x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A refreshing faith in youth

Arsene Wenger has never been afraid to give his Arsenal youngsters the chance to perform, reports Richard Jolly.

Marouane Chamakh, second left, is congratulated by his Arsenal teammates after his goal against AC Milan yesterday.
Marouane Chamakh, second left, is congratulated by his Arsenal teammates after his goal against AC Milan yesterday.

The essential differences between Arsenal and AC Milan can be illustrated. A glance at the centre of midfield sufficed in yesterday's 1-1 draw. Arsene Wenger promoted Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong, both 18, from his creche, while, from the Milanello museum of remarkable relics, came Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and the Arsenal alumnus Mathieu Flamini.

The young Gunners have a combined age of 36, the old hands from Italy a total of 92 years on the clock. Frimpong and Wilshere were three when Seedorf won the first of his four Champions Leagues. The pre-season programme affords an opportunity to experiment, but Wenger rarely needs a second invitation. Turning to youth is his default reaction and, without the players who figured in the latter stages of the World Cup, his response was typical. The teenagers were outnumbered but not outclassed, suggesting an ethos runs through the club; passing is not just the prerogative of the first 11.

Arsenal's habitual slickness is well-suited to such occasions; they can attempt to use competitive games to play exhibition football. It can appear that they prize the performance more than the result and, yesterday the former was better. For Wilshere, who materialised threateningly in the Milan box and dribbled dangerously, it was an encouraging display. Initially a winger, he looks at ease in the central role and, while wanted back on loan at Bolton, his immediate future may lie at the Emirates.

There is a sense of the new about the start of every season, but it is exacerbated in Arsenal's case. Freshness is embraced. Besides a glimpse of the next generation, there was a sign of another familiar trait of Wenger's: a search for solutions in his homeland. His two summer signings figured; both are French. A sense of deja vu was extended, unfortunately, by a concession from a free-kick, delivered by Seedorf and touched in by Alexandre Pato.

The consolation was that newest defender was not at fault. Laurent Koscielny is the only addition at the back, where four players have exited. A couple of interceptions suggested he is a fine reader of the game, while he displayed sufficient speed to mean that, without being electric, he could appear a right-footed variant of his new partner, Thomas Vermaelen. Koscielny, 24, was equally at ease in possession, advancing elegantly in a heartening debut on home soil. The recruit from the French side Lorient is, after Vermaelen, the costliest defender Wenger has ever signed.

Marouane Chamakh, in contrast, arrived on a free transfer. He is very much Arsenal's interpretation of a target man, a presence in attack but one with a deft touch and hints of trickery. He is a mobile figure, wandering wide to free up space in the middle for the advancing midfielders. His withdrawal was met with a level of applause to suggest a crowd favourite in the making. Significantly, for a forward who does not have the reputation of a prolific scorer, he struck before his departure, sliding a shot in after a driving run from Andrey Arshavin.

In addition, Theo Walcott delivered a sparkling cameo, exposing a lack of pace in the Milan rearguard, while Carlos Vela attempted to embarrass them with his skill. Yet the lack of ruthlessness presented a more worrying precedent. Milan, whose season commences two weeks after Arsenal's, were less sharp but levelled through Pato and then struck the bar through Gianluca Zambrotta. Age suddenly seemed to have its benefits.

sports@thenational.ae