It may still be the early days of Carl Laraman’s tenure but, in terms of both results and performances, things have not exactly gone to plan for Arsenal’s new U18 coach since his appointment earlier this month.
Arsenal have lost all three of Laraman’s games in charge in the Development Group, conceding 11 goals in the process and scoring just twice, with the nadir being Saturday’s 6-1 defeat to a vibrant Aston Villa side at London Colney. There were mitigating circumstances for the first two fixtures of his reign, against Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City, as young sides largely composed of schoolboys were fielded, but the loss to Villa was deeply concerning, not so much for the result but for the lack of application and apparent motivation of some individuals.
As ever there was a shining light to take from all this, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles impressing on the left wing and coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions, whilst Tarum Dawkins, who switched to that flank following Maitland-Niles’ withdrawal in the second half, also demonstrated his trickery and poise in possession.
By and large, though, there was no escaping that this was a woefully abject performance from the majority of the individuals on show. Results at Academy level do not matter all too much in the grand scheme of things, even if winning can breed success, but some of the positioning, or rather the lack of it from Arsenal’s young defenders was frightful.
Goalkeeper Deyan Iliev did not enjoy the best of days either, as he took his tally to ten goals conceded in two games, and the Macedonian shot-stopper was beaten far too easily on several occasions, even though the unfamiliar centre-back pairing of Zach Fagan and schoolboy Stefan O’Connor offered very little in terms of protection. Without wanting to be too harsh on Fagan, he continues to look rather out of his depth at this level, even though he is now a second-year, and a misunderstanding with Iliev resulted in a pass from Fagan ending up in the back of his own net. The 18 year old did make amends of sorts by scoring a header deep into stoppage time, but this was a day to forget for the majority of Arsenal’s youngsters, even though they did improve marginally in the second half, with Austin Lipman, who, it must be said, continued to work hard up front in adversity, twice coming close.
This was a side shorn of the likes of Serge Gnabry, Chuba Akpom, Hector Bellerin, Kristoffer Olsson and Isaac Hayden, who were all in action as the U21s lost to Tottenham Hotspur, and the injured Jon Toral, but despite the fielding of a cobbled together defence which included a schoolboy right-back playing at left-back in Tafari Moore, and for all Villa’s admirable qualities, the young Gunners certainly should have produced a more determined performance. Their first chance to put things right comes at home to Norwich City next Saturday.