A 3-0 defeat to AFC Wimbledon with two red cards wouldn’t, on paper, appear to be the most positive of nights for Arsenal’s youngsters.
However, while there were undoubtedly some major negatives to take from the encounter at Plough Lane, there were also a couple of positives.
William Saliba was sent off in the closing stages but prior to that had produced an accomplished performance that makes his continued exclusion from Premier League involvement all the more baffling.
Firstly, to address the sending off, Saliba slipped and then attempted to win the ball with a lunge. The centre-back was successful in gaining possession but his studs were showing. Perhaps the referee felt there was malicious intent from Saliba, but a red card seemed rather harsh.
There was a considerable amount of excitement when Arsenal signed Saliba in the summer of 2019 but we are now almost in 2021 and he has yet to even be called up for a Premier League game.
Saliba’s exclusion from Arsenal’s Europa League squad can perhaps be explained by the club believing that he was going on loan when the list had to be submitted, but there is no reason why he shouldn’t be considered as an option in the Premier League.
It isn’t as if Arsenal’s current crop of centre-backs are of a particularly high standard aside from Gabriel, who has settled in well since arriving from Lille.
David Luiz is still capable of producing impressive performances but isn’t always reliable and at the age of 33 isn’t a long-term option.
Sokratis, who played alongside Saliba for the U23s yesterday, appears to have no future at the club, while Rob Holding can get caught out at times and Calum Chambers is just back from a long-term injury, as is Pablo Mari.
Which leaves Saliba. What is evident about the 19-year-old is that when he wins the ball he is instantly seeking to initiate an attack. On many occasions he pushes forwards when in possession, sometimes even reaching the halfway line.
Saliba is also capable of making precisely timed interceptions and is able to nick the ball away from danger at the last moment.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Saliba, who got caught out on a couple of occasions in the U23 game against Brighton earlier in the season.
Since then, however, he has performed to a rather high standard and helped the U23s to keep clean sheets against Liverpool and Everton.
Continuing to exclude Saliba from Premier League involvement, especially when Arsenal’s defence isn’t particularly resilient, seems absurd.
It is possible that he could make mistakes, but he certainly deserves an opportunity to at least prove his worth.
Playing Saliba in the U23s just doesn’t seem a sustainable option and there have already been suggestions that he could return to Saint-Etienne on loan in January.
Perhaps, though, he could make an impact at Arsenal and form an impressive partnership with Gabriel, if only he was afforded an opportunity.