It was evident on Friday night that Arsenal are extremely well stocked in an attacking sense at youth level at present, with players of the quality of Edward Nketiah, who has scored nine goals in the league for the U18s this season, and Yassin Fortune, a high-profile arrival from Lens in the summer, not even included in the squad for the FA Youth Cup victory over West Bromwich Albion.
Even more remarkable was the fact that Stephy Mavididi, Arsenal’s top scorer in the U21 Premier League this season with five goals in seven games, was only named amongst the substitutes.
In his place 16-year-old Donyell Malen, who was plucked from the famed Ajax academy, was chosen to start off the back of his excellent goal for the U21s away to Brighton & Hove Albion just days earlier.
With both Mavididi and Malen heavily involved in the U21 Premier League, the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup, the battle between them for a starting berth promises to be a long-running and very intriguing one.
Both players possess different attributes. Mavididi, a product of the club’s Hale End academy, is a penalty box predator who has found the net with regularity at youth level over the past couple of campaigns.
The England youth international doesn’t tend to deviate much from his central position, but is quick to close down opponents and is an astute finisher.
Malen, meanwhile, is an extremely exciting prospect. Fast and courageous, he possesses intelligent approach play and frequently drifts into wide areas to good effect.
A skilful player, there have been some games this season when he hasn’t been too heavily involved for the majority of the match only to come alive at a crucial stage in proceedings.
That was certainly the case in the 4-1 triumph over West Brom, with the Dutch youth international holding off several markers and finishing well.
Mavididi replaced Malen with just three minutes of normal time remaining but, perhaps fired up by his omission from the starting line-up, still managed to get on the scoresheet.
It will be intriguing to see which of the pair is included from the offset when Arsenal conclude their UEFA Youth League group stage campaign with a trip to Olympiacos on Wednesday.
Arsenal are almost secure of their place in the Last 16 stage of that competition, but Mavididi’s place in the starting line-up is no longer secure as a consequence of Malen’s form.
The best aspect of the situation is that both players appear to be responding to the pressure in the correct way, which will surely bode well for the club in the future.
Whatever transpires, it is certainly a fascinating sub-plot of an engaging season at youth level.