Arsene Wenger admitted his surprise at Granit Xhaka’s penchant for scoring spectacular long-range goals.
Xhaka blasted home a strike from outside the area for the second time in four days on Tuesday to set the Gunners on their way to a 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup.
Fellow newcomer Lucas Perez also grabbed his first two goals for the club on a near-perfect evening for Wenger’s team, which was mainly made up of backups and academy players.
Xhaka and Perez have yet to cement regular starting places at Arsenal, but both made a case for their inclusion against Chelsea at the Emirates on Saturday.
Unlike Perez, Xhaka wasn’t brought in to score goals but to strengthen the team defensively in midfield.
When asked if he had known the Switzerland international had those types of strikes in his locker, Wenger said: “Honestly, not really. I knew he had a good shot. But he played very deep last year [at Borussia Moenchengladbach] and didn’t get forward a lot.
“But I hope that will give him the taste for more. It’s great for him to get confidence as well and to know that he can score goals.”
Perez had a quiet first half in his second start for the club, but came to life in the second. He first converted a penalty he helped create by feeding Chuba Akpom with a good pass in the area that led to the winger being pushed to the ground.
He added a second with a good solo run after taking a good pass from Akpom on a quick counterattack. The Spaniard bounced off one defender as he broke into the area, then rounded the goalkeeper before slotting into an open net.
He also helped create the fourth goal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on another counterattack in injury time.
“I believe he has shown what I expected from him. That he works hard for the team, that he can score goals, but as well that he can be a team player,” Wenger said. “Especially on the fourth goal that Oxlade-Chamberlain scored, he played a big part in that.
“I’m very pleased with the effort he has put in and with the quality he has shown tonight.”
And after going scoreless in an unconvincing first start against Southampton in the Premier League, Wenger acknowledged that it was important for Perez to get off the mark.
“He did well. He’s quick, he’s determined. He uses well his left foot — a bit too much in my taste. He doesn’t use his right enough. Overall he’s like all the left-footed players, you know.
“You know how important confidence is for the strikers, and they get their confidence from scoring goals. He worked hard and he got two goals. I liked the second one,” Wenger said.
Wenger went on to say he finally has a squad he thinks can compete for the EFL Cup title, after normally using the competition to give his youngsters experience.
In his 21st season as Arsenal boss, Wenger has never won the EFL Cup, also called the League Cup, after losing twice in the final. That’s partly because his squads have often resembled under-21 teams in the competition, but this year the Frenchman believes he has the squad depth to launch a better challenge.
“I played always with very young teams. I think today I have a much more mature squad and we can compete as well in the League Cup,” Wenger said. “That’s what we’ll try to do. I would like to add that [to my resume]. But it’s only one game played unfortunately. We’ll put the effort in to try to do it.”
Wenger handed teenagers Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles their first starts for the club at Forest, and brought on three more academy players as substitutes in the second half.
But his team also included the likes of Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Gabriel Paulista for a blend of experience of youth that worked well.
“It was tricky, but we produced a great performance that allowed us to win the game. I believe that the result shows a comfortable win, but it was not as comfortable as the game shows,” Wenger said.
“We had a difficult game but we did stick together and played like a real team who wants to qualify and overall our technical superiority allowed us to make the difference in the second half.”