Tuesday’s [August 25] surprise friendly against MK Dons stood as a great chance for Arsenal’s youngsters to impress with a number of first team regulars still being rested following the FA Cup final on August 1.
While senior members of Mikel Arteta’s squad, including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Granit Xhaka, Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno featured, other players such as Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe and Hector Bellerin didn’t make the trip to Stadium MK.
Instead, as usual, there was a mix of first team and Under-23s players which gave the game a disjointed dynamic at times, but also served as a platform for those just below the surface to prove themselves. Closer to the first team, William Saliba did just that, but from the core group of last year’s Under-23s, it was Ben Cottrell who impressed most.
Brought on in the 62nd minute to replace Kieran Tierney, it was odd to see him stay in the left wing-back position. Very much a central midfielder by trade, it has been what he offers on the ball in central positions that has seen his ascension over the past few seasons in the academy.
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The use of a central midfielder as a wing-back was also seen on the right as Arteta decided Joe Willock would take to the right flank after Cedric Soares was brought off at half time.
Despite playing in an unfamiliar position for the 28 minutes he was on the pitch, Cottrell was arguably Arsenal’s most assured player in that time.
Of course, playing as a wing-back, the defensive contributions are going to be what stand out most.
The 18-year-old didn’t shy away from these responsibilities, however. Almost exactly two minutes after replacing Tierney, MK Dons targeted his area of the pitch, pumping a long ball in behind him. As his opposing winger brought the ball down, he timed his tackle to perfection,…