A defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at any level is difficult to take, and there is no doubt that Arsenal U21s will have been left frustrated by events at Bulls Cross yesterday. Whilst it may seem rather akin to clutching at straws to take positives from a 4-2 defeat, however, the recent demonstration of Chuba Akpom’s goalscoring abilities cannot fail to have gone unnoticed, as he took his tally to 11 goals for the season at all levels.
Akpom has always possessed promise, having broken into the U18s side late in the 2010/11 season before scoring some crucial goals at that level last season whilst still a schoolboy, but this campaign he has been fast-tracked to the extent that he was called up to the first-team squad, albeit for a dead rubber away to Olympiacos, in December, just months after signing his first professional contract.
The coaching staff’s faith in Akpom was evident from the pre-season friendly with Boreham Wood, where the England youth international was handed a start up front, and didn’t disappoint with his finishing. It soon became clear that the Hale End product was to be installed as the club’s principal striker at U21 level this season, with Benik Afobe, Sanchez Watt and Philip Roberts all farmed out on loan, but, in his early games in the role, whilst demonstrating impressive build-up play and laying on chances for others, goals were not coming on a regular basis for Akpom, with the forward instead rather snatching at chances, often resulting in opportunities going begging. His stature, hard-working nature and technical ability were not in question, but a clinical goalscoring edge was not exactly evident.
Since the turn of the year, however, any such fears about Akpom’s ability to find the net have been laid to rest following a glut of goals for club and country. He followed up a brace against Manchester United, the first goal of which was of extremely high quality, with another double against Tottenham yesterday and also found the net against Everton in the FA Youth Cup, to add to the goals he scored for England at U19 level.
It is all now coming together rather nicely for Akpom, and it is hoped that he will continue his impressive run of form in front of goal until the end of the season. Indeed, if Arsenal are to stand any chance of progressing past holders Inter Milan away in the NextGen Series, it is likely that they will require decisive interventions from both Akpom and Serge Gnabry, the other highly prodigious talent within this group. There are others who are progressing well, such as Hector Bellerin, but results such as the one’s suffered by the U21s and U18s yesterday do not exactly paint the Arsenal Academy in the best of lights. It is hoped that this will be compensated for by the development of a few talented individuals, such as Akpom, but there is no doubt that the overall quality of players within the last few intakes has not been as high as the groups that directly preceded them.