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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.