Saturday, July 13, 2024

Why Willock, Nelson and other youngsters are set to play a vital role for Arsenal this season

Arsenal completed a record-breaking £72million deal for Ivory Coast international Nicolas Pepe (£2.81) over the summer, in a move that shocked parts of the footballing world.

Looking at face value, you would think that Nicolas Pepe’s arrival would be damaging for the playing time potential of youngsters like Saka, Martinelli and Reiss Nelson.

But a closer look and you’ll realise that his arrival signifies a change in formation that will surely be beneficial to the young wide trio’s playing time. For much of last season the club played with wing-backs in a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Aubameyang alongside Lacazette. Pepe’s arrival means the club will return to a two winger system, making it more likely the likes of Nelson will feature more regularly in the coming season.

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Before Pepe’s arrival, there was no natural senior winger in the Arsenal squad, so Unai Emery had been somewhat forced to play with a narrow and at times, predictable attacking force.

The likes of Alex Iwobi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil were all often shoehorned into wide areas last season when all three are more natural in the middle of the pitch.

Now with Nelson returning from loan and starting against Newcastle, Saka emerging through the ranks in addition to Martinelli and Pepe settling in with the side, the Gunners are well stocked in wide areas.

Dani Ceballos joining as Aaron Ramsey’s reported replacement will have also dampened many who thought Joe Willock would be getting more time in the starting eleven. But unlike Willock, Ceballos does not provide the goal threat that Ramsey did, with late instinctive attacking runs into the box.

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Willock has made huge technical and physical improvements over the last 12 months, and that has seen him feature and impress in games such as the Europa League final and start the league opener against Newcastle.

Freddie Ljungberg was promoted to first-team assistant coach for a reason. Not only for his ability to coach, but to be the link man between youth team and the first team. Last season the likes of Saka and Willock were his star players, so he could be influential in ensuring these players are regular fixtures in the first team.

With the Europa League again likely to provide Arsenal with an opportunity to give youngsters more minutes this season, even if they do not have as many chances in the Premier League, they are still likely to pick up plenty of minutes throughout the season.

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