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.
FA Youth Cup- Semi Final, 1st Leg
Chelsea 2 (Colkett 59, Kiwomya 66) Arsenal 1 (Akpom 56)
By Jeorge Bird @ Stamford Bridge
Arsenal U18s face an uphill struggle if they are to reach their first FA Youth Cup Final since 2009 after they were beaten by Chelsea in the first leg of their Semi-Final tie this evening.
The young Gunners took the lead courtesy of a fine strike from Chuba Akpom, but Chelsea levelled just three minutes later before Alex Kiwomya scored what could prove to be a crucial goal as he put the hosts ahead. As in several of the previous rounds, Arsenal were hugely reliant on goalkeeper Josh Vickers to keep the opposition at bay, but they struggled to fully function as an attacking force, with midfielder Gedion Zelalem particularly culpable.
Zelalem’s carelessness in possession led to Chelsea’s opener, which was scored by Charlie Colkett, and the German lost the ball again shortly afterwards, prompting his replacement by Jack Jebb. Julio Pleguezuelo and Ainsley Maitland-Niles did, however, come out of the game with some credit, along with Vickers and Akpom, although this was far from a vintage display from an Arsenal side who were at times swamped by Chelsea’s dominance in midfield.
The tie is not over, especially when the youth teams’ immaculate record at Emirates Stadium is taken into account, but coach Carl Laraman will want to see much more from his side next Thursday, with Arsenal having struggled to gain any sort of foothold in this encounter.
The team line-up was the expected one, with Zelalem being preferred over Jebb. In hindsight, that was perhaps the wrong decision to make.
subs: Jebb (for Zelalem, 66). Not used: Huddart, O’Connor, Dobson, Lipman.
Arsenal had some defending to do in the early stages, with Vickers being called into action for the first time as he gathered a cross from Fankaty Dabo.
Maitland-Niles, who has been so impressive recently, then did well to manoeuvre some space for himself at the other end, but he dragged his shot wide of the far post before Chelsea squandered an inviting opportunity when Colkett flicked the ball into the path of Izzy Brown, who made the mistake of electing to pass instead of going for goal, with Arsenal eventually clearing their lines.
Chelsea were dominant throughout the first-half, particularly in terms of their midfield play. Arsenal’s approach was rather stagnant in contrast, but most of the openings that they did create fell to Akpom. The striker struck a shot into the side-netting, before Alex Iwobi’s header was tipped over the crossbar for a corner.
Chelsea’s dominance continued after the interval, with the game suddenly becoming rather more open. Brown saw his shot held after Arsenal’s hesitancy saw them hustled out of possession, then Jordan Houghton shot over after Pleguezuelo’s header fell invitingly into his path.
Chelsea goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney then played the ball mistakenly into the path of Dan Crowley in front of goal, but the midfielder couldn’t capitalise. The intensity of the game had increased greatly, with Vickers then making a superb double save in quick succession to deny Colkett and Kiwomya.
Arsenal were struggling to create chances with any sort of regularity, and their usual brand of passing football was surprisingly absent, but what good openings they did muster came courtesy of Akpom, with the striker attempting a shot from a difficult angle which was saved.
Arsenal’s lack of ingenuity seemed set to cost them, but then they temporarily awoke from their slumber. Maitland-Niles played a perceptive pass straight into the path of Akpom, who beat Beeney with a well-placed finish. With the travelling Arsenal supporters jubilant and Akpom evidently delighted to have found the net, you forgot that this was a youth-team game, albeit just for a moment.
With their lead, albeit somewhat fortunately, intact, Arsenal were now faced with the task of seeing the game out for the remaining 34 minutes. Largely owing to the carelessness of Zelalem, they held out for just three minutes. Zelalem, not for the first or last time, lost possession, and, although Arsenal initially managed to clear the danger, the ball eventually fell to Colkett, who finished well to equalise.
Zelalem didn’t learn from his mistake, as he squandered possession again. Thankfully, this time the outcome wasn’t quite so damning, with Vickers earning his team-mate a reprieve as he denied Brown.
It was only a temporary respite, however, as Chelsea soon took the lead. The effective Ruben Loftus-Cheek clipped the ball forwards. Vickers kept out Dominic Solanke’s header, but the ball fell into the path of Kiwomya, whose overhead kick was enough to beat the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Jebb, not before time, was then introduced in place of Zelalem. The midfielder immediately got to work, playing a good pass into the path of his long-time colleague Akpom, who couldn’t quite get the ball under control.
Arsenal had threatened intermittently, but in the end they were perhaps thankful to depart Stamford Bridge with just a one-goal deficit. Right-back Ola Aina wasted a good chance following a quick breakaway, with Vickers then making two more excellent stops. The goalkeeper, along with fellow second-years Iwobi and Glen Kamara, will surely be rewarded with a professional contract at the end of the campaign.
Maitland-Niles sent an effort well wide in the closing stages, but Arsenal will be all too aware that, if they are to progress to the Final, it will require an immense improvement from tonight. They flickered only ever so often in an attacking sense, with Akpom impressing despite often receiving little support from the midfield, whilst the defensive frailties that seem to plague the club at all levels were once again in evidence here.
This was another example of Arsenal being somewhat overrun by a major side at youth level, with the defeat put into even further perspective by the fact that Chelsea were without arguably their most impressive starlet in Jeremie Boga.
Vickers, as he has been throughout this run, was outstanding, but he will need his team-mates to perform similar heroics in the second leg if they are to reach the Final against Fulham.
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:
subs: Huddart, O’Connor, Jebb, Dobson, Lipman.
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)
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
Kaylen Hinds, Stephy Mavididi, Joshua Da Silva
Possible Youth Cup team for next season:
subs: Centeno, Dobson, Robinson, Mavididi
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
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.
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.
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.