The Arsenal academy has long been a breeding ground for some of the finest footballers the Premier League has witnessed. Under the expert eye of Arsene Wenger, numerous players have been handed the opportunity to make the intimidating step to first team football.

When these young hopefuls finally have their chance, they exude confidence, as though they feel they always belonged on the grand stage. Cesc Fabregas was the prime example. Handed Patrick Viera's number four shirt as a teenager, he never looked fazed when competing against far more experienced, and physically stronger opponents.

There is a certain self-assurance that comes with graduating from the youth academy to the Arsenal first team.

On a frightfully cold summer evening at Barnet's Underhill Stadium, the latest crop of Arsenal talent demonstrated their self-belief against Olympique de Marseille in their first NextGen series game.

Arsene Wenger
Wenger was in attendance at Underhill to watch the Arsenal youth side [NextGen]

The Under-19 tournament, which is branded as a youth Champions League, was a huge success in its inaugural year. This season Arsenal are one of the 24 sides from around Europe competing for the top prize. It presents a fantastic opportunity for players to experience what it is like at the very top of the game.

Players must travel across the continent, play in varying conditions and learn to give those difficult interviews after a defeat. The hope is that young footballers have the best possible chance of adapting to life in the first team. For the Arsenal players competing on Wednesday night it was a chance to shine in front of the watchful eyes of Wenger.

The Frenchman, who was joined in the stands by Steve Bould and chief executive Ivan Gazidis, was able to run the rule over an Arsenal side which boasted an array of talent from around Europe. This was their chance to impress, and they took it.

A comprehensive 3-0 victory over Marseille showcased the strength that Arsenal have in their academy. Sat in the stands was Ignasi Miquel, the 19-year-old who came to the club three years ago and has already made four appearances in the first team. His presence acted as a reminder to the players that they will be handed an opportunity by Wenger if they can prove they deserve it.

Chuka Akpon
Akpon scored two on the night in an impressive display [David Price]

On the night it was clear that the Arsenal players wanted to make a statement. They were quicker, stronger, and more determined to press their opponents. In the heart of midfield the combination of Nico Yennaris and Kristoffer Olsson controlled proceedings. The former, already with a Premier League appearance against Manchester United to his name, was the stand out performer on the night. Calm, controlled, he will certainly be pressing for more regular action.

At right-back the marauding Hector Bellerin looked a genuine talent. Having left Barcelona just one year ago, he has been converted from a winger, but it was clear he still loves to go forward. He admitted that working with Steve Bould had helped him improve defensively, while his pace and ability on the ball will ensure he is soon challenging Carl Jenkinson for a spot as back-up to Bacary Sagna.

In attack there was plenty to get excited about. Serge Gnarby, a German youth international who arrived from Stuttgart last summer, showed plenty of technical skill and raw pace. His ability to trade places amongst the front three made him a handful for a struggling Marseille defence and he will hope to challenge Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for a place in the wide channels.

Perhaps the toughest position in which to make a mark is as a striker. Clubs prefer to go with established goalscorers rather than hand chances to young pretenders. However, special mention must go to Chuba Akpom who scored two goals on the night, while impressing throughout as he seamlessly switched positions from central to wide areas.

At just 16 years old, and in his first year in the academy, he clearly has a bright future and will hope to continue his rapid rise through the ranks.

There will be tough challenges ahead for this Arsenal NextGen squad as they face Olympiacos and Atheltic Bilbao, a side with a rich history of producing talented players - think Fernando Llorente, Javi Martinez and Iker Muniain. However, the real test will be forcing their way into the first team plans of Wenger, something that is likely to happen sooner rather than later.