Leno, who had been a relative spectator throughout.
And then after Martinelli thought he had restored Arsenal’s lead, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside, Dembele raced clear to put the visitors 2-1 in front.
New signing Dani Ceballos was on by this point, operating alongside Granit Xhaka in midfield, but he couldn’t help find a leveller as Lyon held on for the win – despite one late scare when Aubameyang lobbed an effort against the post.
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This was Arsenal’s first defeat over 90 minutes this summer, but Emery will not be too concerned by that – although the defending in the second half will be a worry once again.
But with the electric Pepe on the horizon and potentially Kieran Tierney and another centre-back as well, there has been still plenty to be positive about at Arsenal right now.
And as they showed on Sunday at the Emirates, the kids also look ready to make their mark.