Gnabry leads NextGen Gunners to Italy

Posted by Sam Limbert

David Price/Getty ImagesSerge Gnabry brought some happiness and hope to the Emirates Monday.

The Emirates Stadium saw its first Arsenal game in over a month on Monday night as Terry Burton's Arsenal youth team beat CSKA Moscow 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the NextGen Series, meaning they head to Lake Como in Italy for the finals weekend. It starts with a semifinal against Chelsea on Friday.

My colleague Andrew Mangan highlighted Hector Bellerin as a player who could have an impact on some of Arsene Wenger’s transfer dealings this summer before the game. Along with those who have already appeared in the first team, he was one of the standout performers at a cold Emirates Stadium.

Anyone watching who didn't know which players had already got a few minutes playing for the first team probably would have been able to pick them out from the performances. Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld, Nico Yennaris and Martin Angha all played a prominent part and used their first-team experience to help the others around them through the match in the grander surroundings of the Emirates.

Despite the score-line, Arsenal were in control for much of the match, but needed the German Gnabry to provide a moment of quality to take the young Gunners through. He drove at the CSKA defence, played a swift one-two with Bellerin and finished well when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Other Arsenal players spurned similar opportunities when faced with the keeper, but Gnabry showed good composure to slot the ball in.

It can be very difficult at this stage of a young player's career to predict if they’ll make it into the full first-team squad, and how important a part of it they could become. However, based on his showing on Monday, the hype surrounding Gnabry is understandable. Much like when Jack Wilshere dominated matches at the same level of football, the German is able to get his head up quickly and can change the pace of the attack.

The same could be said of Eisfeld. His one first-team appearance was as a substitute against Reading in the Capital One Cup. Playing as a central midfielder, he played a significant part in helping Arsenal recover from being 4-1 down when he came on, to win 7-5 on a balmy Berkshire evening.

Along with Gnabry, he was the man the Gunners' youth side were looking to for inspiration on Monday. He also smashed the crossbar with a 35-yard free kick.

One of the problems for a lot of Arsenal youngsters, highlighted by Eisfeld and Gnabry, is no one really knows what their best position is. Having been billed as a winger this season, Gnabry played just behind the main striker against CSKA, with Eisfeld playing on the left of midfield.

While versatility is often regarded a good trait in a player -- and as youngsters there isn’t a much better time to experiment with different positions -- it can become difficult to see how they might fit into Arsene Wenger’s eventual first-team plans.

The same goes for the Yennaris and Angha. Yennaris has mainly featured as a right back for the first team, but held the midfield well for the youth side. I've always regarded Angha to be a centre back, but he has now played at right back for the first team and at left back for the NextGen side.

More permanent positions could be tied down during loan spells, but the primary concern for the youngsters has be to make as big an impression as possible when wearing red and white. The added exposure of the NextGen adds to the pressure, but it was a pressure that most Arsenal players revelled in on Monday.

Hopefully a Gnabry-inspired Arsenal can do well against Chelsea on Friday before a potential final on Sunday and the chance of silverware. After recent years for Arsenal fans, you have to take any trophy opportunities you can. For the one or two players who might make it into the first team, a winning habit is a good one to get into.

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