Arsenal find themselves 16 points behind north London rivals Tottenham in the Premier League, leaving Europa League success as their only realistic chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League campaign.
Arsene Wenger’s own admission that securing a top four spot is “nearly impossible” should provide enough reason to hand the Gunners' latest prospects an opportunity in the domestic competition for the remaining seven league games.
Reiss Nelson is a product of Arsenal’s Hale End academy system and remains the most exciting talent to graduate at the club in recent years. He has mostly featured at right-back in the Europa League this season, making 14 first-team appearances in the Carabao Cup and early group stage matches against the likes of Cologne and Red Star Belgrade.
“Some of the players I’ve had in my career have turned 18 years old and it seems natural for them to be on the pitch,” said Wenger. “They just think, ‘Let’s play’ and Reiss behaves like that.”
Nelson’s sole Premier League appearance was an 18 minute cameo against Crystal Palace in January, but he does rank in the top 10 for dribbles per 90 minutes in the Europa League.
The 18-year-old, who is out of contract next summer, will surely wait and see if his opportunities to play increase before signing a new contract extension – with the youngster’s deal expiring next summer.
Similarly, Eddie Nketiah finds himself on the fringes of the first team and would have been put further down the forwards' pecking order in January following the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a club record fee.
He scored two extra time goals in the Carabao Cup tie against Norwich in October but has yet to start a Premier League game due to Arsenal’s wealth of senior options up front.
With Danny Welbeck struggling to finish chances and Alexandre Lacazette being saved for the Europa League, it is surely only a matter of time before Nketiah gets his chance.
“Eddie Nketiah is a striker who has a nose for the goal but he’s not only a goal-getter. And that’s what is interesting with him,” Wenger has said.
“He has good physical qualities, he can combine with others, he can integrate a collective game at a very high level and, as well, he can get on the end of things and score in front of goal. So he has basic exceptional qualities but you have to show that in a consistent way. The next step for him is mental.
“Show me that you’re motivated every day, show me that you’re hungry to become the player that you can become.”
Both Nelson and Nketiah are the closest youngsters to the first team and will see Arsenal’s remaining league fixtures as an opportunity to further establish themselves on the biggest stage possible.
Joe Willock is another teenage talent who was rewarded with a contract extension in November, just months after his older brother Chris left the Gunners for Benfica. The central midfielder has an impressive passing range and will want to prove himself again after being part of a disappointing Arsenal side who were knocked out of the FA Cup to Nottingham Forest in January.
The youngster who has undoubtedly made the biggest impression on Wenger this season is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. His 23 appearances in all competitions can be attributed to the fact that the Englishman is versatile and able to play across the backline or in central midfield. His composure on the ball makes him look above his years and the ability to read the game intelligently emphasises how much potential he has for the future.
Ultimately, the handful of starlets Arsenal do have at their disposal will be eagerly anticipating being handed a chance in the final few games of the season.
Having reached the FA Youth Cup semi-finals there can be no doubt that even more highly-rated youngsters will be looking to push on towards the first team next season, but it is crucial that Wenger bloods the ones he has already seen first hand throughout this campaign at a time when the Europa League remains the club’s only genuine shot at silverware.