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THERE was a lot to distract you from noting that Arsenal finished the last Premier League campaign in their lowest position for a quarter of a century. But by becoming just the fourth person to lift the FA Cup as a player and manager, Mikel Arteta was able to show that not only was this team packed with the talent, hunger and togetherness that was so often questioned.
He also issued a riposte to his many doubters who dared suggest the job was too big for a man with no track record in the hot seat himself.
Since then, the Gunners have looked imperious, outshining champions Liverpool to clinch the Community Shield before winning both of their opening two league fixtures of the new campaign. Early impressions of their business in the transfer market have piled more hope onto the ambitions of a club that was in disarray 10 months ago after sacking their previous manager.
Arteta’s side have continued the inspired form they ended last season in with three wins in a row to kick-start the boss’s first full term in charge.
The list of “non-negotiables” outlined when he joined in December have paved the way for a winning streak that can be stretched to eight matches with victory in the League Cup third round against Leicester City tonight.
With star-striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finally committing his future to the club and 32-year-old Willian making the move across London, there has been a notable emphasis on experience. But while the more established names understandably pull rank, nobody — least of all Arteta — could possibly forget the impressive contingent of youngsters who collectively came of age last season.
This was the group who dazzled in the epic 5-5 League Cup tie against Liverpool last season. Despite being narrowly beaten on penalties by opposition also exhibiting youth, their quality shone through.
Chief among them was Bukayo Saka who penned a new long-term deal this summer to quell rumours that linked him with a number of Europe’s biggest clubs. The teenager was disappointed to be left out of the season opener at Fulham but reacted impeccably when he returned to the line-up against West Ham with direct involvement in both of his side’s goals.
Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles both scored in that goal-fest on Merseyside last October, but have struggled to hold down starting places since. The former ended the season on a high by scoring his first Premier League goal against Southampton in June.
For the latter, a series of strong displays for his club earned him a first senior England cap earlier this month. Both have done enough to convince the club that it’s best for all parties that their development continues in North London.
Eddie Nketiah is another who will see tonight’s cup tie as a gleaming opportunity to showcase what he can do. The 21-year-old managed four goals in cup competitions last term and you wouldn’t bet against him improving on last season’s overall tally of nine.
He’s on a roll having netted the winner against West Ham on Saturday, adding to a hat-trick while captaining England Under 21s to victory against Kosovo last month.
Young Guns was the term used to reference the vast young talent pool stockpiled under Arsene Wenger’s watch. There’s no doubt that the Spaniard now occupying his former manager’s perch has amassed quite the arsenal of his own.
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