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FA Youth Cup preview- Semi-Final, 1st Leg- Chelsea v Arsenal

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For all the criticism of the Arsenal youth system this season, and it has been considerable, there remains a genuine chance of Carl Laraman guiding the young Gunners to success in the FA Youth Cup for the first time since the much-lauded class of 2008/09.

There are still some considerable obstacles to overcome if that dream is to become a reality, however. Fulham, possessing the talents of Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembele, are waiting in the Final, but, before then, Chelsea must be overcome in a two-legged Semi-Final, with the first assignment taking place at Stamford Bridge tomorrow evening.

Arsenal have already knocked Chelsea out of one youth tournament this season, prevailing in the U21 Premier League Cup, but the Blues have been involved in three of the past four Youth Cup Finals, winning the competition two years ago. They also dispatched of an Arsenal side containing Benik Afobe and Chuks Aneke at the Fourth Round stage in 2011.

Many of the Chelsea players will already be familiar to Arsenal. The likes of Jeremie Boga, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Izzy Brown, Andreas Christensen and Alex Kiwomya have been involved in numerous battles between the London rivals in the past few seasons, and there will be a further meeting between the two sides at U21 level later this month.

Arsenal’s list of talents is also lengthy. Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem and Chuba Akpom are the most prominent, but Chelsea should also be wary of wingers Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Alex Iwobi, who have been in impressive form in this competition this season. Goalkeeper Josh Vickers, meanwhile, has also impressed, with Arsenal negotiating their way past the varied threats of Torquay United, Peterborough United, Charlton Athletic and Everton to reach this stage.

Jack Jebb was particularly influential against Everton, but, with Crowley back from injury, Jebb will most probably be amongst the substitutes tomorrow night. None of the players who started Monday’s U21 victory over Manchester City are expected to be involved from the offset, with Julio Pleguezuelo and Leander Siemann set to be deployed at the heart of the defence.

Arsenal will undoubtedly seek to create as many chances as possible, but they will know that a draw would not be the end of the world, particularly when their stellar record of playing at Emirates Stadium is taken into account. With a place in the Final at stake, this two-legged tie promises to be an intriguing match-up between two of the country’s most prominent academy teams.

Possible Arsenal team:

Vickers

Moore-Pleguezuelo-Siemann-Ormonde Ottewill

Kamara-Zelalem

Maitland Niles-Crowley-Iwobi

Akpom

subs: Huddart, O’Connor, Jebb, Dobson, Lipman.

Olomola departs as Arsenal U18 squad for next season begins to take shape

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It was always expected that one of the many players offered scholarships by Arsenal ahead of next season would look to continue their career elsewhere in search of greater playing time, and that scenario occurred yesterday, with long-serving striker Olufela Olomola announcing that he is leaving the club.

Olomola, who is of Nigerian descent, made seven appearances for the U18s in total, six of which came this season, but, given the form of fellow forwards Stephy Mavididi and Kaylen Hinds, he has often had to play out of position, and was deployed at right-back against Tottenham Hotspur last week.

Olomola’s destination is unknown, but he could soon be joined in leaving the club by midfielder James Blanchfield, who made his debut for the U18s against Tottenham.

For now, there remain 13 scholars set to commence their full-time careers at London Colney in the Summer, although any of them could theoretically move elsewhere before July 1st as they are yet to officially sign their new contracts.

The U18 side for next season, which will be jointly overseen by Frans de Kat and Kwame Ampadu, is slowly beginning to take shape, although the majority of the current first-year scholars (particularly the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Tafari Moore, Stefan O’Connor, Julio Pleguezuelo and Dan Crowley) are likely to be key components of the U21 team instead during 2014/15.

A new back-up goalkeeper will be a necessity, with Ryan Huddart currently the only shot-stopper who will still be available to play at U18 level next season. Otherwise, this appears to be quite a well balanced intake, with the likes of George Dobson, Marc Bola and Kristopher Da Graca offering defensive solidity, whilst Hinds, Mavididi and the hugely promising Chris Willock all carry a considerable threat going forwards.

Tyrell Robinson, who is usually deployed as a winger, has also impressed this season. Chiori Johnson, Ovie Ejaria and Aaron Eyoma will seek to become regulars at U18 level next campaign having already been given a handful of appearances by current coach Carl Laraman.

New signing Jonatas Centeno, who can play either as a full-back or a winger on the right flank, also seems promising, whilst two players who will still be schoolboys next season, Harry Donovan and Joshua Da Silva, have already made their U18 debuts.

Gedion Zelalem, despite already being part of the first-team squad, will still be eligible for the U18s next season, and he could still be involved in the FA Youth Cup next campaign.

Arsenal U18 squad for next season (provisional)

Goalkeepers

Ryan Huddart

Defenders

Tafari Moore, Stefan O’Connor, Julio Pleguezuelo, Elliot Wright, Chiori Johnson, Jonatas Centeno, Kristopher Da Graca, Marc Bola

Midfielders + wingers

Renny Smith, Dan Crowley, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, George Dobson, Chris Willock, Tyrell Robinson, Aaron Jordan, Aaron Eyoma, James Blanchfield, Ovie Ejaria, Harry Donovan

Strikers

Kaylen Hinds, Stephy Mavididi, Joshua Da Silva

Possible Youth Cup team for next season:

Huddart

Moore-O’Connor-Pleguezuelo-Wright

Smith-Zelalem

Maitland Niles-Crowley-Willock

Hinds

subs: Centeno, Dobson, Robinson, Mavididi

Match report- Toral helps Arsenal U21s edge out Man City in seven-goal thriller

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U21 Premier League- Game 18

Arsenal 4 (Toral 34, 90, Bellerin 37, O’Connor 73) Manchester City 3 (Drury 46, Cole 89, Leigh 90)

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park

Photo by Kieran Clarke
Photo by Kieran Clarke

Arsenal U21s returned to winning ways this evening with a hard-earned victory over Patrick Vieira’s Manchester City. The young Gunners, for all their attacking prowess and the dazzling artistry of Jon Toral, did, however, come perilously close to surrendering their lead during a dramatic finale in the lashing rain. As it transpired, a late strike from Toral, his second of the game, ultimately proved to be decisive and injected some much needed positivity after three defeats last week.

This was a highly-watchable game, albeit one that was tarnished somewhat by unnecessary mistakes from both sides. Arsenal took the lead through Toral with 11 minutes remaining in the first-half and then doubled it just three minutes later courtesy of his compatriot Hector Bellerin, who was especially effective in the opening period.

Arsenal made the worst possible start to the second-half, however, allowing Adam Drury to score just a minute after the re-start. In a tumultuous game centre-back Stefan O’Connor then made it 3-1 with a rare goal, but City struck twice in the closing stages to increase the pressure on Arsenal. In between those two strikes, however, Toral again proved his quality with an excellent finish, and Arsenal just about managed to hold on for the win.

Several players were rested with Thursday’s FA Youth Cup tie against Chelsea in mind. Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill were amongst those left out, meaning that there were rare starts at this level for Jack Jebb and Alfred Mugabo, the latter having spent time on trial at Sheffield Wednesday last week.

Macey

Bellerin-Ajayi-O’Connor-Mugabo

Hayden-Olsson

Toral-Jebb-Eisfeld

Ansah

subs: Kamara (for Hayden, 52), Maitland-Niles (for Ansah, 76). Not used: Vickers, Siemann, Lipman.

Much of Arsenal’s good attacking work in recent weeks has come down the right flank, with Bellerin and Toral combining to good effect. Their understanding was in evidence in the early stages here, with the two players exchanging passes before Bellerin’s cross was eventually cut out. 

Toral then saw his shot parried in Arsenal’s next attacking move, with Thomas Eisfeld shooting wide from the re-bound. Mugabo, deployed as an unorthodox left-back, then conceded possession, but the lively Marcos Lopes couldn’t capitalise.

Soon after, however, the 18 year old provided Arsenal’s defence with a warning sign when he sent a dipping shot over, before midfielder Seko Fofana forced Matt Macey to push away his well-struck effort. That would prove to be the first of many crucial interventions from the Arsenal goalkeeper throughout the course of the evening.

His next task was to deal with Sinan Bytyqi’s free-kick, which he managed to divert for a corner. The pressure then relented a little, with Arsenal beginning to rediscover their attacking momentum. Zak Ansah sent a shot straight at Ian Lawlor, then Toral miscued his pass when Bellerin was well-placed in front of goal.

Arsenal would make the most of their chances before the interval. First Eisfeld seized upon a weak kick-out by Lawlor and, after the German was closed down, Toral was on hand to finish from close range to open the scoring. Bellerin then made it 2-0 when he won possession, exchanged passes with Kristoffer Olsson, and then finished well as Arsenal ended the half in perfect fashion.

Their start to the second period was anything but perfect, with Macey struggling to deal with Bytyqi’s cross and Drury capitalising by reducing the deficit.

The game, by now, had descended into a rather scrappy affair that was in stark contrast to the free-flowing football of the first-half. Mugabo misplaced a header but then made instant amends with an excellent recovery challenge, but Arsenal were dealt a blow when Isaac Hayden hobbled off injured to be replaced by Glen Kamara.

Arsenal then nearly made it 3-1, with Jebb taking a quick-throw and Ansah playing the ball across the face of goal and into the path of Eisfeld, who should have scored but instead dragged his effort wide from close range.

What followed was drama and then yet more drama. Macey made an outstanding stop from close range to deny Devante Cole. It would not be exaggerating the point to say that it was the best save an Arsenal goalkeeper has made at this level since James Shea’s heroics at Old Trafford three years ago.

Cole, introduced as a substitute at the start of the second-half, caused much trouble for the Arsenal defence, but the young Gunners were still an attacking threat themselves, with Toral and Olsson coming close.

The game looked to be over when Arsenal made it 3-1, O’Connor showing tremendous composure to score a collector’s item of a goal after City failed to clear from a corner.

City were undeterred, however, and still felt they could salvage something from this game. They peppered the Arsenal goal with shots, with Kamara and Eisfeld having to make crucial interventions. Vieira’s side eventually made it 3-2, with Bytyqi getting the better of Mugabo and sending in a dangerous cross which Cole was on hand to turn home.

Toral took his tally for the season to seven goals in all competitions. Photo by Kieran Clarke.
Toral took his tally for the season to seven goals in all competitions. Photo by Kieran Clarke

City’s flickering hopes of mounting a comeback were effectively laid to rest soon afterwards when Toral finished well following good work from Eisfeld and substitute Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the latter operating as a makeshift striker.

That was not all, though. Macey was required to make yet another stop to deny Cole, but he could do little about the header from Leigh that stemmed from yet more slack Arsenal defending.

This is a game that will require much analysis, and there were plenty of negatives to take as well as positives, but Arsenal will certainly be pleased to have returned to winning ways. Toral, in particular, was impressive, whilst Macey made numerous good stops, even though he was a little indecisive at corners.

It was far from perfect, but Gatting’s side at times played some delightful football and will now approach their final three games of the campaign with confidence.

 

Currys FIFA Cup

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Late last month, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the inaugural Currys FIFA Cup, a competition that saw eight writers and bloggers compete to win tickets to see Arsenal take on Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup Semi-Finals.

It was an excellent evening of entertainment, with games of table football and pool also taking place. It was also a great opportunity to meet and socialise with different bloggers, who supported teams ranging from Stevenage to Charlton Athletic, as well as a fellow Arsenal supporter from SheWore.

After some close-fought and competitive matches I eventually managed to win the competition and hopefully similar events will be held in the future.

 

Loan report- Victories for Wellington and Aneke

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Johan Djourou played the entirety of Hamburg’s 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen, whilst Francis Coquelin watched from the bench as Freiburg lost 2-0 to Stuttgart. Djourou is set to join Hamburg permanently in the Summer.

Wellington played the whole game as Real Murcia beat Sabadell 2-0. The Brazilian came close to scoring with a fierce effort.

Chuks Aneke played 87 minutes as Crewe Alexandra beat Crawley Town 2-1.

Joel Campbell played the whole game as Olympiacos lost 2-0 to PAS Giannina.

On Friday night, Ignasi Miquel was again not part of the Leicester City team that beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1. Leicester subsequently secured promotion to the Premier League over the weekend. Damian Martinez and Benik Afobe were unused substitutes for Sheffield Wednesday.

Ju-Young Park was not involved as Watford drew 1-1 with Burnley. Daniel Boateng‘s Hibernian side take on Aberdeen tonight.

Zach Fagan missed Boreham Wood’s victory over Chelmsford City because of injury. Josh Vickers wasn’t involved as Canvey Island lost 2-0 to East Thurrock United, with the goalkeeper instead being named on the bench for Arsenal U18s against Newcastle United.

 

 

 

New signing Centeno debuts as Arsenal U18s beat Newcastle

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U18 Premier League- Game 28

Arsenal 1 (Mavididi 32) Newcastle United 0

Arsenal U18s salvaged some pride from what has been a difficult week for the youth system as they beat Newcastle United 1-0 at London Colney today courtesy of a strike from Stephy Mavididi.

Mavididi scored his fifth goal in ten starts at this level this season to earn Arsenal victory, whilst the game was also notable for the debuts of two promising youngsters. Jonatas Centeno, recently recruited from Fulham, impressed at right-back, whilst schoolboy Joshua Da Silva came on as a second-half substitute.

There were two other changes from the side that lost to Tottenham Hotspur, with Marc Bola and Aaron Eyoma also starting. None of the players on show today are expected to start Thursday’s FA Youth Cup tie against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Alfred Mugabo, who spent time on trial at Sheffield Wednesday last week, was amongst the substitutes.

Huddart

Centeno-Wright-Uade-Bola

Dobson

Mavididi-Smith-Hinds-Lipman

Eyoma

subs: Vickers, Mugabo, Maitland-Niles, Da Silva.

Arsenal have three remaining league fixtures at this level this season, with games to come against Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham United and Fulham.

Pre-Everton training report: Olsson, Bellerin, Zelalem, Ramsey and Monreal involved

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U21 players Semi Ajayi, Kristoffer Olsson, Isaac Hayden and Hector Bellerin trained with the first-team this morning as Arsene Wenger’s side concluded their preparations for tomorrow’s trip to face Everton in the Premier League.

Gedion Zelalem was also involved, whilst Aaron Ramsey and Nacho Monreal, who have made full recoveries from injury, also participated and are likely to be in the squad tomorrow. However, Kieran Gibbs and Serge Gnabry are doubtful having sustained minor problems. Nicklas Bendtner wasn’t present.

Abou Diaby is back training individually, but is not yet fit enough to join in with the main group, whilst Laurent Koscielny could return for next week’s FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan Athletic. Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Ryo are all still sidelined.

Players involved in training today:

Szczesny, Fabianski, Viviano, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Flamini, Arteta, Cazorla, Giroud, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain,

Ramsey, Kallstrom, Sanogo, Monreal, Jenkinson, Zelalem, Bellerin, Olsson, Ajayi, Hayden.

 

 

Maitland-Niles strike not enough as Arsenal U21s lose to Everton

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U21 Premier League- Game 17

Everton 2 (Gueye 5, 48) Arsenal 1 (Maitland-Niles 67)

Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ first goal at U21 level was not enough to prevent Steve Gatting’s side from suffering their third defeat in a week as they lost 2-1 away to Everton this evening. Maitland-Niles, back from international duty, scored with a fine strike in the second-half, but only after Magaye Gueye had struck twice to put Everton in control. This result follows recent defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers.

Chuba Akpom and Kristoffer Olsson returned from injury and illness respectively to start in place of Zak Ansah and Gedion Zelalem. Maitland-Niles, meanwhile, replaced Glen Kamara.

Macey

Bellerin-Ajayi-Siemann-Ormonde Ottewill

Hayden

Maitland Niles-Olsson-Eisfeld-Toral

Akpom

subs: Ansah (for Maitland-Niles, 84) Not used: Huddart, Kamara, Zelalem, Iwobi.

Everton were on top early on, with Christopher Long shooting just over. They were ahead with just five minutes on the clock when Gueye, who has 24 Premier League appearances to his name, beat Matt Macey with an excellent free-kick.

It could very easily have been 2-0 just moments later, with Long coming close again before Conor McAleny, who made his Everton first-team debut against Arsenal in 2011, shot wide after capitalising on yet another slack pass from Semi Ajayi.

Arsenal began to gather some momentum in an attacking sense as the half progressed. Hector Bellerin was a constant threat against Bolton Wanderers on Monday, and the right-back won a corner after linking well with his compatriot Jon Toral.

Isaac Hayden shot wide just before the interval, but Everton soon re-affirmed their dominance after the break, with Gueye making it 2-0 with a well-struck effort that left Macey stranded.

Calum Dyson then came close with a header from Luke Garbutt’s corner, but Arsenal gave themselves a lifeline with 67 minutes on the clock when Hayden and Olsson exchanged passes, before the latter found Maitland-Niles in space on the right flank. The England U17 international wasted no time in finding the net and making it 2-1.

Maitland-Niles, boosted by that goal, then played in Thomas Eisfeld, but the German, usually so clinical in front of goal, couldn’t find the target. Toral then shot over after yet more good work from Bellerin, but Everton provided a reminder of their attacking threat when Conor Grant’s shot struck the side-netting.

On the day that he learnt that he will continue as Arsenal’s U21 coach next season, working alongside Carl Laraman, Gatting couldn’t prevent Arsenal’s youngsters from suffering yet another defeat. Since Christmas, they have won just one league game out of nine, something they will be looking to address when Manchester City visit Borehamwood on Monday night.

Jonker appointment signals coaching changes in Arsenal youth set-up

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Arsenal have announced a considerable re-structuring of their coaching staff at youth level following the appointment of Andries Jonker as the club’s new Head of Youth Development.

Steve Gatting, somewhat surprisingly, will remain in his position as coach of the club’s U21 team, where he will be joined by Carl Laraman. Dutch coach Frans de Kat will take charge of the U18 team alongside Kwame Ampadu, whilst another new arrival, Jan van Loon, will oversee the development of the U16 side. Terry Burton’s departure from the club has also been confirmed after the 61 year old was overlooked when the club decided to appoint Jonker as Liam Brady’s replacement.

The appointments of de Kat and Ampadu will mark the third change in coaching staff at U18 level since Steve Bould was promoted to the first-team set-up less than two years ago. After some wretched results under the stewardship of Pat Holland and then Laraman, the new pairing will be hopeful of improving the perception of the club’s youth set-up. With 14 new scholars poised to commence their careers in the summer, this is a time of considerable change for the Academy. Ampadu, a former Arsenal player who made two appearances for the first-team, has impressed since re-joining the club as U16 coach, whilst de Kat has vast experience of coaching in Dutch football, with the national team, ADO Den Haag and Willem II.

van Loon has also worked with the Dutch national team’s youth set-up and will be tasked with helping the club’s next batch of promising schoolboys, including the talented Charlie Gilmour, to progress to full-time scholarships.

The decision to retain both Gatting and Laraman would, on the face of it, appear rather bizarre, with both coaches having come under criticism from regular attendees of youth team matches for the disappointing results and performances in league matches that have occurred during their reign. That said, both have guided Arsenal’s youngsters to the latter stages of cup competitions this campaign. Results are not the most important aspect of youth-team football, but Gatting and Laraman certainly do not inspire as much confidence as their predecessors, Bould and Neil Banfield.

It is clear that Jonker, whilst introducing some of his compatriots as coaches, wants to maintain a sense of continuity at the club by retaining some of the existing staff. Whether that will prove to be a wise move remains to be seen, but next season will certainly be another campaign of upheaval for the Arsenal youth department.

Arsenal’s Mugabo joins Sheffield Wednesday on trial

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Arsenal youngster Alfred Mugabo is on trial with Championship side Sheffield Wednesday and featured in a game against Leeds United’s U21 side yesterday.

The 18 year old, who has been capped by Rwanda at senior level, has struggled for form and fitness at Arsenal this season, making just 11 appearances in the U18 side, whilst also featuring twice as a substitute in the FA Youth Cup.

An extremely versatile player who is capable of playing as a right-back, centre-back, defensive-midfielder or a winger, Mugabo featured for Arsenal’s U21 team during the first year of his scholarship but is now a prime candidate to be released when his contract expires at the end of June.

The club are yet to formally announce their decisions with regards to the remaining second-year scholars, but Glen Kamara, Alex Iwobi and Josh Vickers seem likely to be offered extended stays, whilst the respective futures of Tarum Dawkins and Arinse Uade are less clear.

As things stand, Arsenal will be taking on 14 new scholars for next season, including the recently recruited Jonatas Centeno.