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Arteta's young guns show transfers aren't the only answer to Arsenal's issues

12:00 GMT 28/01/2020
Saka Willock Nketiah Arsenal
The Gunners beat Bournemouth 2-1 in the FA Cup fourth round on Monday night, with the likes of Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah starring

Never is the desire for a club to make new signings stronger than the final week of the transfer window. And, at Arsenal right now, the thirst for new arrivals is huge.

Fans frustrated by poor results and years of underinvestment from owner Stan Kroenke are desperate for new additions to come in and bolster Mikel Arteta’s squad.

Arteta himself has admitted that he would like more options and the club are working on potentially bringing in a couple of players before Friday night’s transfer deadline, with negotiations continuing with Flamengo over a deal for centre-back Pablo Mari.

But what we saw at Bournemouth in the FA Cup on Monday was another reminder that improving the current situation at Arsenal does not necessarily mean taking out the chequebook.

Arteta named a youthful team to take on the Cherries at the Vitality Stadium, with academy products Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah all starting.

And all three demonstrated their immense talent by playing a starring role in a 2-1 win that set up a fifth-round tie at Portsmouth.

Saka opened the scoring after just five minutes, thumping a fabulous finish in off the underside of the bar to cap a flowing Arsenal move that had Willock – who revelled in the No.10 role – at the centre of it.

The young Gunners then combined again 20 minutes later, with Nketiah on hand to double the lead from close range after he had been picked out by Saka’s cross from the left.

It was a fabulous goal, one straight out of Arsenal’s Hale End academy, and the talented trio quite rightly came in for praise from Arteta after the game.

“They were terrific,” said the Spaniard. “And their work rate as well.

“For me, it's the courage to play, to make big decisions, to not be scared and play safe – that's the difference with these three kids.

“Eddie again was terrific and Joe as well. I really like Joe in that [No.10] position. I think he can be an outstanding player playing there and he showed that.”

Arsenal have invested big money in developing youth in recent years. Under former chief executive Ivan Gazidis, £40 million ($49m) was spent on transforming the facilities at Hale End and London Colney, and that investment is clearly starting to pay off with the amount of players who are coming through.

And it’s not just Saka, Willock and Nketiah either. Arsenal also had another Hale End graduate on the bench against Bournemouth in Ainsley Maitland-Niles, while Reiss Nelson will soon be back in contention after his injury and Emile Smith Rowe will return from his loan spell at Huddersfield in the summer.

These are players who must continue to be developed, as must the likes of Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and Tyreece John-Jules – the most promising players among the latest crop of homegrown hopefuls.

However, for players like Saka, Willock, Nketiah and Nelson, the only way they are going to continue to improve is by getting regular game time at senior level, which is why it’s so important that the right decisions are made at the top in terms of transfer strategy.

Some high-profile additions in the next six months may go some way towards addressing supporter unrest, but what would they do to the development of the younger players if they prevent them from getting the regular football they need?

Saka is an exceptional talent and one that has to continue to be used. The way he has stepped in to cover at left-back with Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac injured demonstrates his enormous potential.

The goal and assist he chalked up at Bournemouth on Monday night means he has now been involved in nine direct goal contributions for Arsenal this season – only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17) and Gabriel Martinelli (14) have been involved in more.

So, why look to bring in a left-back as short-term cover for the injured Tierney and Kolasinac? Saka has shown he is more than capable of playing there and will only get better the more opportunities he is given.

The same goes for Nketiah, Willock, Nelson and other youngsters such as Martinelli and Matteo Guendouzi – who produced his best performance in months at Bournemouth.

There’s no doubt that Arsenal do need to dip into the transfer market to strengthen the squad in certain areas – particularly at centre-back, with Shkodran Mustafi now potentially joining Calum Chambers on the long-term injury list.

But there has to be a careful balancing act. It’s not about spending for the sake of it and bringing in players on big money who could get in the way of the youngsters now knocking on the door at Emirates Stadium.

The only way the next generation of Arsenal stars will continue to improve is by playing regularly.

Arteta gave them an opportunity to impress at Bournemouth and they seized it in emphatic style. Now they must continue to reap the rewards.