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.
U18 Premier League- GAME 1
Brighton & Hove Albion 0 Arsenal 4 (Willock (10), Robinson (58), Hinds (62), Mavididi (89))
Arsenal U18s began life under new coach Frans de Kat with a comprehensive 4-0 victory away to Brighton & Hove Albion in their opening league fixture on Saturday.
A side predominantly composed of first-year scholars was in impressive form, with Chris Willock, who featured for the first-team and the U21s during pre-season, opening his account at this level with ten minutes gone.
Second-half strikes from Tyrell Robinson and Kaylen Hinds put the result beyond doubt before Stephy Mavididi provided another reminder of his prowess in front of goal when he scored with just a minute remaining.
There was some relative experience in the side, with Ryan Huddart, Stefan O’Connor, Elliot Wright and Renny Smith all starting, but De Kat was without the new foreign signings- Hugo Keto, Kristopher Da Graca, Savvas Mourgos and Elias Chatzitheodoridis- who are awaiting international clearance.
Midfielder Ben Sheaf, who joined from West Ham United in the summer, made his debut as a substitute, whilst schoolboy goalkeeper George Phillips made the bench at just 14 years of age.
The U18s will face a considerably more challenging test when they host Chelsea next Saturday.
subs: Da Silva (for Robinson, 62), Donovan (for Dobson, 66), Sheaf (for Smith, 66). Not used: Phillips.
Arsenal held their final training session at London Colney this morning ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League Play-Off Round, 1st leg tie away to Besiktas.
With Kieran Gibbs missing owing to the injury he sustained on Saturday against Crystal Palace, Hector Bellerin and Ignasi Miquel joined Arsene Wenger’s squad for the workout. Bellerin, having been close to making the squad at the weekend, could travel to Turkey if Gibbs is ruled out.
Laurent Koscielny, who was also doubtful, came through the session unscathed and is likely to be involved tomorrow. Mathieu Flamini was absent against Crystal Palace but trained today and is set to return to the squad.
Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Ryo are all at various stages in their respective comebacks from injury, with the latter likely to be the first of the trio to return to full fitness. Goalkeeper David Ospina remains out, with newly-promoted shot-stopper Emiliano Martinez poised to be named amongst the substitutes tomorrow.
World Cup winners Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski are in contention to the return to the side against Everton on Saturday. Abou Diaby is available but is likely to remain in England to do fitness work.
Players in training today: Szczesny, Martinez, Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Arteta, Alexis, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Sanogo, Giroud, Monreal, Coquelin, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Campbell, Flamini, Bellerin, Miquel.
On Tuesday Benik Afobe and Austin Lipman scored their first goals of the season for their respective loan clubs. Afobe started and found the net as MK Dons beat Wimbledon 3-1 to set up a dream draw against Manchester United in the next round.
Lipman, meanwhile, was on the scoresheet as Boreham Wood trounced Hemel Hempstead 6-0.
Yesterday, Afobe came off the bench for the final 32 minutes as MK Dons lost 3-2 to Peterborough, whilst Lipman started again but couldn’t prevent Boreham Wood from suffering a 2-1 defeat to Staines Town.
Jon Toral wasn’t involved as Brentford lost 1-0 to Bournemouth, whilst injury ruled Carl Jenkinson out of West Ham United’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur by the same scoreline.
Wellington‘s Almeria take on Cordoba in their final friendly this evening before starting their league campaign at home to Espanyol next week.
U21 Premier League- GAME 1
Reading 0 Arsenal 1 (AKPOM 15 (PEN))
A first-half Chuba Akpom penalty ensured that Arsenal U21s started the campaign with a deserved victory away to Reading. The young Gunners were on top throughout this encounter in Basingstoke as they gained a measure of revenge over the team that knocked them out of the U21 Premier League Cup last season.
Ignasi Miquel recovered from injury in time to captain the side as an over-age player, whilst second-years Dan Crowley, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Tafari Moore were all afforded starts.
SUBS: ILIEV, O’CONNOR, KAMARA, JEBB, IWOBI.
Arsenal will be facing less exalted company in the second division this season, but the team, jointly coached by Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman, should be confident of earning progression to the top tier for the next campaign.
They had to deal with some early Reading pressure as Nana Owusu shot wide and Semi Ajayi did well to clear after Liam Kelly tested Matt Macey.
The young Gunners were soon in the ascendancy, however. They had created a half-chance when Maitland-Niles did well to find Gedion Zelalem, but the latter’s effort lacked conviction.
It proved to be a warning sign and it was one that Reading didn’t heed. Pierce Sweeney was adjudged to have handled in the area and Akpom stepped up to take the subsequent penalty, comfortably dispatching the ball past goalkeeper Daniel Lincoln.
Reading’s response was commendable, with Dominic Samuel shooting over, but it was still Arsenal who created the vast majority of the chances. Maitland-Niles was causing numerous problems with his pace and trickery, whilst Akpom was presented with the opportunity to double his tally but shot straight at Lincoln on this occasion.
Arsenal came perilously close to making it 2-0 before the interval. First Zelalem unlocked the Reading defence with a precise through-ball but nothing substantial came of it before Crowley, in the final action of the first-half, forced a hurried Lincoln into a good save from a free-kick.
Arsenal continued to dominate after the interval, with Crowley doing well to find Akpom, whose header was repelled by Lincoln. Akpom was through on goal again just after the hour mark after he raced onto a precise pass from Isaac Hayden, but Lincoln was alert to deny the striker once more.
Reading marginally improved as the game wore on, with Tarique Fosu-Henry particularly dangerous, but Arsenal held on to secure all three points.
Arsenal continue their campaign against Derby County at Borehamwood on Thursday evening.
Arsenal midfielder Jon Toral has joined Championship side Brentford on a season-long loan.
Toral, who has endured several injury setbacks since moving to North London from Barcelona in 2011, will link up with former Arsenal youngster Nico Yennaris as part of the ongoing partnership between Arsenal and Brentford which also saw Chuba Akpom spend time on loan at Griffin Park last season.
Toral, who can play as a central-midfielder or on either flank, made his Arsenal first-team debut in the pre-season friendly win over Boreham Wood last month and the 19 year old has made 26 appearances for the Gunners at U21 level, scoring 5 goals.
He will hope to play regularly in England’s second tier with the aim of subsequently progressing into the Arsenal first-team set-up.
Meanwhile, Toral’s compatriot Hector Bellerin trained with the Arsenal first-team today ahead of their Premier League opener against Crystal Palace.
Arsenal U21s get their season underway today away to Reading.
Possible Arsenal U21 team: Macey; Moore, Ajayi, O’Connor, Ormonde-Ottewill; Hayden, Olsson; Maitland-Niles, Zelalem, Willock; Akpom.
The new Academy seasons get underway in the next few days, so now is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the club’s many youngsters.
By clicking on the links below, you can discover detailed information about all of the club’s prospects, including Gedion Zelalem, Julio Pleguezuelo, Dan Crowley and Chris Willock.
Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has officially been promoted to the Arsenal first-team squad for the new season.
The 21 year old joined Arsenal in 2010 and is the club’s third-choice shot-stopper behind Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina. In the absence of Ospina he was on the bench for the Community Shield victory over Manchester City on Sunday.
Martinez, who has been given the number 26 shirt for the new season, spent the majority of the 2013/14 campaign on loan at Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, for whom he made 11 league appearances, and also had a temporary stint with Oxford United in 2012.
The tall goalkeeper has represented his country at U20 level and has made two competitive first-team appearances for Arsenal to date, both of which came in the Capital One Cup during the 2012/13 campaign. He was especially impressive in pre-season this Summer.
There could yet be further promotions to the first-team squad in the next few weeks, with Hector Bellerin and Ignasi Miquel also on the fringes of the senior set-up.
Arsenal have submitted their list of eligible players for their two-legged Champions League Play-Off Round tie against Besiktas, with Theo Walcott and goalkeeper David Ospina the most notable absentees.
Ospina, who was recently signed from Nice, is currently injured, meaning that Argentinian shot-stopper Damian Martinez will be on the bench for both fixtures against the Turkish side, with fourth-choice Matt Macey included in the squad in place of Ospina. The club’s other summer signings, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Alexis Sánchez, have all been included.
Walcott and Ryo Miyaichi have been omitted as they continue to recover from their respective injuries. Arsenal will be able to make changes to their squad ahead of the group stages should they progress that far.
Youngsters Tafari Moore, Glen Kamara, Josh Vickers, Ryan Huddart and Alex Iwobi have all been included in the squad for the first time, whilst Samuel Galindo, as expected, has been left out. Semi Ajayi, Dan Crowley, Deyan Iliev and Julio Pleguezuelo are not yet eligible for inclusion and all players currently on loan have been left out.
Arsenal’s Champions League squad:
1. Wojciech Szczęsny, 2. Mathieu Debuchy, 3. Kieran Gibbs, 4. Per Mertesacker, 6. Laurent Koscielny, 7. Tomáš Rosický, 8. Mikel Arteta, 9. Lukas Podolski, 10. Jack Wilshere, 11. Mesut Özil, 12. Olivier Giroud, 15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain*, 16. Aaron Ramsey, 17. Alexis Sánchez, 18. Nacho Monreal, 19. Santi Cazorla, 20. Mathieu Flamini, 21. Calum Chambers, 22. Yaya Sanogo, 24. Abou Diaby, 27. Serge Gnabry*, 28. Joel Campbell, 34. Francis Coquelin, 35. Gedion Zelalem, 38. Chuba Akpom*, 39. Héctor Bellerín*, 42. Isaac Hayden*, 43. Ryan Huddart*, 45. Alex Iwobi*, 46. Jack Jebb*, 47. Glen Kamara*, 49. Matt Macey, 50. Damian Martinez, 51. Ignasi Miquel, 52. Tafari Moore*, 53. Kristoffer Olsson*, 54. Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill*, 56. Jon Toral*, 57. Josh Vickers*.
*- B list