Mikel Arteta saluted the Arsenal youth, reserving special praise for young winger Reiss Nelson, after the club’s young arms beat Portsmouth 2-0 to seal their spot in the FA Cup quarter-final.
However, the Gunners boss also revealed his fears over Lucas Torreira, who was injured after just 17 minutes of play and then left Fratton Park in a protective boot.
Arteta admits he took a risk by making nine changes to the Arsenal squad that was eliminated from the Europa League by Olympiakos last week.
Only David Luiz and Bukayo Saka retained their place in this team, January signing Pablo Mari making his defense debut, while the youngsters, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah all started.
But they said the club has rebounded from its surprise European exit by sealing its place in the bottom eight of the FA Cup, thanks to second-half goals from Sokratis and Nketiah.
Arteta admitted he had no choice but to make fundamental changes because his regulars on the first team were struggling to recover from last Thursday’s miserable loss to the Greeks.
But the manager said his young players did it and his club proud of their performance at Fratton Park.
“They fully deserve this chance and I know it is risky to play them in this competition but they are worth a risk,” said the Spaniard.
“I evaluated the team and physically, some of them were knocked out, some had problems, some were mentally hooked on what had happened that day.
“So I tried to choose the right team knowing how it was going and I took advantage of it. If you win, it doesn’t matter, but if we had lost, it would have been a bad decision.
“The energy, the concentration, the will and the desire to play in this competition are really important. I am really happy with them. “
Nelson was one of the stars of the evening with two assists for Arsenal’s goals.
The 20-year-old has scored six goals in his last eight starts, and Arteta hailed the youngster as a “special player”.
“We have rhythm with a few players at the front, and Reiss [Nelson] is a special player and can eliminate players one by one, “said the boss.
“He’s been away for a while but he’s back now and he’s shown what he can do.
“I really enjoy working with this group of players. It’s a process. I know everything has to be today or yesterday, but in football, it doesn’t happen like that.
“I see a lot of things I’m happy with, but there is a lot of room for improvement.”
A bitter note for Arsenal came when midfielder Lucas Torreira was pulled injured on a stretcher just 17 minutes from the game.
The Uruguayan international left Fratton Park on crutches, Arteta adding: “He was in a lot of pain, he’s in good shape at the moment.
“It will be evaluated in the coming days and we will know more. I don’t know if it’s the bone or the ligaments, we don’t know yet. “