Author: Jeorge Bird
U21 Premier League- Game 3
Arsenal 4 (Crowley 3, Akpom 31, 63, 70) West Bromwich Albion 2 (Howkins 79, Roofe 90)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Arsenal U21s, helped by the selection of several first-team squad players, continued their unbeaten start to the new season against West Bromwich Albion, but it was two of the younger cast members in Dan Crowley and Chuba Akpom who emerged with the most credit from this entertaining game.
Crowley, again deployed on the left wing, gave Steve Gatting’s side the lead with a sublime free-kick, with Akpom then proceeding to further underline his own credentials by scoring a hat-trick. Abou Diaby made his first appearance of the season and completed 45 minutes, whilst there were also run-outs for Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell, with the latter setting up the goal that clinched Akpom’s hat-trick.
There were further changes, too, with Deyan Iliev starting in goal and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill returning at left-back. In fact, such was the strength of Gatting’s side, regulars such as Kristoffer Olsson, Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were only on the bench, whilst Jack Jebb, Alex Iwobi and Glen Kamara didn’t even make the squad. Ignasi Miquel was absent amidst speculation linking him with a permanent move to Norwich City.
subs: Macey, Olsson, Zelalem (for Diaby, 46), Moore, Maitland-Niles (for Crowley, 77).
Arsenal started brightly and they were swiftly rewarded following a quick piece of thinking by Crowley. Akpom was brought down outside the area and Crowley took the free-kick quickly, confidently dispatching the ball into the back of the net.
West Brom seemed a little stunned at conceding so early, but they soon mounted something of a response, with Samir Nabi forcing Iliev into a save.
Crowley was beginning to wreak havoc at the other end, though, with the diminutive midfielder finding Campbell, who sent an audacious lofted effort just wide of the far post.
Arsenal continued to dominate proceedings, with Diaby forcing a corner after his effort was deflected wide. Stefan O’Connor had to be alert at the other end, however, to make a double block to prevent West Brom from equalising.
Arsenal were always dangerous when breaking forwards, but on one occasion Crowley’s effort lacked conviction and instead ended up in the grateful hands of goalkeeper Jack Rose. Campbell then tried his luck without success, but it was soon 2-0 when Akpom finished from close range after Semi Ajayi’s initial effort was repelled.
Iliev still had to make an impressive one-handed save to deny Kemar Roofe, but Arsenal were mostly on top in the opening period.
Diaby, who performed well, was withdrawn at the interval and replaced by Zelalem. West Brom still threatened intermittently, but it was Arsenal who continued to carve out the majority of the chances. Isaac Hayden, deployed as an unorthodox right-winger, did well to work space for himself, but his fierce effort was kept out by Rose.
Ajayi then headed wide from Crowley’s corner as Arsenal looked to seal the win. They did just that in the 63rd minute, with Zelalem sending a sweeping pass into the path of the marauding Hector Bellerin, who crossed for Akpom to head home and make it 3-0.
The fourth, and Akpom’s third, came not long afterwards. Campbell was the creator this time, with the Costa Rican sending a chipped pass into the path of Akpom, who finished well again for his 23rd goal at this level. A loan spell, perhaps after Arsenal’s Capital One Cup endeavours are over, surely beckons.
That looked to be game over, but West Brom, much to their credit, continued to press forwards and were eventually rewarded for their persistence when slack marking allowed Kyle Hawkins to head in. The deficit was reduced further still when Kemar Roofe made it 4-2, much to the delight of the small pocket of West Brom supporters.
It was the 1000 or so Arsenal fans who walked away happiest, however, after witnessing a largely impressive performance. The displays of Crowley and Akpom were the biggest positives, whilst Campbell looked sharp at times and Bellerin attacked well down the right flank. Seven points from three games is not a bad return for Arsenal U21s, whose next assignment is at Villa Park early next month.
Benik Afobe has enjoyed some memorable moments in his fledgling career to date- equalling Michael Owen’s goalscoring record for England U16s, playing for Reading as they were promoted to the Premier League, training with the likes of Ronaldinho and the Brazil national team.
Tonight, however, he played a significant part in a game that may well eclipse all of those heights. The striker may have counted himself a little unfortunate to begin the Capital One Cup tie against Manchester United on the bench, but he certainly made the most of his opportunity after being introduced in the 68th minute as he scored two well-taken goals in an incredible 4-0 victory for his loan side MK Dons.
Afobe, who has endured terrible luck with injuries in recent seasons, found the net just two minutes after coming on and then added to his tally shortly afterwards, demonstrating tremendous perseverance to shrug off the United defence’s attempts to stop him.
For a player who is in his sixth loan spell away from the club, it was hugely satisfying to see him finally playing with confidence. He is perhaps capable of playing above League One level, but, for now, he is certainly enjoying himself and has four goals already this season.
Afobe will be hoping for another game against Premier League opposition in the next round, but fellow Arsenal loanee Jon Toral’s Brentford side will not be involved any further after they lost 1-0 to Fulham. It was still a significant night for Toral, however, as the midfielder made his professional debut and played 63 minutes before being substituted.
Austin Lipman, meanwhile, found the net again yesterday as Boreham Wood beat Sutton United 3-1. Lipman came on as a substitute with 14 minutes remaining and scored in stoppage time after he eluded two defenders before slotting home comfortably.
Hector Bellerin and Ignasi Miquel joined the first-team squad for training ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League Play-Off Round 2nd Leg tie against Besiktas.
Lukas Podolski trained despite reports linking him with a move away from the club before the closure of the transfer window and Yaya Sanogo returned after injury kept him out of the last two games. Olivier Giroud was absent owing to the injury he sustained against Everton.
Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, David Ospina, Serge Gnabry are all still out injured, whilst Aaron Ramsey is suspended following his dismissal in the 1st Leg. Ryo, meanwhile, trained this morning but is not registered to play in the Champions League at this stage. Abou Diaby came through the session unscathed but it’s not clear whether the Frenchman is available for selection.
Wenger has a couple of selection dilemmas to ponder for this crucial game. He must decide whether to persist with Calum Chambers at centre-back and doing so would mean that either Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny would be left out of the side. In the absence of Giroud he must also choose who to play up front, with Alexis Sanchez, Podolski, Sanogo and Joel Campbell all candidates for inclusion.
Failure to qualify would also have repercussions for Arsenal’s youngsters as it would mean that they will not participate in the UEFA Youth League this season.
Players in training today: Szczesny, Martinez, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Chambers, Monreal, Ozil, Flamini, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Cazorla, Rosicky, Campbell, Podolski, Coquelin, Ryo, Miquel, Diaby, Bellerin, Sanogo.
subs: Martinez, Bellerin, Chambers, Rosicky, Sanogo, Campbell, Podolski.
U18 Premier League- Game 2
Arsenal 5 (Mavididi 22, 60, Donovan 63, Robinson 79, 89) Chelsea 1 (Ali 42)
After several years of many demoralising results, things are finally starting to look up for Arsenal U18s under new coach Frans De Kat. The young Gunners have taken maximum points from their first two games under the Dutchman, with last week’s impressive win at Brighton & Hove Albion followed by an emphatic dispatch of Chelsea at London Colney yesterday.
De Kat certainly seems to have managed to get his team to play as a cohesive unit, something that was sorely lacking for most of last season when Carl Laraman was in charge. Development always takes precedence over results at this level, but surely victories such as this one, and the confidence that it will bring, will be hugely beneficial for the players involved.
De Kat was able to call upon Elliot Wright and Renny Smith, who were unused substitutes for the U21s on Thursday, whilst Ben Sheaf and Joshua Da Silva were brought into the starting line-up. De Kat will have even more options at his disposal when the new foreign signings- Hugo Keto, Ilias Chatzitheodoridis, Savvas Mourgos and Kristopher Da Graca- are permitted to play.
subs: Phillips, Donovan, Robinson, T. Bola.
At this rate it will be difficult for De Kat to settle on his best side. Stephy Mavididi continues to impress in the lone striker role and the forward scored a brace yesterday. He spurned an early opportunity to give Arsenal the lead when his shot was kept out by Chelsea goalkeeper Bradley Collins, but he made amends shortly afterwards when he headed home from Marc Bola’s cross from the left flank.
Chelsea, despite struggling to assert control in the opening 45 minutes, went in level at the break after Mukhtar Ali’s shot deflected in off George Dobson.
Arsenal soon gained control after the interval, however. Schoolboy Da Silva, already a regular inclusion in the squad, played an intelligent pass to Kaylen Hinds, who crossed for Mavididi to double his tally.
It was 3-1 soon afterwards when substitute Harry Donovan seized possession before finishing confidently to score his first goal at this level.
Another substitute, Tyrell Robinson, secured the victory. The winger made it 4-1 from close range before concluding the scoring with a superb solo goal that showcased his excellent close control and dribbling.
There were plenty of positives to take from the game, with Chris Willock continuing to impress, whilst Marc Bola has also demonstrated some signs of improvement at left-back.
It is still early days for De Kat, but things could hardly have gone better for the Dutchman so far. Arsenal are top of the fledgling U18 Premier League table and they host Aston Villa next week.
Austin Lipman started and played the first 70 minutes as Boreham Wood drew 1-1 with Bromley in the Conference South. The striker was heavily involved in proceedings. Early on he did well to beat two defenders with some impressive close control before seeing his shot saved. Later Lipman delivered a corner which was met by Callum Reynolds, whose header was cleared off the line. Lipman then shot wide himself after being teed up by Ricky Shakes.
Despite his goalscoring heroics in midweek Benik Afobe had to be content with a place on the bench as MK Dons took on Coventry City yesterday. The striker was brought on for the final 20 minutes of the goalless draw.
Jon Toral was again an un-used substitute as Brentford drew 1-1 with Birmingham City, whilst the same fate befell Wellington as Almeria drew 1-1 with Espanyol.
Carl Jenkinson is still absent through injury and missed West Ham United’s 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.
Benik Afobe’s Arsenal chances, particularly since the signing of Yaya Sanogo, have looked rather bleak for some time, but the 21 year old must be commended for his continued positive attitude and determination to succeed even in adversity.
Now in his sixth loan spell away from the club, Afobe’s Arsenal contract expires next June and it seems that, no matter how much he impresses at MK Dons, this is likely to be his final season as an Arsenal player.
The England U21 international is still seeking to prove his worth, however, and, despite showing some signs of rustiness, he has settled in very well at the League One club, scoring two goals so far, the most recent of which came against Chesterfield in midweek.
Afobe provided a reminder of his quality when he cut inside from the right flank and finished well, although he did spurn two further presentable opportunities.
Afobe will be hoping that he has done enough to establish himself in the starting line-up at MK Dons and he will be particularly looking to be involved when his temporary side take on Manchester United in the 2nd Round of the Capital One Cup next week in front of what is expected to be the club’s largest home crowd since its formation.
There was once a time, before injuries and indifferent loan spells played their part, when Afobe was considered a near certainty to make the breakthrough at Emirates Stadium. That chance now looks to have gone, but, on the evidence of his start to the season, the striker should still forge a respectable career for himself at a relatively high level.
U21 Premier League- Game 2
Arsenal 1 (MAITLAND-NILES) Derby County 1
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Arsenal’s youngsters learnt tonight that they will not have things all their own way in the second tier of the U21 Premier League.
Steve Gatting’s side were subjected to a rigorous work-out by a well-organised Derby County side, who levelled from the penalty spot after Ainsley Maitland-Niles had earlier given Arsenal the lead.
The penalty award, given after a challenge by Alex Iwobi, seemed a little harsh, but the scoreline didn’t, with Derby closing down Arsenal at every possible opportunity and eventually reaping the rewards.
It was anticipated that Arsenal would sail through their second division fixtures and instantly be reinstated into the top tier, but tonight showed that they will still face some considerable tests.
Dan Crowley, despite evidently being frustrated at being stationed on the left flank, provided moments of genius, but overall this was a somewhat scrappy affair that was enlightened by Kristoffer Olsson’s inch-perfect pass to find Maitland-Niles, who finished well for his third goal at this level.
Arsenal, for large spells, found cohesion difficult to come by, which wasn’t surprising considering both full-backs were playing out of position, whilst Crowley, in a similar manner to Santi Cazorla in the first-team, was constantly drifting inside rather than remaining stationed on the wing.
Ignasi Miquel and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill were absent, meaning Glen Kamara and Stefan O’Connor came into the side. There was a familiar face in the Derby line-up too in Alban Bunjaku, the playmaker who left Arsenal in controversial circumstances two years ago. He showed glimpses of his superb technical ability, but the threat that he provided was often snuffed out by Arsenal captain Isaac Hayden.
SUBS: IWOBI (FOR ZELALEM). NOT USED: ILIEV, JEBB, WRIGHT, SMITH.
Arsenal had started the season with a victory over Reading and the early signs suggested that they were on their way to another success here, with Tafari Moore winning a corner following a rampaging run down the left flank, before Crowley and Olsson exchanged neat passes only for Semi Ajayi to be caught offside.
Derby responded quickly, however. Kamara did well to cut out a cross from the opposing right-back Kieron Freeman, with Tom Naylor then directing an effort well off target.
Crowley came close to scoring with a free-kick at the other end, but Derby still threatened intermittently, with goalkeeper Matt Macey called into action on several occasions.
Crowley was the instigator of much that was good about Arsenal’s play, with the diminutive midfielder finding Maitland-Niles, who in turn slipped the ball through to Akpom, but the striker lashed over from a difficult angle.
There was a sense of early-season rustiness about Arsenal, with several passes going astray, and matters could have got even worse had Kwame Thomas not directed his header over when well placed.
It was a rather uneventful opening period, but Arsenal did come perilously close to scoring when Maitland-Niles, involved yet again, played in Akpom, who embarked upon a trademark double stepover before striking the far post with a fierce effort.
Derby, when they attacked, possessed a commendable amount of confidence, with one sweeping move culminating in Kamara committing a clumsy foul on the edge of his own penalty area. The free-kick was deflected out for a corner and eventually, after the ball was played back in following the initial set-piece, Macey, as he did on several occasions last season, made an excellent stop from point-blank range, with Thomas kept out this time.
Arsenal squandered an excellent opportunity to take the lead before the break, though, with Crowley blazing horrendously over when well placed having been found by Gedion Zelalem.
Early in the second-half Macey almost undone his good work after he lost concentration, allowing Thomas to close him down. Thankfully for the goalkeeper the striker somehow failed to find the net, but it was major left off for Gatting’s side.
They certainly made the most of the reprieve, and, just moments later, they were ahead. Olsson, as he has a habit of doing, unlocked the opposition defence with an exquisite long-range pass that landed precisely at the feet of Maitland-Niles, who finished adroitly to open the scoring.
Bunjaku then threatened at the other end, but he couldn’t manoeuvre his way past Arsenal’s defence. The game was a little more open now, but Arsenal had to be wary of Derby’s threat on the counter-attack and Ajayi was perhaps fortunate to stay on the field when he committed a rash challenge. The centre-back was booked but may well have been dismissed if this was a senior fixture.
Macey did well to push the resultant free-kick around the post. Arsenal then sought to put the game beyond all doubt, but they fluffed their lines on two occasions. Firstly Akpom couldn’t quite connect with Crowley’s clipped pass, then O’Connor’s header was deflected wide from Olsson’s corner.
It was Iwobi who would be involved in the game’s controversial moment, with the second-year scholar adjudged to have committed a foul in the area. There was some bemusement at the decision, but Derby took full advantage of it, with Alefe Santos confidently converting past Macey.
There were chances for Arsenal to regain their lead in the closing stages. Akpom played in Maitland-Niles, whose effort was kept out by goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell. Crowley then produced a superb piece of skill, which resulted in him being hacked down. He took the free-kick himself, with Mitchell doing well to tip his effort over the crossbar. Iwobi then threaded the ball through to Akpom as the clock ticked down, but again Mitchell was alert and Arsenal, for all their endeavour, had to settle for a point.