Mikel Arteta tests Arsenal young guns as ‘three big prospects’ travel to PSV

<span>Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

Mikel Arteta may roll the dice and give Arsenal’s latest crop of youngsters a chance as he seeks meaning in a Champions League dead rubber against PSV Eindhoven. The academy products Ethan Nwaneri, Reuell Walters and Lino Sousa travelled to the Netherlands on Monday, with all standing a realistic chance of some action on a night ripe for experimentation.

Should Nwaneri feature it would be his first appearance since becoming the club’s youngest player, attaining the same record for the Premier League, when in September 2022 he came off the bench at Brentford aged 15 years and 181 days. Given Arsenal are relatively light at full‑back there will be hope that the 18-year‑olds Walters and Sousa, who play on the right and left respectively, are blooded for their senior debuts at some stage.

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“Three big prospects,” Arteta said. “We want to keep developing players from our system. They deserve to be here. We want to start to give them some experience because they have the talent to hopefully be very close to us. We will try to give them the opportunity if we can.”

The gifted attacking midfielder Nwaneri had been sought by Manchester City and Chelsea but, as Arteta suggested, the visible pathway to first-team football persuaded him to stay in north London. “When you have someone like that you have to give him hope,” he said. “I think [giving him a debut] was a strong sign for him that this was his place to keep developing.”

The reunion with PSV, who Arsenal defeated 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium in September, is unusual for having no material consequence to either side. Arteta’s team were guaranteed to finish winners of Group B after thrashing Lens a fortnight ago while the hosts on Tuesday secured second place with a dramatic 3-2 win at Sevilla. Nonetheless the travelling party have a healthy measure of experience and Arteta expects no slacking off.

“We have five or six big injuries so we are already a bit thin,” he said. “I don’t know in another context what I would have done but I also want everyone together with the mentality to win. I want to see that in their tummies.”

Arteta was pleased to see the luckless Emile Smith Rowe, back from his latest injury disruption and the recipient of an ovation from his teammates before training, make the trip.

“The way he’s done his rehab, I haven’t seen him do it before,” he said. “You see the way [they] reacted to his comeback, which is really positive as well. The moment we can give him chances the better we’re going to be.”

Gabriel Martinelli stayed behind after feeling ill but Bukayo Saka, whose Arsenal debut came in a Europa League tie with Vorskla Poltava at 17, flew with the squad despite missing training due to a minor foot knock.

Saka, rarely given a night off by Arteta, can be expected to start and there should be opportunities for Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson elsewhere in the attack. David Raya’s continued selection in goal for a contest of minimal importance would heighten the sense that Aaron Ramsdale will have to seek a future away from Arsenal.