Progress reports

Determined Rasmussen making great strides as season reaches its climax

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After enduring a difficult start to his Gunners career, Danish winger Jonas Rasmussen has come to prominence at just the right time.

Steve Bould’s Arsenal under-18s are chasing the Premier Academy League and FA Youth Cup double and, whilst Rasmussen is yet to feature in the latter, he has been one of the shining lights in league fixtures over the past few weeks.

Usually a right-winger, Jonas can also play in central-midfield but in recent weeks he has operated on the left- to much success.

Last week against Aston Villa, with the scoreline poised tantalisingly at 2-2, it was clear that one moment of magic would determine the outcome of the game, and Jonas provided it, lashing home after being teed up by substitute Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.

He is now developing a habit of scoring goals-something which eluded him during his first campaign at the club, having also found the net against Chelsea in the 4-3 victory at Cobham last month.

With Luke Freeman back from international duty, Jonas is expected to return to the right flank for Portsmouth’s visit to London Colney and it would be a shame if that happened. Jonas has built up an almost telepathic understanding with left-back Cedric Evina and has also proved deadly cutting inside to play killer passes or even go for goal himself.

Another area of improvement has been in his fitness levels, he had previously been substituted in six of his first nine starts this season, but has completed the full 90 minutes on the past two occasions.

Jonas is currently 10 months into a three-year professional contract and next season should see him step up to the Reserves. He has been suprisingly overlooked for the FA Youth Cup so far this campaign but has continued to plug away at every given opportunity and his resillience looks set to be rewarded.

He may be one of the lesser known lights in the Arsenal Academy, but this young boy from Scandinavia is going some way to enhancing his rapidly growing profile.

Does Rhys Murphy have the strength to bounce back?

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Picture from theFA.com

After a fine campaign last season, in which he notched 17 goals in 21 games for the u-18s last season, Rhys Murphy has had to take a back seat this campaign after a hernia problem kept him out for almost five months. He made his comeback in the Reserve game against Reading last week, coming on a substitute and added some firepower to the attack, but lacked a cutting edge. It was understandable given the length of his injury, but the problem is whether he will be able to return to the all-action, high tempo displays of last season.

            Rhys burst onto the scene last season, whilst still a schoolboy. As mentioned he had a phenomonal goals to game ratio in the u-18s but he didn’t stop there. He made his reserve debut against Chelsea at Underhill, and went on to score at Old Trafford in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup, before representing England at the u-17 World Cup in the summer, in which he put in several impressive displays.

       Often likened to Alan Shearer, Rhys is a natural goalscorer but then again the u-18s always tend to have one of those. Every season, someone comes along and scores an incredible amount of goals and is hyped as the next big thing before experiencing a troubled campaign the season after. Remember Marc Elston? Two seasons ago, he scored in almost every game for the u-18s and now he’s playing for Chelmsford. Strangely enough, I can’t quite see Rhys’ career following the same path.

     Rhys is highly regarded by the Arsenal coaching staff, who have watched him grow from a promising schoolboy at Hale End into one of the most talked about young players in the country. Arséne Wenger has also expressed his belief in him, naming Rhys as a substitute for the Emirates Cup last summer, after Gilles Sunu was unable to feature. His target from now until the end of the season is to get some games under his belt and hopefully rediscover his goalscoring touch. Once the first goes in, he’ll be full of confidence and will be hungry for more.

           Next season will be a make or break one for Rhys. It will be the final year of his scholarship and he will be out to impress. A bad season could spell the end of his Arsenal career, whereas something like his form of last campaign would move him to within touching distance of the first team. Only time will tell whether he suceeds. On a personal note, he will be looking to get back into the England youth setup, having missed the last few games through injury. But international accolades can wait for a player who has more important matters to attend to right now.

Injury hampers Blackwood’s progress once again

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Arsenal swooped to sign defender Anton Blackwood from Northampton Town last summer, after Liam Brady was impressed after seeing him in action for the League One side’s youth teams. He signed scholarship terms in the summer, and I for one was very suprised. We already had Abu Ogogo at the club, and Paul Rodgers can play there too. In addition, Craig Eastmond also became a scholar at the same time and was immediately ahead of Anton in the pecking order. No sooner had Anton joined the club, he picked up an injury which ruled him out for the first couple months of the season. Whilst he was on the sidelines, Anton watched on as Craig Eastmond excelled in his position and earned rave reviews from Steve Bould. Not to be disheartened, Anton won his place for the u-18s game with Portsmouth and helped the Gunners to keep a clean sheet, before being substituted towards the end. He was also part of a makeshift Reserve side that lost to Reading at Underhill in October. Up against the likes of Leroy Lita, and with inexperienced players such as Luke Ayling alongside him, Anton knuckled down and made some bombarding runs down the right flank. It seemed he had settled at the club and was beginning to find his feet.

      However, he failed to hold down a regular place in the u-18s before Christmas. However, he returned to play in two consective games in January, with Eastmond being employed in midfield. His rugged all-action display caught the eye of viewers as he showed why Liam Brady was so keen to sign him. Then, after suffering from a lack of fitness, he was dropped to the bench for the next game before picking up another injury. Since then, Arsenal have been experimenting with different options for the right-back position, with Eastmond, Ogogo and Paul Rodgers all playing there in recent weeks.

          His first year as a scholar has been halted by injuries, and he may have to settle for a place on the bench for the rest of this season, but one things for sure, by the time next season rolls around, Anton will be fit, determined and ready to go.