The vast majority of Arsenal youngsters last tasted action over a month ago, and, whilst yesterday’s 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion in the U21 Premier League provided an opportunity for players outside of the first-team squad to receive some much-needed game time, the decision was taken instead to name a largely experienced line-up, with seven first-team players featuring in total at London Colney.
There were several positives to take from the afternoon, despite the fact that Terry Burton’s side failed to get the better of West Brom at the third attempt. Abou Diaby, on his first appearance since September, was largely impressive in the 65 minutes that he was on the field, as he dictated the play with his range of short and long passing and his ability to alter the tempo of the game. Carl Jenkinson, too, put in a commendable shift at right-back, and the 20 year old, on this evidence, can count himself somewhat unfortunate not to be involved in first-team matters at present, especially with Bacary Sagna enduring a difficult run of form.
Whilst Diaby and Jenkinson impressed, some of the other more senior players were not at their sharpest yesterday. Francis Coquelin gave the ball away in dangerous areas on several occasions, whilst Emmanuel Frimpong continued his customary trait of getting sent-off for two bookable offences, having kicked the ball away in frustration following the second challenge. Frimpong, back from a loan spell at Charlton Athletic in which he failed to impose himself, did not seem entirely accustomed to operating in the left-wing position in which he found himself yesterday, and will receive a three-match ban from U21 football.
Yesterday also saw the welcome return of Conor Henderson, another player whose embryonic career has been stifled by injuries, but the midfield player looked to be lacking match fitness following his introduction as a substitute, and made an ill-judged back-pass which put Mannone under considerable pressure.
The U21s are not in action again until they face Southampton away in ten days’ time, when a younger line-up is likely to be named as the first-team will be taking on Chelsea at the same time. Before then, Arsenal must do battle with Fulham in the FA Youth Cup a week today, when the likes of Hector Bellerin, Isaac Hayden, Jon Toral and Kristoffer Olsson, who were not involved yesterday, will receive their first action of 2013.
For the likes of Nigel Neita, Josh Rees and Samir Bihmoutine, however, game time has not exactly been forthcoming so far this season. All three players have featured intermittently at U21 level, and are now too old to feature in the Youth Cup or U18 league. It is hoped that they may receive further outings in the near future with several members of the U21 squad, most notably Thomas Eisfeld, possibly going out on loan before the end of the month.