Mikel Arteta is backing his kid captains to lead Arsenal out of the gloom as the Gunners launch their quest for EFL Cup silverware.
After a poor Premier League start, Arsenal have strung together 1-0 wins over Norwich City and Burnley, with Arteta pinpointing Martin Odegaard as a key factor behind their improvement.
The Gunners had lost each of their first three top-flight games, but confidence is growing before their first meeting with AFC Wimbledon in the cup on Wednesday.
Arsenal have only failed to go beyond the third round of the competition in one of the last 18 seasons.
Odegaard, who made his move permanent from Real Madrid after a loan spell at Emirates Stadium, scored the winner against Burnley last time out.
Arteta hailed the 22-year-old for the difference he is making, as well as highlighting the importance of fellow young midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga, who turns 22 in October.
Experienced striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains Arsenal skipper, but the team now have others with priceless captaincy experience.
"I think we are building some leadership in the group," Arteta said. "It’s a really young group, with a lot of players under 23.
"Martin is the captain of the [Norway] national team and Sambi was the captain at Anderlecht.
"Martin has this capacity to do that with his talent, taking the ball in moments where others probably refuse to, but as well with his attitude, his rhythm and the way he presses and puts people under pressure. He's probably the first to do it.
"I was really impressed with Auba [Aubameyang] as well – I think his rhythm and high pressing was fantastic."
40 - Martin Ødegaard scored Arsenal’s 40th direct free-kick in the Premier League, but who has scored the most in the competition for the Gunners? Laser.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 20, 2021
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The last lower-league team to beat Arsenal in the EFL Cup were Walsall in 1983, and this is the first time AFC Wimbledon have reached the third round.
But Arteta insisted his focus remains on one game at a time, despite an expected one-sided affair on Wednesday when fringe first-team players are likely to be involved.
"These games are like any other game, an opportunity for anybody to show that he deserves to be in the team and we are wrong," Arteta said, quoted on the Arsenal website.
"Focus, demand the highest standards, prepare the same way or even better.
"There is a lot of coaching now going on around the team. Young players are starting to talk and communicate, and that facilitates a lot of things in the defensive phase.
"After the difficult start that we had in many different aspects, when you start to win two games, you can win the third one. You get more momentum, more confidence, everybody's back, and then you start to create a different feeling."