Arsenal play their first competitive match of the season, the Community Shield against Manchester City, on Sunday, yet there are still three young hopefuls training with the senior squad as the new campaign draws ever nearer.
Whilst the majority of the young professionals were back in the U21 set-up for the 6-4 victory over Forest Green Rovers yesterday, Damian Martinez, Ignasi Miquel and Hector Bellerin continued to train with Arsene Wenger’s squad at London Colney.
All three players possess a genuine chance of officially being promoted this Summer and the trio could all make the bench for the game at Wembley.
Martinez, having impressed in pre-season, looks set to be named as the club’s third-choice goalkeeper for the new campaign. He may even start the season as temporary back-up to Wojciech Szczesny if new signing David Ospina doesn’t recover from injury in time.
Miquel provides cover at centre-back, a position in which the first-team are considerably light at present. Per Mertesacker is not yet back from holiday and Thomas Vermaelen looks likely to leave the club, with Laurent Koscielny and Calum Chambers both likely to start in the heart of the defence against City.
Nacho Monreal is another, albeit very unconvincing, option in that position, but Miquel will be hopeful that his time to impress has finally arrived.
Bellerin’s future was cast into some doubt following the acquisition of Chambers, but, with the former Southampton player being utilised at centre-back for now, the path is clear for Bellerin to be the primary back-up to Mathieu Debuchy at right-back.
All three players are likely to partake in tomorrow’s open training session at Emirates Stadium. If Martinez and Miquel, as seems likely, remain at the club, then they would both have to take up a place in the club’s 25-man Premier League squad for the new season. No such restrictions apply to Bellerin.
Forest Green Rovers 4 (Norwood (7, 38), Sinclair (63, 90) Arsenal 6 (Maitland-Niles (20), Toral (59), Crowley (65), Hayden (83, 85), Ajayi (90))
Arsenal U21s continued their pre-season preparations with a highly-entertaining 6-3 victory over Forest Green Rovers this evening. Steve Gatting’s side were behind on several occasions but showed terrific resilience to come back, even if some of their defending at times left a lot to be desired. Arsenal’s goals came courtesy of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Jon Toral, Dan Crowley, who scored an excellent long-range effort, Isaac Hayden, who hit a brace, and Semi Ajayi.
Gatting made five changes from the side that drew with Boreham Wood on Friday. Gedion Zelalem, Chuba Akpom and Hayden, who were all part of the Emirates Cup squad, returned, whilst Matt Macey and Glen Kamara also started. Alex Iwobi was missing through illness.
Damian Martinez, Hector Bellerin and Ignasi Miquel remain with the first-team squad ahead of the Community Shield.
subs: Crowley (for Maitland-Niles, 55), Iliev (for Macey, 59). Not used: Jebb, Lipman, Willock, Moore.
Forest Green are the longest-serving members of the Conference Premier and they certainly weren’t fazed by the visit of the Arsenal youngsters. The hosts took the lead with just seven minutes on the clock when James Norwood latched onto Marcus Kelly’s corner to head the ball past the stranded Macey.
Arsenal responded quickly, though, with Hayden doing well to find Maitland-Niles, whose shot was wayward. Maitland-Niles was far more accurate just minutes later, however, as he found the net after impressive work from Akpom.
Hayden was the architect of the majority of Arsenal’s attacking moves and the midfielder came close to giving the Gunners the lead, but his shot was saved by Sam Russell.
Instead, it was Forest Green who went into the break in the ascendancy after Norwood found the net again, with Kurtis Guthrie the provider on this occasion.
Arsenal were looking to their creative players for inspiration and they eventually managed to draw level when Zelalem received the ball from Toral and quickly played it back into the path the Spaniard, who beat the goalkeeper with a deft chip.
Forest Green were soon back in front, however, with substitute Rob Sinclair capitalising on Macey’s hesitancy from a corner to make it 3-2.
It was, by now, an enthralling encounter, and there was yet more drama to come. Crowley, who signed his first professional contract yesterday, had replaced Maitland-Niles early in the second-half and the midfielder drew Arsenal level again with a superb strike from distance.
It was Crowley’s fifth goal of a hugely impressive pre-season, but the youngster instantly set about trying to put Arsenal ahead. He found Akpom with a clever pass, but the angle was against the striker and he could only divert his effort into the side-netting.
Arsenal came perilously close to scoring again on several occasions. Akpom had a penalty claim turned down and the striker then almost found the net with a header that was just kept out by substitute goalkeeper Paul White. The young Gunners were eventually rewarded for their persistence with seven minutes remaining when Hayden did well to work space for himself before firing past White.
Arsenal were utterly dominant in the closing stages and Hayden capped off a fine individual performance when he raced onto Crowley’s pass and finished well again to make it 5-3.
That looked to be that, but, remarkably, there would be two more goals. First Ajayi further increased Arsenal’s tally when he finished well from Olsson’s cross. Then Sinclair scored his second of the game and Forest Green’s fourth moments before the final whistle.
It was an excellent game, although, when the dust settles, the main positives to take out of it from an Arsenal perspective were the performances of Hayden and Crowley.
The U21s play Colchester United at the training ground next week in their final pre-season friendly before commencing their league campaign away to Reading a week on Friday.
Arsenal striker Benik Afobe has headed out on loan once again, this time to League One side MK Dons in a move that will take him to the end of his contract at Emirates Stadium.
The 21 year old was considered a player of immense promise when he was a schoolboy, as he scored over 40 goals in one season at U16 level, but a succession of injury problems and difficult loans have dictated that his Arsenal career hasn’t worked out as expected.
The England U21 international has previously spent time with Huddersfield Town, Reading, Bolton Wanderers, Millwall and Sheffield Wednesday but has scored a combined total of just nine league goals during those spells.
The Hale End product made a brief return to Arsenal last season, scoring some important goals at U21 level, but it has long been clear that his future lies away from the club after he was overtaken by both Yaya Sanogo and Chuba Akpom.
Afobe will be hopeful of featuring regularly for MK Dons before assessing his options next Summer. It is now looking increasingly likely that he will leave Arsenal without having made a competitive appearance for the first-team, which is certainly something that many would have predicted five years ago.
He becomes Arsenal third loanee for 2014/15, with Carl Jenkinson at West Ham United, whilst Wellington is spending the season with Almeria.
Promising midfielder Dan Crowley has signed his first professional contract with the club.
The England youth international, who turned 17 yesterday, was impressive in his first season since joining from Aston Villa, despite enduring several injury setbacks.
An an excellent passer of the ball, Crowley has also demonstrated during his appearances for the U21 team this pre-season that he is capable of finding the net himself.
Considered one of Arsenal and England’s best prospects, Crowley should become a regular for the club at U21 level this season. He is yet to be called up by the first-team, but has been allowed to develop in the youth sides and is certainly reaping the benefits.
There were fewer youngsters on show today as Arsenal missed out on winning the Emirates Cup as they lost 1-0 to Monaco.
Arsenal lacked some of the flair that was on display in their comprehensive win over Benfica yesterday, with a comparatively experienced side creating little in the way of clear-cut chances.
Monaco pounced upon some slack defending to score what proved to the only goal of the game, with Falcao finding the net in the 37th minute.
Things marginally improved for Arsene Wenger’s side after the interval, with Alexis Sanchez moving into the central-striker position, but Monaco proved to be a resilient unit.
Ignasi Miquel was introduced at the start of the second-half in place of Calum Chambers, but the Spaniard wasn’t especially impressive. He came close to scoring, as he did yesterday, but was also booked for a clumsy challenge and, despite his aerial presence, the 21 year old doesn’t seem a reliable option at the heart of the defence.
The decision to introduce Miquel was rendered all the more baffling by the fact that Isaac Hayden remained on the bench throughout. Hayden, who wasn’t even named in the squad yesterday, appears a considerably better prospect, although, for whatever reason, it seems that Miquel is still rated ahead of him for now.
There were late run-outs for Chuba Akpom and Gedion Zelalem and both players made something of an impact during their short time on the field. Zelalem, evoking memories of his performances during last year’s Asia Tour, unlocked the Monaco defence with a precise pass. Akpom raced onto it and was brought down, apparently in the area, but a free-kick was awarded on the edge of the area instead.
Hector Bellerin, meanwhile, replaced Mathieu Debuchy for the final few seconds.
Arsenal squandered the opportunity and the result means that Valencia won the Emirates Cup. There were far fewer positives to take than there were from yesterday’s encounter, although, assessing the weekend as a whole, it was good for some of the youngsters to play in a first-team environment.
Now the decisions will have to be made regarding which of the prospects will be promoted to the senior squad for the new season. Martinez seems a certainty to be named as the third-choice goalkeeper, whilst Bellerin is looking increasingly likely to be installed as the second-choice right-back.
Miquel, on this evidence, is also in with a chance of promotion, even if his performances do not exactly merit such praise. As for Akpom, he has considerable promise, but needs to hone his talents via the medium of a loan spell.
Arsenal cruised to an emphatic 5-1 victory over Benfica on Day One of the Emirates Cup in a game that carried many positives for some of the club’s youngsters.
Yaya Sanogo, incredibly, scored four goals, with Hector Bellerin and Joel Campbell amongst those who assisted the Frenchman. Campbell, who was making his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt after three years out on loan, found the net himself, whilst substitutes Ignasi Miquel and Francis Coquelin struck the woodwork late on.
Goalkeeper Damian Martinez was disappointed to concede a goal to Nicolas Gaitan, but otherwise the Argentinian goalkeeper was largely impressive as he looks to finally earn promotion to the senior squad. Bellerin, meanwhile, certainly caught the eye in an attacking sense, and, with Calum Chambers deployed at centre-back, the former Barcelona player could still be elevated to the position of second-choice right-back for the new campaign.
Chambers forged an unorthodox central-defensive partnership with Nacho Monreal, and, although the youngster was not posed too many problems on his Arsenal debut, he still made some good tackles and clearances. On a day brimming with positives for Arsenal one of the most noteworthy moments was the introduction of Alexis Sanchez late on.
Miquel and Chuba Akpom also received late run-outs, with the latter especially determined to make an impact. Isaac Hayden and Gedion Zelalem were left out of the squad today, but the pair could feature against Monaco tomorrow, with Arsene Wenger likely to name an almost entirely different starting line-up to the one he fielded this afternoon.
Sanogo, who was deeply unconvincing at times last season, certainly seemed in confident mood here, although the Frenchman’s joy may be dampened a little by the injury he sustained in the second-half that forced his withdrawal. It was undoubtedly his most impressive showing since joining the club, however, as he demonstrated a previously unseen calm demeanour in front of goal.
With Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky in control and Campbell and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain supplying pace out wide, Benfica were overwhelmed early on. Sanogo opened the scoring after good work from Ramsey, and the striker soon doubled his tally after latching onto Bellerin’s cut-back.
Campbell, who had waited so long for this moment, then made it 3-0 with a fine strike before Sanogo completed his hat-trick before the break after he was found by Kieran Gibbs. Sanogo then added another after the break, rendering Gaitan’s effort as the merest of consolations.
This was an excellent workout for Arsenal, certainly in comparison to the frustrating friendly in New York last week. Martinez, Bellerin, Campbell and Sanogo all enhanced their reputations, although it is hugely important not to draw too many conclusions from a pre-season fixture.
Tomorrow’s game against Monaco should be a more challenging affair, with Sanchez, Wojciech Szczesny, Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla amongst those likely to start.
This, though, was a very memorable day for some of the club’s younger players.
Boreham Wood 2 (Angol (6), Garrard (45) Arsenal 2 (Crowley (12), Toral (74)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
subs: Iwobi (for Lipman, 55), Iliev (for Vickers, 61), Wright (for O’Connor, 74), Jebb (for Willock, 78). Not used: Kamara, Smith.
Arsenal U21s showed great determination to twice come from behind and secure a 2-2 draw against Boreham Wood this evening as their preparations for the new campaign stepped up a gear.
Under the watchful eye of new Academy Manager Andries Jonker, this was the young Gunners’ toughest test of pre-season to date and they fell behind early on following an expertly-struck free-kick from Lee Angol. Dan Crowley, once again, was Arsenal’s creator-in-chief, and the youngster demonstrated that he can finish as well as pass when he equalised shortly afterwards.
Boreham Wood restored their lead from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time, with Arsenal, who also hit the crossbar through lively substitute Alex Iwobi, eventually restoring parity through Jon Toral.
Benik Afobe, despite being named in the initial squad for this fixture, was left out, indicating that he is either injured or on the verge of leaving the club. Josh Vickers started in goal ahead of Deyan Iliev, whilst Stefan O’Connor replaced the injured Julio Pleguezuelo.
Boreham Wood, who made life difficult for the Arsenal first-team squad that visited this ground just under two weeks ago, started in the ascendancy here. Left-winger Graeme Montgomery almost got on the end of a teasing cross. Moments later Toral was outmuscled in midfield and Kristoffer Olsson then conceded a free-kick that was sent beyond the reach of Vickers by Angol.
The damage was nearly two-fold for Arsenal, with Montgomery seizing upon a weak header by Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and Angol subsequently lashing a shot wide.
Arsenal quickly set about putting things right and they did so very quickly indeed. Olsson, who suggested in a recent interview that he is desperate to play first-team football this season, demonstrated a glimpse of his quality as he accelerated forwards before finding Crowley, who comfortably dispatched his fourth goal of pre-season.
Crowley almost doubled his tally for the evening very soon afterwards, but on this occasion the England U17 international’s effort was repelled by Boreham Wood goalkeeper James Russell.
At the other end Vickers then had to be alert to keep out an attempt from Charlie Walker, with Montgomery then sending an ambitious effort over as the hosts piled on the pressure.
Crowley was Arsenal’s main source of inspiration in these difficult times and the midfielder was evidently looking to shoot at every possible opportunity, sending an effort wide following a neat passing move.
Toral and Maitland-Niles then squandered opportunities before Boreham Wood restored their lead on the stroke of half-time after a penalty was awarded for handball on the line. Luke Garrard confidently dispatched the spot-kick past Vickers to send Arsenal into the break disappointed.
If Crowley was Arsenal’s main threat, then Angol fulfilled that role for Boreham Wood, with the 19 year old sending an angled shot just wide of the far post.
Chris Willock, making another start at this level, then exchanged passes with Crowley before shooting over. With Iwobi replacing the hard-working Austin Lipman, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was deployed up front for the last 35 minutes.
Iwobi made quite an impact following his introduction, with the winger working space for himself before rattling the crossbar with a fierce strike having been found by Crowley.
Iwobi then won a corner following yet more impressive work from Crowley, with Arsenal creating numerous chances as they seized the initiative in the second period. Crowley came close to scoring with a header after good work from Willock, then, with 16 minutes remaining, Arsenal finally received their reward, with Toral finishing from close range following a neat cross from Ormonde-Ottewill.
Iwobi and Moore had chances to win it for Arsenal, with the Gunners’ substitute goalkeeper Deyan Iliev then having to make an intervention to prevent a goal at the other end.
This was a challenging workout for Arsenal, and, in the end, one with they came through very well. There were some commendable performances, notably from Olsson, Crowley, Willock and Ormonde-Ottewill, whilst Iwobi’s cameo demonstrated the strength in depth that the youth set-up possesses.
Not all of these players will be regulars at this level this season, with Olsson and Toral likely to go on loan at some point, whilst others may find themselves out of the team when some of the more experienced youngsters return from first-team duty.
For now, though, it has been a very good pre-season for Gatting’s side, and, although he will acknowledge that there are some things to work on, Jonker must be pleased with what he has seen so far.