By Peter Hall
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Despite having yet to make a marquee signing this summer, Arsenal finished their tour of the United States unbeaten and upbeat after an array of talented youngsters came to the fore.
Fan protests marred the start of Arsenal’s pre-season voyage across America, with a petition launched by 16 fan websites reaching over 100,000 signatures in a matter of days.
Owners Stan Kroenke and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) were the target of the ire with supporters unhappy at the prospect of a third straight season of Europa League football and feeling “marginalized” by the club hierarchy.
On the pitch, however, results remained positive. Having comfortably seen off Colorado Rapids in their tour opener, Arsenal beat a strong Bayern Munich and cruised past Italian side Fiorentina in intense heat in Charlotte.
What was so impressive about these three successes was that apart from one own goal, all seven Arsenal scores came from the youngsters.
Coach Unai Emery’s faith in 20-year-old Eddie Nketiah and teenagers Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock and Gabriel Martinelli was fully repaid as all four got on the scoresheet.
Londoner Nketiah found the net three times and all looked at home in the senior side.
“The players coming up from the academy are so special,” Saka said after the Fiorentina win.
“The next generation of us can be in this Arsenal team and take on the world.”
Against Real Madrid in the final tour match on Tuesday, Emery gave his senior players some game time and, while they let slip a two-goal lead and lost out on penalties after a 2-2 draw, there was plenty to please the Spaniard.
“Really, we are very happy we finished today that match with the same spirit we played before,” Emery said.
“And also you see different players taking minutes, taking confidence. These matches were to take rhythm and to play together with young players, to mix, to give them chances.”
Strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both scored and worked well together up front, while captain Mesut Ozil looked happy with his role in the side after struggling to find consistency last season.
As Emery pointed out, though, it was the emergence of the next generation that steered the London club to success on tour and, without the budget for lavish spending, he may have cause to look to them again in the upcoming Premier League season.
(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Nick Mulvenney)