Mikel Arteta knows the kids are alright. And the Arsenal starlets were certainly that when they helped the Gunners through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory at Portsmouth last night.
Arsenal head coach Arteta reserved special praise for the youngsters he blooded against the Fratton Park outfit as his side weathered an early spell of pressure from Kenny Jackett’s men to come out on top.
Papa Sokratis gave the Gunners a 1-0 lead in first-half extra time as he smashed home from close range following an inviting cross from Reiss Nelson. And it was winger Nelson, one of a crop of youngsters chosen by Arteta, who provided the second strike against the League One promotion candidates.
On 54 minutes he broke free on the right to deliver a ball into the box and quick-witted Eddie Nketiah was on hand to score close in past despairing home keeper Alex Bass.
Arteta made nine changes from the side that narrowly lost out to Olympiakos in the Europa League last Thursday — with superstars such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil not even in the squad.
Nelson, Nketiah and Gabi Martinelli all got their chance to shine for the Londoners, and it is fair to say that they didn’t disappoint. Samba starlet Martinelli was especially impressive. Arteta also gave a full debut to Pablo Mari, the Spanish central defender on loan from Flamengo. The only real negative from the encounter for Arsenal was seeing Lucas Torreria stretchered off after a strong tackle from James Bolton in the 11th minute. The Uruguayan ace suffered an ankle injury and left the ground on crutches.
Of his clutch of starlets, Arteta said that to go to Pompey with seven U23 players, and to “dominate completely” was a little bit unrealistic but that is was happened:
“We went through that moment at the start and after that we started to take the ball and play in the opposition half and dominate the situation much better. We scored the goals and should have scored more”.
“I am pleased with all of them, the kids really responded really well. They had good energy. I was looking at them in the 94th minute and they were still pressing and going and chasing. It is a joy and I am really enjoying working with them. They fully deserve the chance and I don’t know if its risky to play them in this competition but they are worth a risk.”
Meanwhile, Nelson was pleased with his shift and the FA Cup win. He said:
“It’s great. It’s an opportunity for us and we take all competitions very seriously. The manager wants us to do our best to get to the final. Obviously we want to go as far as we can.”