The League Cup win over Reading was about a routine a victory as you are ever likely to see at the Emirates.
Even with the chance to claim a real scalp, Reading never really seemed keen to put much on the line in pursuit of victory – not until the last five minutes or so, when the game was more or less beyond them anyway.
To that end, it was difficult to measure just how well Arsenal’s young stars performed on the night, particularly against an opponent more concerned with avoided a hammering than seeking victory.
That said, it still felt like an opportunity missed for a lot of the younger guys, with the burden of getting the team through falling largely to the senior hands.
It’s platforms such as the League Cup which allow the manager and coaching staff to get a feel for how players might knit in with the first team squad, and how they fare under the pressure of playing in front of an expectant Emirates crowd.
Apart from anything else, the young players should relish the opportunity to perform in cup competition. So many players in Arsenal’s past have forced their way into first team contention by catching the eye in the League Cup and this was a chance to do just that.
On the positive side, there were solid performances from Rob Holding and Emiliano Martinez, with both players looking assured amid vastly more experienced colleagues.
But there wasn’t really anyone else on the fringes of the squad at large who really stood out, or who made enough of an impression to make you sit up and take note.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide was wasteful at times and lacked decisiveness, Chris Willock – when he came on – spurned at least two very presentable chances, Ainsley Maitland Niles went a little too quietly about his business. It was a victory tinged with frustration.
We all want these guys to excel, to do as Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerin have done before them, but it just didn’t seem to click on the night.
I don’t doubt they will all get another chance in the next round – depending on our opponent – and here’s hoping that they worry less about making a mistake and concentrate more on allowing their abilities to come to the fore.
As to the more senior members of the team, those who have had experience with the first team setup, it was a pretty good showing. Before his injury, Lucas Perez was industrious and willing, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain added another two goals to his tally, and Keiran Gibbs brought an assured air to proceedings.
Mohammed Elneny took the game by the scruff of the neck in midfield, and was impressive throughout, while Carl Jenkinson made a long-awaited return to competitive action.
It seemed to me as if he was blowing a bit by the end but he will do well for the 90 minutes of football.
Olivier Giroud also managed some game time after coming back from injury and was a handful up top, if lacking a little cutting edge. In fairness, he was unlucky to find himself crudely chopped down when away on goal.
There is much the senior guys can be pleased about with their efforts. Reading were a bit of a non-entity going forward, and didn’t really trouble Martinez with much of note, although he did well late in the second half to push a free-kick away from goal.
It was nice also, to see a return of the high energy press. Particularly in the second half, Reading were simply denied time and space on the ball from deep and consistently gave the ball away in dangerous positions.
If the injury to Lucas Perez turns out to be little worse than a knock, we can consider the victory a pretty solid night’s work, albeit coloured with a sense of frustration for the younger stars.
Some of them may have a future at the club – others may not – but it’s up to them to show just what they are capable of – and what they are learning – as part of a squad with genuine world class talent.