Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits his young players were overwhelmed on their debuts for the club in the Capital One Cup fourth-round defeat to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. Alex Iwobi, Glen Kamara, Ismael Bennacer and Krystian Bielik all made their first appearances for the Gunners in the 3-0 loss at Hillsborough in a harrowing night for the quartet.
Iwobi and Kamara both started the game alongside the likes of Petr Cech, Per Mertesacker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud but Wednesday stormed into a first-half lead through goals from Ross Wallace and Lucas Joao. After 19 minutes, Bennacer replaced the injured Theo Walcott – who had earlier come on for Oxlade-Chamberlain – before Bielik featured for the last 30 minutes at the expense of Kamara, but the second-tier side were unperturbed as Sam Hutchinson scored in the second half.
Wenger has often blooded his young players in the second-tier cup competition with varied success but has rarely criticised their application having promoted them from the much-heralded Arsenal academy. However, after being stunned by Carlos Carvalhal's side, Wenger delivered a stinging attack on the group, which let him down on their big night.
"We were not at the level requested to play a team of the quality of Sheffield Wednesday and in the end we have to congratulate them," he told Sky Sports. "They were sharper, quicker and more decisive than us. We had a lot of the ball but we didn't create anything.
"Two goals from set pieces, we looked very naive [in defence]. We cannot master how people react, we have to analyse it. We knew at the start of the game that if something happens to us we were a bit short.
"It [the occasion] was too high for them [the young players]. They were not ready to play at this level, none of them. They are young and it is a good process for them to see what kind of work they have to do because that's the Championship, it's not the Premier League."
Defeat to Wednesday was compounded by the swelling of Arsenal's injury list to eight, after Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott were both substituted in the first 19 minutes with respective hamstring and calf problem. They join six other players currently out including Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky.
The disparaging comments made by Wenger will lead to scrutiny over the youth system, which the club devote significant resources to every year, funds which are redirected away from the transfer market. Arsenal begin their FA Cup campaign in January, a competition that could start with a tie against another lower league opponent, and Wenger's selection could create interest.