It would be tough for even the most experienced spin-doctor to sell Arsenal’s current campaign as anything other than an underwhelming damp squib and a further regress into total mediocrity.
They are the only one of England’s 92 Football League club not to pick up so much as a point away from home in 2018 and, whilst their home form is strong, such is the apathy surrounding the club that few can muster the energy to attend.
Of course, fans of the Gunners have a tendency to become slightly hysterical when speaking of their pain in following their team.
Sure, they have now not only fallen well short of the standard capable of winning the title but also of a sustained top four challenge but this is a club full of international-standard players who have the potential to win trophies on a regular basis.
A reliance on youth
What a sustained run in the Europa League ensures is that rotation is forced upon managers while the current campaign has also seen a mass clear-out of deadwood from the first team squad.
Ten first-team squad players have been sold this season while only five arrived, with a series of other fringe players – including Lucas Perez and Joel Campbell – also moved on in loan deals.
Such a high volume of exits combined with a busy fixture schedule has allowed a series of promising youth-team products to become integrated into their first-team squad.
Such has been the number of youngsters being blooded into the first-team the situation is akin to the one at Old Trafford under Louis Van Gaal two years ago.
While many of these players will be moved on to clubs lower down the food chain, it presents the opportunity to unearth gems – as was the case for Marcus Rashford.
Reaping the benefits
The benefits of youth graduates are almost endless.
On the one hand, they save a great deal of expenses in transfers and agent fees while they inject a sense of enthusiasm into the first-team squad, and boy do Arsenal need that sense of rejuvenation.
They also offer a sense of understanding the club and what the fans want, which is not always the case of imports who can struggle to overcome cultural and language barriers.
Perhaps the most notable inclusion has been Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who has made 23 first-team appearances to date.
The versatile 20-year-old can play at full-back, across the midfield or as a winger and has previously impressed at England’s youth levels right up to Under-21.
While he had previously appeared in the first-team before the current campaign, the former Ipswich Town loanee had appeared just twice in the Premier League but his tally for this season is in double figures.
An army of youngsters
Highly-rated forward Reiss Nelson has reportedly attracted the attention of Real Madrid, among other leading European clubs.
The 18-year-old’s current contract at The Emirates expires next year but he recently told the London Evening Standard he wished to remain at the club long-term and has impressed in his fleeting appearances this season. Of Zimbabwean and English descent, Nelson impressed on his first Premier League start against Southampton earlier this month.
18-year-old striker Eddie Nketiah made his name with two memorable goals against Norwich City in the League Cup earlier this season and has since made eight further first-team outings, while teenage midfielder Joe Willock – who made his top-flight debut at Newcastle on Sunday – is also highly-promising.
Josh DaSilva and Matt Macey have also been included in matchday squads this season and, while this will not distract from the contemporary problem of first-team mediocrity, it offers a glimpse of a bright future at Arsenal.
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