Arsene Wenger reserved special praise for young duo Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson despite Arsenal losing 1-0 to Cologne in the Europa League on Thursday night (23 November).
The former played the full 90 minutes as left wing-back while the latter was a second-half substitute in place of Calum Chambers at right wing-back.
Arsenal succumbed to their first group stage defeat in the Europa League via a Sehrou Guirassy penalty in the 62nd minute but still managed to seal top spot in the group owing to the stalemate in the other game between Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov.
Arsene Wenger made eleven changes from the team that beat Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, but played an experienced line up for the game against the Bundersliga's bottom-placed side. Olivier Giroud, Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, David Ospina and Mathieu Debuchy were among the players that stepped into the starting XI, but were unable to break down the home team.
Wenger admitted that his team missed the clinical passing in the final third as they were unable to create too many clear-cut chances to trouble the opposing goalkeeper. Wilshere looked his usual self in midfield, assured in possession always trying to pick a forward pass, while Giroud was threatening, he failed to receive adequate service from the wide areas and he himself was guilty of missing some chances when they were presented to him.
Maitland-Niles, however, looked lively down the left wing and made a number of darting runs to help the attacking players. Wenger praised his performances, especially in the first-half when he was part of almost every attacking move that Arsenal attempted.
Nelson, on the other hand, came on in the second-half in place of Chambers and immediately added an impetus to the attack. The young Englishman, who has impressed every time he has been given a chance, almost had a chance to level it late on when he made a darting run beating three Cologne players only to have his shot parried by goalkeeper Timo Horn.
Questions continue to mount with regards to his playing position. Nelson plays on the wings or as an attacking midfielder for the Arsenal Under-23 team and has scored six goals in five appearances, but he is played as a right wing-back when with the first-team which needs him to focus on defence as much as on the offensive side of his game.
Wenger was quick to praise the duo and it is likely they will again be involved when Arsenal take on BATE Borisov in their last group game next month. The duo are also certain to be pushing for a place in the Premier League squad with similar performances in the future.
"I felt that Ainsley Maitland-Niles was very good, in the first half especially," Wenger said after the match, as quoted on Arsenal's official site. "When we had problems to create dangerous situations, he did very well."
"Reiss Nelson came on and looked really tricky, dangerous going forward every time. The really young players did well on that front. Guys like Rob Holding were good too, but the young players did very well.
"Jack Wilshere was like everybody else - he created dangerous situations and was close to scoring. Him, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud all looked dangerous but we were always missing something in the finishing," the French coach explained.