Andries Jonker was already aware that he would be faced with some considerable challenges upon assuming the position of the club’s new Head of Youth Development this Summer, but a concerning sequence of results for the U21 team this season has increased the pressure on the Dutchman.
A run of just two victories in 12 matches since Christmas has condemned the Arsenal U21s to the second-tier of the U21 Premier League next season, meaning that they will miss out on facing elite clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Instead, their likely list of opponents for 2014/15 is rather less glamorous, with Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, Reading, Stoke City, Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers all, as it stands, poised to join the young Gunners in the second division.
There is an argument that being placed in the second tier could actually be beneficial to the youngsters as it may finally lead to results improving a little, but, when you are not facing the best teams on a regular basis, it is hardly ideal for development. That is a problem that will have to be dealt with, and it is hoped that Arsenal will be restored to the top division as soon as possible.
Development always takes precedence over results at youth level, but this season in particular, serious questions have been raised about whether the alarming run of results at both U21 and U18 levels are having a negative effect on the players. The U18s, for example, have lost 13 of their 29 games this season.
Arsenal did enjoy lengthy, if ultimately unsuccessful runs in the FA Youth Cup, the UEFA Youth League and the U21 Premier League Cup this season, but the number of positive performances this campaign have been far outweighed by the negative ones. There are numerous mitigating factors, including players sent out on loan, a lack of options at times following the mass cull last Summer and, most worryingly, problems regarding coaching.
It seemed somewhat astounding that Jonker elected to retain the services of both Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman for next season when both coaches have not exactly given the best account of themselves this campaign.
The core problem, however, is that Arsenal haven’t produced a homegrown academy graduate since Jack Wilshere, with many players struggling to even reach the fringes of the first-team. Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem, the talented young Germans, are part of the senior squad, but Arsenal are not producing top level players with any sort of regularity at present.
It is true that only one or two players maximum will make the grade from each age group, but drastic changes are required. The quality of players emerging from Hale End is steadily improving, with the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Tafari Moore and Alex Iwobi all inspiring confidence, but the overall situation regarding the academy remains rather negative.
It is Jonker’s responsibility to address these problems. It certainly won’t be a simple task.
U21 Premier League- Game 20
Arsenal 1 (Bellerin 32) Chelsea 2 (Baker 68, Swift 86)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Abou Diaby completed 45 minutes and was largely impressive in his first appearance for over a year as Arsenal U21s lost 2-1 to Chelsea this evening.
The French midfielder has been plagued by injury problems throughout his career, but, on his latest comeback, things went as well as possible, as he played some neat passes and also won a couple of duels. Diaby was replaced at the break, by which time Arsenal had taken the lead through Hector Bellerin’s impressive strike.
Arsenal were the better team in the opening period, but Chelsea took over after the break and eventually equalised through Lewis Baker before taking the lead courtesy of John Swift’s header. For all the positivity surrounding Diaby’s return, there was a caveat attached to this result as the defeat means that Arsenal can no longer finish in the top half of the U21 league table this season. More pertinently, this will deprive them of the opportunity to play the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea next season as the league splits into two divisions.
The headline team news saw Diaby make his first appearance for 402 days. Carl Jenkinson was also given a run-out, with Isaac Hayden returning from suspension and Bellerin being deployed on the right wing.
subs: Huddart, Zelalem, Ansah, Moore, Maitland-Niles
Chelsea enjoyed a lot of possession in the early stages, with winger Alex Kiwomya, who shone in the FA Youth Cup tie here last week, again influential.
Kiwomya caused numerous problems for Arsenal left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill in the early stages, with the visitors looking the most likely to score the first goal.
Isaiah Brown, operating as a striker on this occasion, did well to knock the ball down into the path of Lewis Baker, who shot over. Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s header then forced Matt Macey to make a good save as Chelsea continued to hold the upper hand.
Soon, however, Arsenal would assert themselves on proceedings. Diaby saw quite a lot of the ball in the first-half, with the Frenchman sending a shot straight at Mitchell Beeney, although he did display a little rustiness in bringing down Brown at the other end with a late challenge.
Diaby was wearing the number four shirt and, in appearance at least, did not look too dissimilar to Patrick Vieira, the player he was bought to replace some eight years ago. He has displayed glimpses of his quality during his time in North London, but the 27 year old will be hopeful that he can now enjoy a spell of games without sustaining any more injuries.
Baker wasted the free-kick with an effort that went well over, and Arsenal punished Chelsea with their next counter-attack. Isaac Hayden delivered a precise through-ball into the path of the on-running Bellerin and the former Barcelona youngster latched onto it and finished confidently past Beeney to open the scoring.
Bellerin, buoyed by that strike, laid the ball off to Chuba Akpom just minutes later, but the striker was fouled by Andreas Christensen. Jenkinson, rather surprisingly, took the free-kick, but the right-back’s effort was straight at Beeney.
Arsenal made a double change at the start of the second-half, with Diaby being replaced by Zak Ansah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles entering the fray in place of the injured Julio Pleguezuelo.
The alterations forced Arsenal into something of a tactical re-shuffle, with Bellerin reverting to right-back and Jenkinson moving to centre-back.
Chelsea sought to take advantage, with John Swift embarking on a mazy dribble before shooting wide. Right-back Isak Ssewankambo then weaved through the Arsenal defence and shot just off target to provide the young Gunners with a warning that their lead was not as secure as it may have seemed.
Arsenal dropped deeper and deeper as Chelsea continued to attack, and Ssewankambo again came close when he lashed an effort into the side-netting. Steve Gatting’s side, marshalled by Jenkinson, had to defend resolutely as Chelsea enjoyed possession in the pouring rain.
Kiwomya was next to try his luck as he got the better of Jon Toral before forcing a corner with a well-struck effort. Arsenal were not spent as an attacking force, however. Maitland-Niles provided a reminder of his qualities as he cut inside before delivering a precise cross that was headed wide by Akpom.
Chelsea were still largely dominant and they eventually got their reward. Ormonde-Ottewill lost possession, with substitute Islam Feruz’s cross expertly back-heeled home by Baker past a stranded Macey.
Akpom shot over in haste for Arsenal, but the young Gunners had to be alert at the other end, with Brown continuing to pose a considerable threat.
Arsenal were presented with an excellent chance to restore their lead when Toral’s precise pass unlocked the Chelsea defence and Maitland-NIles was fouled by goalkeeper Beeney, but Toral shot over from the subsequent free-kick.
Hayden then struck the crossbar as the game opened up, before Ansah dragged his shot wide from Bellerin’s cut back. It was end-to-end stuff now, with Chelsea charging forward and Brown coming close to scoring.
Chelsea were the better side in the second-half and, in truth, they deserved the lead that they took when Swift rose highest to head home Baker’s free-kick.
Macey made an excellent save to prevent further damage, with Arsenal then introducing Gedion Zelalem in place of Hayden, who had picked up a slight knock. Chelsea, though, had done enough. Diaby’s return was welcome for Arsenal, but this is a result that will have damning consequences in terms of next season’s fixtures.
Signing your scholarship, particularly at a leading club, is one of the key moments in a young player’s career. It signals that you are officially part of the U18 squad for the next two years, that you are now training at the first-team’s training ground and, most importantly, that you are a step closer to achieving your dream of becoming a professional footballer.
At Arsenal, however, a worrying trend has developed recently, with several of the players who have been offered scholarships by the club dithering over whether to accept them. Promising central-midfielder James Blanchfield is set to leave, having recently represented Manchester United’s U18s, striker Olufela Olomola is poised to join West Ham United and midfielder Ovie Ejaria represented Liverpool at youth level over the weekend.
There is very little Arsenal can do to prevent players from leaving in this manner. Until they officially sign their scholarship deals on July 1st, players aged 16 are free to move elsewhere. It is not an entirely new phenomenon, either, with striker Jordan Brown having chosen to join West Ham last Summer despite being offered a scholarship at London Colney. Brown was concerned about the potential lack of game time he would have received at Arsenal, and, so far, has reaped the benefits of his switch across London, with the striker featuring for West Ham’s U21 team, signing his first professional contract and also training with Sam Allardyce’s first-team.
Last Summer, Kyle Ebecilio and Jordan Wynter were amongst those offered extensions of their professional contracts at the club, but both decided to move on. Ebecilio is now thriving in the Eredivisie with FC Twente, whereas, had he remained at Arsenal, it is highly unlikely he would have come close to representing the first-team on a regular basis.
Arsenal have plenty of schoolboys from younger age groups who can step in and replace the likes of Blanchfield, Olomola and Ejaria, but it is slightly concerning that some players who have worked their way through the Hale End system feel that they wouldn’t get the best chance to express themselves during a scholarship at Arsenal.
Arsenal’s scholarship intake for next season is still promising, with England youth internationals Kaylen Hinds and George Dobson joined by those acquired from elsewhere, such as Kristopher Da Graca and Jonatas Centeno. Some players, however, notably Chris Willock, have yet to confirm whether they will still be at the club next season.
It is possible that more schoolboys could choose to depart before the start of July, and one of the first tasks facing the incoming Head of Youth Development Andries Jonker will be to make remaining at Arsenal a more appealing prospect for these young players than moving elsewhere. It promises to be an agonising wait until the start of July.
Wellington completed 79 minutes as Real Murcia drew 0-0 with Sporting. The Brazilian had a shot saved and also delivered some dangerous crosses before being withdrawn.
Johan Djourou was an un-used substitute as Hamburg lost 3-1 to Wolfsburg.
Benik Afobe and Damian Martinez watched from the bench as Sheffield Wednesday beat Bournemouth 4-2 on Friday.
Daniel Boateng was an un-used substitute as Hibernian lost 2-0 to St Mirren.
Francis Coquelin was not involved as Freiburg lost 4-2 to Borussia Monchengladbach. Former Arsenal player Havard Nordtveit scored for the visitors.
Chuks Aneke missed Crewe Alexandra’s 3-1 victory over Shrewsbury Town through suspension.
Joel Campbell‘s loan spell with Olympiacos is complete. The winger played his final match for his temporary side in the 1-0 loss to PAOK in the Greek Cup last week.
Ju-Young Park was again not part of Watford’s matchday squad as they beat Ipswich Town 3-1. Similarly, Ignasi Miquel was not involved as Leicester City beat QPR 1-0.
Zach Fagan again didn’t feature as Boreham Wood lost 1-0 to Hayes & Yeading. The centre-back will officially return to Arsenal on Saturday. Josh Vickes, meanwhile, wasn’t involved as Canvey Island lost 2-0 to Thamesmead Town.
Arsenal U18s reached the Semi-Finals of the FA Youth Cup this season for the first time in half a decade before being comprehensively outplayed by Chelsea in both legs, but what does the immediate future hold for the squad of 2013/14?
The goalkeeper was one of the major stars of the Youth Cup run as he made numerous spectacular saves, particularly during the victory away to Charlton Athletic. An uncharacteristic error enabled Chelsea to score on Thursday, but Vickers remains a hugely promising shot-stopper. He has spent the season on loan at Canvey Island, for whom he has been largely impressive, and will hope to feature regularly for Arsenal at U21 level next season, although he will face competition from Matt Macey and Deyan Iliev.
Another promising goalkeeper who signed his first professional contract with the club recently, Huddart was on the bench for all six of Arsenal’s Youth Cup ties this season. The England U17 international should be the first choice in this competition next season, whilst continuing to feature regularly in the U18 league games.
Another England U17 international, right-back Moore has made considerable strides this season, featuring for the U21 side as well as playing every minute of the Youth Cup run. Determined and possessing quick reactions, he does have some improvements to make tactically, but has a lot of raw talent and is also a threat in an attacking sense. Still eligible for the Youth Cup next season, he will also seek to establish himself as first-choice for the second-string, and is likely to sign a professional contract in the Summer.
Pleguezuelo has slotted in seamlessly at Arsenal since making a Summer switch from Barcelona. The centre-back is rather diminutive in stature but is quick across the ground and is an excellent reader of the game. He requires some development physically, but the Spanish U18 international is already a key player for Arsenal at U21 level and should receive plenty of further run-outs for the second-string next season.
Siemann has featured regularly for the various youth teams this season, amassing over 30 appearances in total, but the defender, who can play at right-back or centre-back, has largely struggled to convince. He had experienced a brief upturn in fortunes, but made several errors in the second-leg against Chelsea before being withdrawn. His contract expires in the Summer and is unlikely to be renewed.
Surprisingly overlooked for a place in the starting line-up for both legs of the Semi-Final, Hale End product O’Connor has also gained experience in the U21 league and the UEFA Youth League during the first year of his scholarship. A centre-back who is comfortable in possession, he is prone to occasional lapses in concentration, but should still step up to the U21 team on a regular basis next season.
For so long regarded as one of the club’s best prospects, Ormonde-Ottewill’s status has fallen a little recently following some disappointing performances. He has struggled defensively in recent weeks both positionally and in the timing of his challenges, although he is a considerable threat in the opposing penalty area. Already an U21 regular, he should continue at that level next season.
The stylish defensive-midfielder, who has represented Finland at U19 level, caught the eye in difficult circumstances against Chelsea on Thursday with his ability to break up play and also weave his way out of difficult situations when on the ball. He should be rewarded with a professional contract shortly, having made a combined total of 38 appearances for the various youth teams this campaign. A regular place in the U21 squad next season seems a certainty.
Promoted to the first-team squad at the age of 16, Zelalem has already made his competitive debut for the senior side, but some of his performances at youth level this season have left much to be desired, with the midfielder often a peripheral figure in games. His vision and ability to unlock defences with precise passes is clear, though, and it is hoped that, as he becomes a little stronger, we will see him dominate games more regularly. He looks set to feature in the Capital One Cup next season and could also be involved in other competitions, depending on his progression.
Another key performer in the Youth Cup run with three goals in the early rounds of the competition, winger Maitland-Niles has been one of Arsenal’s most consistently impressive players at youth level this season. Quick in his decision making and also willing to track back defensively, he has developed very well in the past twelve months. He will still play in the Youth Cup next campaign but will hope to be regularly involved with the U21 side.
A renowned set-piece specialist, Jebb has had to be patient for opportunities this season, with the likes of Zelalem and Dan Crowley often being preferred. He has caught the eye at times with his precise passing, but it remains to be seen how he will adapt to the rigours of playing at U21 level. No longer eligible for the U18s next season, he will be hoping to prove his ability at a higher level.
The England U17 international has enjoyed a hugely eventful season, featuring regularly for all the various youth teams and also earning a surprise call-up to the first-team squad for the Capital One Cup fixture against West Bromwich Albion. With his scholarship coming to an end, Iwobi, who possesses good technical ability and can play across the attacking line, should sign a professional contract soon.
The striker has seemed a level above some of his team-mates recently, having drawn on the experience gained during loan spells at Brentford and Coventry City. Having already featured, albeit fleetingly, in the Premier League and the Capital One Cup, Akpom could gain more first-team minutes next season, although he would also benefit from a loan to a Championship side. Now much stronger physically to add to his technical attributes, he will be seeking to develop even further next season.
The hard-working striker has not featured as regularly for the older age groups as he would have liked given the prowess of Akpom, but he he shown glimpses of his quality, particularly in the UEFA Youth League. A loan spell at Boreham Wood also helped his development, with the England U17 international now seeking to become a major part of the Arsenal U21 side.
The midfielder, signed from Aston Villa, has missed large parts of the season through injury, but, at times, has demonstrated his superb technical ability. He will be a key player in the Youth Cup side next season, but, as the campaign progresses, will also hope to establish himself more regularly in the U21 side.
The winger featured fleetingly in the Youth Cup run, setting up a goal away to Charlton, but has had to endure numerous injury setbacks during the course of his scholarship. He will hope to still be rewarded with a professional contract in the Summer, having shown his technical ability and considerable pace whilst featuring in the U18 league.
Recently afforded a trial spell at Sheffield Wednesday, versatile Rwanda senior international Mugabo looks set to be leaving Arsenal. Most comfortable as a defensive-midfielder, he is another player who has been plagued by injury problems and has yet to really demonstrate what he could be capable of.
A centre-back in the first year of his scholarship, Wright is developing well for the U18 side, and made the bench in the Youth Cup this season. He should be a regular in the competition next campaign as he strives to earn his first professional contract at the club.
The Nigerian defender has made some costly errors at U18 level, but has shown some signs of improvement in recent weeks. Whether it will be enough to earn him a professional contract remains to be seen.
The promising schoolboy, who is usually deployed as a defensive-midfielder, was the only U16 player to feature for Arsenal in the Youth Cup this season. He should be heavily involved during 2014/15, having already established himself in the U18 league.
Another schoolboy with much potential, Willock has already trained with the Arsenal first-team and made the bench for the Youth Cup tie against Everton at Emirates Stadium. There has been some concern, however, about whether he will accept the club’s offer of a scholarship for next season.
Match report- Arsenal youngsters struggle to cope with dominant Chelsea as they crash out of Youth Cup
FA Youth Cup Semi-Final Second Leg
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 1 (Colkett 16) (Chelsea win 3-1 on aggregate)
By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium
Arsenal’s hopes of winning the FA Youth Cup for the first time in five years were destroyed by an impressive Chelsea side at Emirates Stadium this evening. Chelsea, already carrying a 2-1 advantage from the First Leg at Stamford Bridge, capitalised on some woeful defending from Arsenal to score through Charlie Colkett and, despite Arsenal’s best efforts, didn’t come close to relinquishing their lead.
Arsenal did not give the best account of themselves during this tie, as they struggled as an attacking force in both legs, whilst Chelsea seemed physically and tactically superior throughout. This was Arsenal’s best run in the competition since they last won it in 2009, but, in these two games, they never came close to replicating the displays that the likes of Jack Wilshere produced half a decade ago.
Arsenal again failed to offer enough support to make the most of Chuba Akpom’s considerable talent and, although Gedion Zelalem was a little better than last week, the young Gunners lacked their usual fluidity, with Chelsea’s well drilled side closing them down at every opportunity.
Leander Siemann, meanwhile, made several defensive mistakes, rendering the decision to select him in preference to Stefan O’Connor rather bizarre.
Coach Carl Laraman made just one change from the First Leg, with Jack Jebb coming into the side at the expense of Dan Crowley, rather than Gedion Zelalem. Chelsea also made just a solitary alteration with Jay Da Silva being preferred to Isaiah Brown.
subs: Crowley (for Iwobi, 58), O’Connor (for Siemann, 67), Lipman (for Kamara, 86). Not used: Huddart, Mugabo.
Chelsea were impressive in the early stages, with Jordan Houghton sending a cross wide. Left-back Ola Aina then saw a shot saved by Josh Vickers following a good move involving Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Da Silva.
Arsenal’s first attacking move of note involved their two most dangerous attacking players, Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom, with Iwobi finding the striker, whose effort was deflected for a corner.
Chelsea soon provided Arsenal with a reminder of their threat, however. Kiwomya’s cross was cut out, with Charlie Colkett subsequently sending his shot wide. Arsenal then, not for the first time in this Youth Cup run, were reliant on Josh Vickers for coming to their rescue. The goalkeeper made a superb double save to deny Dominic Solanke twice in quick succession.
Arsenal then sought to assert themselves at the other end, with Jebb’s free-kick locating Julio Pleguezuelo at the far post, but the Spanish centre-back’s header was saved. The chances were coming thick and fast for both sides, and Chelsea would make their next opportunity count, with Colkett pouncing on some disappointing defending from Jebb and Siemann, as well as a rare mistake from Vickers, to open the scoring and give Chelsea a 3-1 aggregate lead.
Houghton then sought to put the tie beyond doubt, but Vickers held his shot. Arsenal demonstrated their quality when Zelalem played a clever lofted pass into the path of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but the winger’s shot was saved.
Da Silva then sent an effort wide for Chelsea, with Arsenal responding with their best move of the half. Iwobi embarked on a driving run down the left flank and spotted Akpom in space. Akpom back-heeled the ball into the path of his team-mate, with Iwobi’s shot eventually being cleared for a corner.
Chelsea ended the half as they started it by creating chances with regularity. Solanke shot over, then, after Zelalem lost the ball, Da Silva did well to find Kiwomya, whose shot lacked conviction.
Chelsea’s dominance continued after the interval, with Andreas Christensen somehow remaining unopposed as he marauded up the field before shooting wide. Arsenal came close at the other end, with the impressive Glen Kamara seeing his effort cleated off the line after he latched onto Jebb’s free-kick.
Arsenal then struck the post through Akpom after a precise through-ball from Zelalem, but the offside flag had already been raised. Arsenal sought to increase their attacking momentum by introducing Crowley in place of Iwobi, but Chelsea continued to dominate, with Colkett’s shot deflecting off the disappointing Siemann for a corner, before Solanke’s effort was kept out by Vickers.
Siemann then made another error, but Colkett again couldn’t capitalise, with the German centre-back then, at long last, being replaced by O’Connor. Arsenal also introduced Austin Lipman, featuring in his third game in four days, as they went all out for victory, but, even with Crowley operating almost as a second striker, they were still unable to breach the resolute Chelsea defence.
Some of Arsenal’s performances in this competition this season, particularly against Charlton Athletic and Everton, were mightily impressive, but once again, as they did in both the U21 Premier League Cup and the UEFA Youth League, Arsenal’s youngsters have fallen at the latter stages of a major cup competition.
U18 Premier League- Game 29
Fulham 1 Arsenal 4 (Dobson 16, Lipman 29, 59, Robinson 68)
By Jeorge Bird @ Motspur Park
A young Arsenal side comprised primarily of schoolboys eased to a comfortable victory over Fulham at a sunny Motspur Park earlier today. Arsenal’s main focus this week is tomorrow’s FA Youth Cup Semi-Final, 2nd Leg tie against Chelsea, but this emphatic win will be welcomed given some of the disappointing results that have preceded it at this level this campaign.
Austin Lipman, one of the more experienced players on show, found the net twice, with schoolboys George Dobson and Tyrell Robinson also on the scoresheet. With the majority of the Youth Cup squad left out, coach Carl Laraman handed debuts at this level to four players- Tolaji Bola, Owen Moore, Marcus Tabi and Michel Parker.
Arsenal also gave game time to a trialist goalkeeper, with Lipman, Elliot Wright and Arinse Uade the only full-time scholars to feature. Joshua Da Silva started, having made his debut as a substitute against Newcastle United. Kick-off was delayed by 45 minutes due to the Arsenal coach arriving late.
subs: Tabi (for Lipman), O. Moore (for Dobson), Parker (for Hinds). Not used: Huddart.
Fulham also named a very young side, with many of their players away at the Dallas Cup, but the majority of Arsenal’s youngsters possess plenty of experience at this level and they looked determined to make the most of that advantage in the early stages. The lively Robinson did well to win a corner, with Lipman seeing his shot saved from the resultant set-piece.
Robinson provided another example of the threat he poses to the opposition goal when he latched onto Dobson’s long pass and forced a good save from the Fulham goalkeeper. Uade had to be alert to cut out a cross at the other end, but Arsenal were largely dominant. They were rewarded when they took the lead through Dobson, who finished well with a shot that deflected in off the far post.
Arsenal didn’t stop there. Kaylen Hinds and Stephy Mavididi both shot over in quick succession, before Da Silva did well to find Lipman, whose shot was saved.
Da Silva, operating in the number 10 position, was beginning to become increasingly influential, and he shot wide, with right-back Aaron Eyoma also coming close. The game was effectively put beyond a struggling Fulham when Dobson crossed for Lipman, who finished from close range to make it 2-0.
Fulham threatened a little thereafter, with Arsenal’s goalkeeper having to make a couple of impressive saves, but Arsenal were always on top, a point that was emphasised when Lipman struck the crossbar with a fierce strike after being found by Hinds. The skilful Robinson then did well to find space for himself, but his subsequent shot was saved.
The second-half followed a similar pattern to the first, with Arsenal carving out numerous attacking opportunities. Hinds saw a shot saved after good work from Mavididi then Lipman made it 3-0 after pouncing upon a defensive mistake and finishing confidently.
Arsenal had some defending to do after that goal, with Fulham’s right-winger causing them considerable problems. Fulham pulled a goal back during that spell with a header from close range, with Arsenal then introducing Tabi and Owen Moore in place of Lipman and Dobson.
The final goal of the game followed almost immediately, with Wright playing one of his trademark long passes, which Robinson latched onto and then diverted into the net. There could have been even more goals for Arsenal, with Mavididi, Jordan and Tabi all coming close. The game had long been won, however, and this result represents another important step in the development of these players.
Many of the youngsters on show today will form the bulk of the U18 squad for next season, and, on this evidence, some of them are very promising indeed. Dobson, despite still being a schoolboy himself, possesses good leadership qualities and was also one of the standout players today, whilst wingers Mavididi and Robinson were both very dangerous. Da Silva demonstrated glimpses that, in time, he could develop into a promising player, whilst the schoolboys that were brought on did not look at all out of place.
There are now just two league fixtures remaining at U18 level this season, against Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United, but, for now, all the attention is focused on tomorrow night’s Youth Cup tie at Emirates Stadium.
U21 Premier League- Game 19
Arsenal 0 Leicester City 4 (Hopper 6, Watson 41, 50, Cain 80)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Arsenal U21s suffered a deeply disappointing defeat to Leicester City in their penultimate home game of the season. Steve Gatting’s side, who were without several key players due to first-team and FA Youth Cup commitments, struggled to garner any sort of attacking momentum and didn’t register a shot on target until the second-half.
They struggled to break down a Leicester defence that was marshalled manfully by the experienced Republic of Ireland international Sean St Ledger, whilst their own defensive frailties were pounced upon all too easily by a determined visiting side. Arsenal’s league form at U21 level this season, particularly post-Christmas, has been rather alarming, with Gatting’s team winning just two games out of eleven.
The most concerning element is that Gatting, along with current U18s coach Carl Laraman, will still be in charge of Arsenal at this level next season, but it is hoped that the appointment of Andries Jonker as the club’s new Head of Youth Development will reduce the chances of results such as this occurring in the future.
Leicester were fully deserved of their win, but Arsenal’s play was painful to watch at times as some players struggled to make the requisite runs and others gave the ball away in dangerous areas. Their play in an attacking sense did improve a little following the introduction of Austin Lipman as a second-half substitute, but Leicester goalkeeper Adam Smith was barely tested throughout.
Arsenal were without several regulars at this level. Hector Bellerin is likely to be on the first-team bench against West Ham United tomorrow, whilst Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley, Julio Pleguezuelo and Jack Jebb were all left out with the second-leg of the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final against Chelsea in mind. Isaac Hayden, meanwhile, was missing through suspension.
subs: Lipman (for Maitland-Niles, 70), Kamara (for Iwobi, 70). Not used: Huddart, Siemann, Ormonde-Ottewill.
Arsenal’s start was sluggish and set the tone for the rest of the game. Alex Iwobi gave away a free-kick which was taken by Callum Elder. Matt Macey was on hand to gather, but it wasn’t long before the Arsenal goalkeeper was picking the ball out of the back of his net, with Tafari Moore struggling to deal with the considerable threat of Tom Hopper, who beat the full-back for pace and then beat Macey with a confident finish.
That was just the beginning. Leicester were putting Arsenal under pressure at every opportunity and Gatting’s side simply couldn’t cope. The visitors came close from a corner before Macey had to deal with two free-kicks in quick succession. The pressure was relentless, with Ryan Watson then seeing a shot deflected narrowly wide.
Watson came close again shortly afterwards, with Stefan O’Connor then having to make a well-timed intervention to prevent further damage. Arsenal couldn’t stem the overwhelming tide of Leicester attacks, however, and they were soon 2-0 down, with Watson being rewarded for his persistence.
The midfielder finished well after being found by Harry Panayiotou from a corner, with Arsenal leaving the field at half-time without having even come close to threatening the Leicester goal.
Arsenal appeared a little more determined after the interval, with Zak Ansah’s attempted pass being gathered by Smith, but mistakes continued to plague their game. Alfred Mugabo, who is set to be released in June, inadvertently directed the ball into the path of Hopper, who shot wide.
In an all too rare attacking move from Arsenal Jon Toral found Kristoffer Olsson, whose shot was just off target, but normal service resumed when Leicester made it 3-0. O’Connor committed a late challenge high up the pitch, but the referee waved play on and Leicester took full advantage, with Watson embarking on a mazy run through the Arsenal defence before beating Macey once more.
Watson then came close to claiming a hat-trick, but shot wide. Arsenal sought to change things a little, with Lipman and Glen Kamara being introduced. Kamara at least provided protection to the defence, something that had been glaringly absent beforehand, whilst Lipman worked hard and attempted to make things happen on the right flank.
Arsenal’s best move came when Olsson closed down St Ledger’s clearance and played in Thomas Eisfeld, who was on the bench at Wembley on Saturday. The German directed the ball into the path of Ansah, whose effort struck the crossbar. Leicester were always on top, though, and inflicted further damage when substitute Michael Cain capitalised on some woeful defending to make it 4-0. This had long been a bridge too far for the young Gunners.
It was a deeply disappointing way to end their first campaign at Boreham Wood, but the Youth Cup has certainly taken priority this week. That said, some of the players who aren’t eligible for that competition, such as Eisfeld, Olsson and Toral, were far from at their best here, and a similar team managed to dispatch of Manchester City last week.
Mugabo is strong but deploying him at left-back is to nobody’s benefit, whilst Ajayi will have to be far more consistent if he is to become a first-team squad member next season. Hayden, meanwhile, was sorely missed. If Arsenal manage to prevail over Chelsea in the Youth Cup on Thursday then this game will probably be largely forgotten, but losing by such a scoreline should not be acceptable for a club that places so much emphasis on youth development.
Wellington delivered an excellent performance as Murcia beat Lugo 3-1. The Brazilian scored twice before being withdrawn in the 84th minute. This was the first game in which the 21 year old has found the net this season, but he has certainly impressed in recent weeks since being elevated into the starting line-up.
Chuks Aneke was sent off in first-half stoppage time for elbowing Richard Stearman as Crewe Alexandra lost 2-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Joel Campbell started and was booked as Olympiacos beat Apollon Smirnis 1-0 in their final league fixture of the season.
Benik Afobe played the final eleven minutes and was booked during Sheffield Wednesday’s dramatic 3-3 draw with Blackburn Rovers. Goalkeeper Damian Martinez was an un-used substitute.
Johan Djourou played the whole game as Hamburg lost 2-1 to his former loan side Hannover, whilst Francis Coquelin wasn’t involved in Freiburg’s 2-0 win over Braunschweig.
Ju-Young Park was again not involved as Watford drew 2-2 with Millwall. Ignasi Miquel is unlikely to be involved when Leicester City take on Reading tomorrow night.
Injury meant that Zach Fagan didn’t feature in Boreham Wood’s 2-1 defeat to Whitehawk. The centre-back is set to return to Arsenal later this month. Josh Vickers didn’t feature in Canvey Island’s goalless draw with Hendon.
Daniel Boateng‘s Hibernian side didn’t have a fixture this weekend.
Hector Bellerin, Thomas Eisfeld and Jon Toral joined the first-team squad this morning for their final training session ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan Athletic.
Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky, who were classed as doubts for this fixture, all came through the workout unscathed and could be part of the squad tomorrow.
Mathieu Flamini is suspended, whilst Lukas Fabianski will start in goal. Abou Diaby continued to train individually, with Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Ryo all still unavailable. Serge Gnabry was not present, suggesting that the German winger is not yet fully recovered from the injury he suffered last week. Nicklas Bendtner is set to return to England on Monday.
Players in training today: Szczesny, Fabianski, Viviano, Sagna, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski, Giroud, Sanogo, Bellerin, Eisfeld, Toral, Kallstrom, Ramsey.