Author: Jeorge Bird

Report- Walcott plays 45 minutes but Crowley the star as Arsenal U21s draw with Blackburn

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Picture by Hai Tuan
Picture by Hai Tuan

The return from injury of Theo Walcott will be widely reported in the national newspapers and on the television stations, but it was the performance of Dan Crowley that will prove to be the most endearing memory from tonight’s U21 stalemate against Blackburn Rovers.

An Arsenal side that started with Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby struggled to break down a resolute visiting outfit, but Steve Gatting’s side improved following the second-half introductions of Alex Iwobi and Gedion Zelalem. Iwobi had a goal disallowed, but it was Crowley, with his mesmerising skill and driving runs, who made the biggest impression.

Walcott completed 45 minutes on his first appearance since January and had something of an impact in the opening stages before becoming less involved as the half wore on. Gnabry, deployed in a central attacking midfield position, stayed on for longer but wasn’t at his sharpest.

Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden were absent, with the young defenders set to be in the first-team squad for the game against Hull City tomorrow. Ryan Huddart was given a rare start in goal, with Deyan Iliev rested as he is likely to travel to Anderlecht with the first-team next week. Gatting was forced into a late alteration before kick-off with Semi Ajayi withdrawing, meaning Glen Kamara was deployed at centre-back.

Huddart

Moore-O’Connor-Kamara-Ormonde Ottewill

Diaby-Maitland Niles

Walcott-Gnabry-Crowley

Akpom

subs: Iwobi (for Walcott, 46), Zelalem (for Gnabry, 59), Johnson (for Diaby, 67). Not used: Macey.

Walcott, despite showing some rustiness, demonstrated that his searing pace is still very much intact when he glided past four players in the opening stages. The England international subsequently found Gnabry, but the 19 year old’s shot was blocked.

Gnabry squandered another opportunity when he sent a free-kick over the crossbar. Arsenal were gradually beginning to up the tempo, with Crowley becoming increasingly involved. The midfielder’s cross eventually found its way to Walcott, whose effort was wayward.

Blackburn threatened intermittently, with captain Bradley Bauress shooting over, but most of their good work was done in their defensive third, with Chuba Akpom in particular struggling to get into the game.

Huddart had to be alert to gather a long-range effort, before Arsenal launched a swift counter-attack. Crowley drove forward with ease and slipped the ball through to Akpom, but the striker’s touch was heavy and the chance fizzled out.

Blackburn could have taken the lead before the interval after Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill allowed Blackburn too much space down his flank, but the visitors’ effort didn’t trouble Huddart.

In a pre-planned substitution Alex Iwobi replaced Walcott at the start of the second-half. The winger, who hasn’t been regularly involved at this level this season, was determined to make an impression and he added pace and vibrancy to Arsenal’s attacking movements.

Before he could have too much on an impact, though, Arsenal were reliant on impressive defending from Tafari Moore at the other end, with Huddart also making a good save.

Crowley was attempting to weave his magic and saw a shot deflected for a corner, with Iwobi doing likewise shortly afterwards.

Crowley was nominally stationed on the left flank, but he kept drifting infield to devastating effect. One eye of the needle pass unlocked the Blackburn defence, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles saw his effort repelled.

Arsenal then had the ball in the net after Iwobi’s effort hit the post and then rebounded in, but the goal was disallowed.

Gatting’s side were in the ascendancy now but one moment of recklessness very nearly cost them. Ormonde-Ottewill squandered possession, leaving Maitland-Niles stranded in central-midfield with a Blackburn player racing past him. Maitland-Niles committed a foul to bring down his opponent and was yellow carded, with Blackburn not making the most of the subsequent free-kick.

Chiori Johnson had entered the fray as a replacement for Diaby, with the first-year scholar making his competitive debut at this level. He almost marked it with a goal, but Ormonde-Ottewill’s cross just evaded him.

The final few minutes consisted of Crowley, almost single-handedly at times, attempting to breach the seemingly impenetrable Blackburn defence. He very nearly succeeded in doing so, with his pass finding Iwobi, whose shot was saved.

Crowley then seized the initiative himself, embarking on a dazzling run that left U18s coach Carl Laraman, watching on the sidelines, gobsmacked. The diminutive youngster shot just wide after that mazy dribble and then came even closer to scoring when his free-kick was tipped onto the crossbar by the Blackburn goalkeeper.

It ended 0-0 but Crowley had done his utmost to attempt to gain all three points. It takes something special to render the long-awaited return of Walcott as something of a sub-plot, but, then again, as we all know, Crowley is something special.

Arsenal U18s suffer disappointing defeat to Tottenham

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U18 Premier League- Game 9

After an impressive start to the campaign, things have taken a slight turn for the worse for Arsenal U18s, with Frans de Kat’s team failing to score in their last three games.

The barren run continued today as Arsenal lost 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham scored in either half, meaning that they prevailed despite the dismissal of Anton Walkes.

Arsenal were without the injured Kaylen Hinds, but de Kat was able to give a debut at this level to Greek left-back Ilias Chatzitheodoridis.

Schoolboy goalkeeper Brad House was also called upon, with Renny Smith and Joshua Da Silva being restored to the starting line-up.

Tottenham merited their victory, with Arsenal left frustrated after taking just two points from their last three games.

Arsenal House: Centeno, Wright, M. Bola, Chatzitheodoridis; Smith, Mourgos; Da Silva, Donovan, Willock; Mavididi. Subs: Tabi (for Willock), Sheaf (for Mourgos). Not used: Parker, Phillips.

Via afc fixture news.

Jebb looks to get his season going at Stevenage

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Jack Jebb hasn’t played a single minute of football so far this season, so it wasn’t very surprising when it was announced today that the midfielder has joined League Two side Stevenage on a one-month loan deal.

Jebb, who is capable of playing excellent passes as well as being a renowned free-kick taker, has found himself in a rather precarious position in the early weeks of the season- he is no longer eligible for the U18 or UEFA Youth League sides, yet, with players such as Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley ahead of him, he has struggled to break into the club’s U21 set-up.

The move to Stevenage will hopefully provide him with some experience of first-team football, although the youngster may be frustrated at the fact that he has had to go elsewhere to get playing time. Prior to this season he had made just six appearances for the U21s, despite regularly for the club at U18 level.

Jebb is the latest Arsenal player to make the transition from Arsenal to Stevenage, with Luke Freeman and Anthony Jeffrey having both enhanced their development at Broadhall Way. Another one-time Arsenal scholar, Roarie Deacon, is still on Stevenage’s books.

Meanwhile, Arsenal U21s are preparing to face Blackburn Rovers at Meadow Park tomorrow evening. Arsene Wenger confirmed today that Theo Walcott will play some part in the fixture as he steps up his return from injury, but Serge Gnabry is still a little way off the England winger in the recovery process and may not be involved against Blackburn.

Julio Pleguezuelo is unlikely to have recovered from injury in time to feature. Coach Steve Gatting is likely to field a far stronger side than the one that lost to Newcastle United last time out, with the likes of Isaac Hayden, Semi Ajayi and Chuba Akpom set to return to the fore.

The U18s play Tottenham tomorrow morning, with coach Frans de Kat hoping that Tyrell Robinson and Ben Sheaf will be available again. Ilias Chatzitheodoridis is expected to make his debut at that level.

Walcott return to benefit U21s/ Gnabry could also feature against Blackburn

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Several members of the Arsenal first-team squad have already represented the U21 team so far this season, with Abou Diaby, Francis Coquelin, Joel Campbell and Emiliano Martinez all having played for Steve Gatting’s side in the early weeks of the campaign.

They are likely to be joined in that regard this week by Theo Walcott, who is pencilled in to make his first appearance since January when Blackburn Rovers U21s visit Meadow Park on Friday evening. According to reports, Walcott could play an hour of the fixture, and whilst his inclusion will see one of the youngsters demoted to the bench, it will be a great experience for some of the club’s prospects to play with such a high-profile player.

It’s easy to forget now, but there was a time when Walcott himself relied on Reserve games for match practice early in his Arsenal career before going on to establish himself in the first-team. Arsenal made an excellent start to the current U21 campaign before a depleted side lost to Newcastle United last time out.

If Walcott features against Blackburn despite only returning to full training on Monday, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect fellow winger Serge Gnabry to do likewise. Gnabry has also been out of action for a prolonged period, having not featured since the Champions League game away to Bayern Munich in March. Having made a breakthrough into the first-team squad last season, the German will be eager to re-establish himself in Arsene Wenger’s plans.

Friday will be busy for the club’s youngsters, with the U18s also facing Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the day. Striker Kaylen Hinds is doubtful for that fixture because of injury. With so many senior players out injured, meanwhile, manager Arsene Wenger may select some youngsters to train with his first-team squad.

O’Connor turns professional but three others left to wait for confirmation on their futures

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Stefan O’Connor signed his first professional contract last week, with the centre-back being rewarded for an impressive start to the season.

It is quite a turnaround for O’Connor, a player who Arsenal were considering releasing when he was a schoolboy. In the absence of the injured Julio Pleguezuelo, however, he has established himself as a key part of Steve Gatting’s U21 set-up and even trained with the first-team squad earlier this month.

O’Connor’s short-term future is now secure, but the three remaining second-years are yet to be provided with assurances regarding whether they too will be awarded professional contracts.

Even though such a deal is yet to be confirmed, Ainsley Maitland-Niles seems certain to receive one, with the winger having enjoyed a tremendous first season as a scholar. Like O’Connor, Maitland-Niles is now regularly involved in the U21 set-up and has also been utilised in central-midfield in recent weeks.

The futures of Elliot Wright and Renny Smith appear less clear, with both players having yet to make a sustained breakthrough into the U21 set-up. Both have delivered some impressive performances for the U18s, with Wright particularly impressing against West Ham United last weekend, but the pair have several players ahead of them in their respective positions.

 

Arsenal add Iliev to Champions League squad

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Arsenal have added Macedonian goalkeeper Deyan Iliev to their Champions League squad.

Iliev is eligible for the competition’s B-List, with two years having now passed since he joined Arsenal from Belasica.

Iliev’s inclusion is timely for Arsenal, who may be forced to name the 19-year-old on the bench for their Champions League game away to Anderlecht next week. Wojciech Szczesny is suspended for the trip to Belgium, whilst there remains a doubt over David Ospina’s availability, with the goalkeeper still nursing an injury that he suffered after coming off the bench at home to Galatasaray.

If Ospina is ruled out then Argentinian shot-stopper Emiliano Martinez will make his Champions League debut. With Matt Macey not yet eligible to be registered for the competition, it is likely that Iliev will make the bench ahead of Josh Vickers and Ryan Huddart.

Chatzitheodoridis in line to make Arsenal U18s debut against Tottenham

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Ilias Chatzitheodoridis joined Arsenal on scholarship terms in the summer following a successful trial, but, owing to complications with paperwork, he has yet to feature for the club at U18 level.

That looks set to change next week, with Chatzitheodoridis scheduled to play at last some part when Arsenal U18s host Tottenham Hotspur at London Colney on Friday.

The Greek left-back, who is impressive defensively as well as going forwards, featured for the U16s in their game against Southampton yesterday, but he will be sure to find that playing at U18 level, particularly against Tottenham, will be a much tougher challenge.

Marc Bola has started every game at left-back so far this season for Frans de Kat’s side, but that could be set to change in the coming weeks.

Chatzitheodoridis’ compatriot, and fellow summer arrival, Savvas Mourgos, has already played twice for the U18s, but has yet to develop an understanding with his new team-mates, as evidenced by him conceding possession on numerous occasions against West Ham yesterday. However, it is still very early days for the midfielder and it is hoped that his performances will improve as the weeks progress.

The other two foreign recruits, goalkeeper Hugo Keto and centre-back Krsitopher Da Graca, will also hope to be cleared to play for the U18s in the near future.

As ever, Arsenal have often deployed very young teams at U18 level so far this season. For instance, yesterday, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Tafari Moore, Stefan O’Connor, Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley could have all featured if necessary, whilst the likes of Renny Smith, George Dobson, Julio Pleguezuelo, Tyrell Robinson and Ben Sheaf were all unavailable.

Goalkeeper Ryan Huddart and centre-back Elliot Wright were the only second-years involved yesterday, but de Kat’s team have still delivered an impressive set of results in the early weeks of the campaign, registering 15 points from their opening eight fixtures.

They have just three fixtures left, against Tottenham, Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion, before reaching the halfway point of the first stage of the season.

 

Akpom scores twice as a substitute to give England U20s dramatic victory

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Arsenal striker Chuba Akpom emerged off the bench to score two goals in the final two minutes of the game, helping England U20s to secure a dramatic late victory over the Netherlands today.

The striker has been in prolific form for Arsenal U21s so far this season, scoring six goals in four matches, and also featured for the first-team against Southampton in the Capital One Cup.

England are participating in a Four Nations tournament with Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey. Having prevailed past Germany in their opening fixture, things took a turn for the worse for England when they found themselves 2-1 down against the Netherlands.

Akpom wasn’t going to give up without a fight, however, and, having scored from the penalty spot, he then found the net again in the dying moments, prompting wild celebrations. Isaac Hayden captained the side.

England take on Turkey on Monday.

U18s match report- Chris Willock features as Arsenal U18s battle to draw with West Ham

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U18 Premier League- Game 8

West Ham United 0 Arsenal 0

By Jeorge Bird @ Little Heath

They may not have been able to match the drama of Chelsea’s incredible 12-2 victory over Aston Villa, but Arsenal and West Ham U18s still conjured up a hard-fought encounter at Little Heath today.

This was an engrossing battle between two sides that have started the season in splendid form. Arsenal have lost just once under new coach Frans de Kat, whilst West Ham remain unbeaten this campaign, although that wouldn’t have been the case had Stephy Mavididi converted an inviting opportunity in the second-half.

In the end a draw was probably the correct result, however, with both sides enjoying periods of sustained dominance without creating too much in the way of attacking opportunities. Arsenal had goalkeeper Ryan Huddart to thank for keeping them level on several occasions, with many of West Ham’s best moves involving Hale End graduate Jordan Brown.

De Kat made four changes from the team that were held by Southampton last time out. Huddart returned in goal, whilst there were also re-calls for Elliot Wright, Chris Willock and Kaylen Hinds.

Huddart

Centeno-Wright-T. Bola- M. Bola

Donovan-Mourgos

Eyoma-Hinds-Willock

Mavididi

subs: Da Silva (for Mourgos), Tabi (for Mavididi). Not used: House, Johnson. Booked: Willock.

There were very few chances created by either side in the early exchanges, with both defences proving difficult to break down. Wright, who will be seeking to follow Stefan O’Connor in turning professional with Arsenal, made some important interventions, but eventually West Ham managed to outmanoeuvre the Arsenal defence.

Brown was spotted in space and, upon receiving the ball, forced a good save from the alert Huddart. The tall goalkeeper was in action again just moments later as he produced a superb double stop to preserve parity.

West Ham’s pressing made it difficult for Arsenal to retain possession, with the young Gunners struggling to get many of their flair players into the game. Willock was impressive when he received the ball, but he wasn’t always offered much support and was the victim of some robust challenges from the opposition.

It was from a Willock free-kick that Arsenal created their first chance of note, but Harry Donovan couldn’t quite connect with it properly. An incisive Willock pass then located Marc Bola in space, but the left-back’s cross was cut out before it could reach the waiting Mavididi.

Brown turned down a scholarship deal at Arsenal as he felt he would receive more opportunities at West Ham and the striker was heavily involved here, with Huddart having to intervene again to make a sprawling save at the feet of the striker.

When Arsenal were forced to defend they largely went about their task well, with a particular highlight being Wright’s superb sliding challenge to deny Brown, who was bearing down on goal.

Arsenal had one opportunity before the interval, with Savvas Mourgos combining with Willock, who eventually found Mavididi. However, the striker, who was so prolific in the early weeks of the season, couldn’t quite direct his effort on target on this occasion.

There was a little more rhythm to the game in the second-half, with Arsenal finally managing to free themselves from the shackles that West Ham had imposed on them. Arsenal were starting to get Mavididi involved in the game, with the striker heading wide from Willock’s cross before a well-timed challenge prevented him from getting his shot away in the next attack.

West Ham still posed a threat on the counter-attack, however, and Tolaji Bola did well to clear the danger with Brown in close proximity.

Hinds was a hub of creativity for Arsenal, with the England youth international seeing a couple of efforts go narrowly wide.

Hinds was involved in perhaps Arsenal’s best move of the game and it was one that really should have yielded a goal. Aaron Eyoma played a perceptive pass into the path of Hinds, who crossed invitingly for Mavididi, but the striker was unable to find the net from close range.

Arsenal then introduced Josh Da Silva in place of Mourgos, who had struggled to impose himself on his second start at this level.

West Ham still threatened, with Huddart watching a shot go just wide of his goal, with Mavididi then directing an effort off target after good work from Donovan.

In an engaging final few minutes, Hinds struck the side-netting, with West Ham then squandering several opportunities to snatch a late winner.

In truth, defeat would have been rather harsh on either side, with both teams defending well. Arsenal’s play was not quite as fluent as expected, but there were some good performances at the back, with Wright and Jonatas Centeno acquitting themselves well.

Hinds and Willock continue to appear to be the club’s standout talents in this age group, even though not everything they attempted worked today. Huddart’s excellent performance didn’t come as too much of a surprise, whilst Tabi did well after coming on as a substitute.

De Kat could be forgiven for being a little worried that, following the glut of goals his team scored in the early weeks of the season, they have now gone two games without finding the net. He will be hopeful that Arsenal, and Mavididi in particular, will be able to rediscover their goalscoring touch in time for their next assignment against Tottenham Hotspur.

Zelalem beginning to demonstrate much-needed consistency

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Arsene Wenger said in the summer that Gedion Zelalem will not be ready to feature for the Arsenal first-team for at least six months.

That statement raised eyebrows in some quarters, with fears arising that the 17 year old was struggling to fulfil his vast potential. However, with hindsight, Arsenal’s decision to allow Zelalem to develop in the youth teams, rather than rushing him into first-team action, has been an informed one.

Zimbio.com
Zimbio.com

When Zelalem made his debut for the Arsenal first-team against Coventry City in the FA Cup last season, his appearance was expected to be the first of many, with some even suggesting that he would feature in the Premier League before the end of the campaign. That didn’t materialise and Zelalem has had to be mightily patient for his opportunity, having not even made the bench for the recent Capital One Cup tie with Southampton.

What he has been doing in the interim, however, hasn’t gone unnoticed at London Colney. Having first played in the U21 team as a schoolboy, Zelalem now possesses considerable experience of second-string football, and, at last, is beginning to develop the sort of consistency and ability to influence matches that was so lacking from his game last season.

Whereas previously Zelalem could go an entire U21 game without making a notable contribution, he is now, gradually, beginning to become more tactically aware to add to his renowned technical gifts. He scored his first goal for the club with a superb strike for the U19s against Galatasaray in the UEFA Youth League and is starting to play killer passes with the regularity that he has done so when afforded an opportunity in first-team friendlies.

Having previously appeared too afraid to go into challenges, Zelalem is now prepared to fight for the ball. His talent has always been obvious, but his all-round game is now improving immensely. He still needs to develop physically, which is perhaps why he hasn’t featured in the Premier League yet, but, slowly but surely, he is getting towards the stage where he’ll be ready to represent the first-team regularly.

He hasn’t quite developed as quickly as Cesc Fabregas, who slotted into Premier League action as a 17 year old, or Jack Wilshere, who was dominating Carling Cup games in the first year of his scholarship, but Zelalem’s time will come eventually.