They have been on the periphery of the Arsenal first-team picture all season but yesterday, as the Gunners ran out 5-0 winners away to Southampton in the FA Cup fourth round, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed that they can cut it on the senior stage.
The pair have regularly trained with the squad (Reine-Adelaide is already officially part of the group) and have been given occasional chances to impress but yesterday’s game felt especially significant.
On a day when almost everything went right for Arsenal, the two youngsters enhanced their respective claims for further first-team involvement with accomplished displays.
With Mesut Ozil not involved, Reine-Adelaide was entrusted with being Arsenal’s most advanced central midfielder and he seized responsibility as he played some slick passes and used his strength to good effect.
Maitland-Niles, meanwhile, was stationed at the base of the Arsenal midfield and made a significant contribution both defensively and going forwards. The Hale End product was involved in the build up to Arsenal’s opening goal, while he won tackles with regularity and used his experience of playing at right-back to provide cover in that area when Hector Bellerin ventured forwards.
Yes, Southampton were under strength but this was still a very important game for Arsenal and the backlash would have been considerable had Arsene Wenger’s decision to start the young duo not paid off.
Overall, it was a hugely encouraging day for both Reine-Adelaide and Maitland-Niles. Competition for places is fierce in the Arsenal squad, especially with the injury situation starting to ease, but both youngsters proved that they deserve more chances when the opportunity arises.