It was confirmed yesterday that Pat Holland has departed his role as coach of Arsenal U18s after less than two months in charge, with the club citing ‘personal reasons’ as the decisive factor behind his reprisal of the role.
However, as stated previously, Holland had failed to strike a chord with Liam Brady and his coaching staff during his brief time in the position, with his ‘old school’ approach not proving particularly popular with the club’s youngsters, and he has been replaced by U16 coach Steve Gatting, who is a familiar figure to players in the elder age group having guided many of them through their final years as schoolboy footballers before they progressed to training at London Colney on a full-time basis.
This situation certainly begs the question as to why Gatting wasn’t handed the job in the first place following Steve Bould’s promotion to the first-team coaching staff. Indeed, Gatting seemed the logical choice having successfully coached the U16s for several seasons and, when the former Arsenal player travelled with the U21s for their pre-season fixtures, it was presumed that he was working on forming a close relationship with Terry Burton, who, unlike Holland, has settled quickly into his new role at the club.
However, this is all water under the bridge now and the most important concern at present is to ensure that this upheaval doesn’t affect the progress of the club’s scholars. There seems little chance of it doing so, though, as the current crop contains some determined characters, and three players who signed scholarship deals in the summer have already progressed to professional terms, with one of them, prodigious striker Chuba Akpom, being installed as the club’s prinicpal striker at U21 level despite having only just turned 17.
One further criticism of Holland was that his team selection was rather predictable, with the same few players, usually defenders Leander Siemann, Tom Dallison and Arinse Uade, being left out one week and included in the side the next in the only changes to the team, which meant that, even though Holland admittedly had a small pool of players to choose from, there was very little in the way of competition for places in the side.
It is hoped that Gatting’s appointment will rectify this somewhat, and it would also be beneficial for the club if Gatting used his knowledge of the club’s lower ranks to promote more schoolboys into the U18 set-up. Jordan Brown made his debut at that level against Reading in what proved to be Holland’s final fixture, whilst there are several other promising 15 and 16 year old’s currently vying for a place in the squad, including Gedion Zelalem, Denzeil Boadu, Ainsley Maitland, Tafari Moore, Chris Regis, Elliot Wright and promising goalkeepers Ryan Huddart and Ethan Ross.
Gatting’s first game in charge will come away to Everton on Saturday, with the U21s facing the same opponents at their level two days later. Before then, however, a mixture of first-team and U21 players will take on Chelsea in a behind-closed-doors friendly fixture at London Colney tomorrow, with the game arranged so that the likes of Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Frimpong can further step up their respective recoveries from injury. Further fringe first-team players are expected to be involved, with no limit or age cap in place for this game, with Sebastien Squillaci among those likely to feature. Some members of the U21 squad who are not on international duty will also pepper the squad, with Akpom being named on the bench, which could provide Arsene Wenger with a further opportunity to assess the merits of the striker.