Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin has joined Championship side Watford on loan, initially until January 2nd.
Having joined the Gunners from Barcelona two years ago, Bellerin was named on the bench for the first-team in two Capital One Cup ties last season and made his senior debut in that competition earlier this campaign as a substitute away to West Bromwich Albion.
Source: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe
However, with Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson ahead of him in the first-team reckoning, Bellerin has headed out on loan to gain regular game time, having already amassed over 20 appearances for the club at U21 level.
Superb going forward, the Spanish U19 international has demonstrated a marked improvement in the defensive side of his game over the past twelve months and will look to develop further at Watford under the tutelage of Gianfranco Zola.
Bellerin has been allocated the number 3 shirt at Vicarage Road and his temporary departure is set to allow fellow right-back Tafari Moore to receive regular game time at U21 level.
Benik Afobe scored a superb goal away to Norwich City this evening to send Arsenal into the Last 16 of the inaugural U21 Premier League Cup. The 20 year old striker, making just his second competitive appearance since recovering from a lengthy injury lay-off, managed to weave his way through the Norwich defence before finding the net with a precise finish on the stroke of half-time.
Afobe would only last 53 minutes after suffering a hamstring injury early in the second half, but the striker made his presence felt this evening and, on this showing, his belated debut for the first-team should not be too far away so long as he steers clear of further injury problems.
Norwich named the vaunted Murphy twins, Josh and Jacob, in their starting line-up, but Arsenal, despite the fact that they were missing Serge Gnabry and Thomas Eisfeld, were able to call upon three members of the first-team squad in Emmanuel Frimpong, Ryo and Gedion Zelalem, with the latter returning from international duty. Stefan O’Connor, meanwhile, replaced Julio Pleguezuelo at centre-back, whilst the presence of Hector Bellerin, Kristoffer Olsson and Chuba Akpom on the bench served to underline the club’s strength in depth at this level at present.
Norwich started the brighter of the two sides, with Josh Murphy drawing a good save from Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Macey, but Ryo, operating on the right flank, gradually became more of a prominent figure in the game, with the Japanese winger directing a fierce shot on target.
Next Zelalem, as is his wont, played an inch-perfect pass into the path of Jon Toral, but the Spaniard, who has been in excellent goalscoring form since his return from injury, could only shoot over.
Norwich threatened intermittently, but much of the attacking intent was coming from Arsenal, with Ryo winning a corner before setting up Afobe, who saw his shot saved. Afobe was played through on goal again shortly afterwards, but Norwich goalkeeper Remi Matthews was equal to the striker’s effort.
Frimpong then forced Matthews into action again with a well-struck effort, but Arsenal always had to be wary of the threat of the Murphy twins, with Nico Yennaris making a vital interception on one occasion.
Arsenal would take the lead before the break, however, and the goal was both orchestrated and scored by Afobe, with the striker beating two defenders with consummate ease before beating Matthews with a superb finish.
Arsenal’s momentum in the early stages of the second-half was disrupted somewhat by Afobe’s enforced withdrawal, with Norwich posing much more of an attacking threat. Macey did well to avert the danger after a mis-understanding with O’Connor almost presented Norwich with a goal, then Rod Young forced Macey into another save.
Macey would be called upon several more times before the game was over, with the goalkeeper denying both Jamar Loza and Young in quick succession, before making a spectacular save to deny Jacob Murphy with seven minutes remaining.
Akpom shot over in haste late on, but it was another striker in Afobe who had ensured Arsenal’s passage into the next round, although Macey’s stellar contribution will not go unnoticed.
“We were well beaten by a very good technical, tactical and physical outfit”. Arsenal U18s coach Carl Larman was talking about his side’s 3-0 defeat at home to Chelsea at the weekend, but could just have easily been referring to several other discouraging performances from the Gunners’ youngsters this season.
The Chelsea game, in which Jeremie Boga delivered an inspired performance for the opposition as he scored a first-half hat-trick, was Arsenal’s seventh loss at this level so far this season, whilst it has been well documented that Laraman’s team are still without a win since their opening day success against Liverpool.
The performances of the younger age-group are in stark contrast to those of the U21′s, with the second-string playing some swashbuckling football at times and dispatching of Aston Villa’s much-vaunted youth set-up with considerable ease last week.
At U18 level, however, things are not going so well, and the bad run of results cannot exactly be attributed to inexperience, with players such as Chuba Akpom, Jack Jebb and Alex Iwobi, who have regularly represented the club at far higher levels, all featuring against Chelsea.
Akpom and Jebb both came close to scoring, the latter striking a post with an excellent free-kick, but Arsenal’s defensive performance left much to be desired, with a lack of cohesion across the back line painfully evident. Leander Siemann and Arinse Uade are still struggling to convince despite now being second-years, whilst Tafari Moore and Elliot Wright possess promise but are still in the early months of their scholarship deals at the club.
The defence were not offered much in the way of protection, with Alfred Mugabo, who was deployed in defensive-midfield against Chelsea, not yet fully fit following a lengthy injury lay-off. Dan Crowley failed to make much of an impact against Arsenal’s London rivals, but the playmaker has only recently returned from a spell on the sidelines himself and is still adjusting to his new surroundings.
At times it seems as if most of the inspiration, particularly in an attacking sense, is provided by schoolboys who are determined to impress, with Kaylen Hinds and Stephy Mavididi, neither of whom featured against Chelsea, both finding the net this season and delivering commendable performances.
In fact, at U18 level, no player has scored more than two goals for the club so far this season, suggesting that, as well as the aforementioned defensive concerns, there is also a problem up front. The question must also be raised as to why some players can perform to such a high standard at U21 level, but fail to replicate that form when they return to the U18s, which should ordinarily be an easier level to play at.
Laraman’s performance in a coaching sense will also be questioned, but it seems unlikely that the coach will be dispensed of in the near future, and certainly not until a permanent replacement is found for Liam Brady as the club’s Head of Youth Development.
All the youngsters in the U18 side can do is apply themselves fully and hope to earn a promotion to the second-string as quickly as possible. Results at youth level are certainly not as important as in the senior game, but when the performances are also of questionable quality, then concerns begin to arise.
The aim will be to end this run as quickly as possible, with the mini North London Derby away to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday providing the ideal opportunity to end the hoodoo.
Goalkeeper Josh Vickers kept a clean sheet as Canvey Island beat Metropolitan Police 1-0 courtesy of a 90th minute winner. Vickers has now played 21 times for his loan side.
There was less fortune for Chuks Aneke, who completed 70 minutes as his Crewe Alexandra side were thrashed 5-0 by Brentford. Aneke shot wide on one occasion but otherwise failed to make an impact on proceedings.
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Austin Lipman played the first 73 minutes but could not prevent Boreham Wood from exiting the FA Trophy at the hands of Gloucester City. The striker set up David Moli with a perceptive pass, but the former Liverpool player failed to find the net. You can watch highlights from the game here.
Wellington was introduced as an 83rd minute substitute and, as such, had little time to make a sustained impact as Murcia drew 1-1 with Sporting Gijon.
Damian Martinez‘s Sheffield Wednesday were not in action this weekend because of the international break, but the Argentinian has extended his loan spell at Hillsborough until January 1st, despite not yet featuring for his temporary side.
Ignasi Miquel, FrancisCoquelin, Joel Campbelland Johan Djourou were not in action this week.
A first-half hat-trick from Jeremie Boga condemned Arsenal U18s to their seventh defeat of the season this morning against a determined Chelsea side.
Given the current strength of the U21 side, coach Carl Laraman was able to call upon second-string regulars Chuba Akpom and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, whilst Alfred Mugabo returned from injury in the only other change to the team that earned a point against Southampton last week.
subs: Smith (for Mugabo, 68). Not used: Bola, Raage, Dawkins, Hinds.
Kick-off was delayed by 45 minutes due to the Chelsea team arriving late, but the visitors certainly made up for lost time by opening the scoring in the sixth minute, with the talented Boga beating Ryan Huddart with a well-struck effort.
Just moments earlier Huddart had been on hand to deny Boga with a good save, and the goalkeeper then had Tafari Moore to thank for clearing the ball off the line with Isaiah Brown bearing down on goal.
Arsenal responded with Akpom directing a header on target, but the striker’s effort was comfortably gathered by Chelsea goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney. At the other end Brown was a persistent threat, with the former West Bromwich Albion youngster weaving his way past Arsenal’s defenders before directing a shot narrowly off target.
Chelsea were the dominant side, but Arsenal were not without their chances, with Jebb striking a post with an expertly-delivered free-kick. Jebb, who was becoming increasingly influential, then found Mugabo with another set-piece, but the Rwanda international could only send his effort wide.
Chelsea, though, were always a threat at the other end and Boga scored twice before the interval to complete his hat-trick and leave Arsenal shellshocked. First, the 16 year old beat Huddart with a ferocious strike before adding the finishing touch to a multi-pass move on the stroke of half-time.
Jebb, who continued to battle on in adversity, shot over with the first attempt of note in the second-half, before Alex Iwobi, who had been rather quiet up until that point, forced Beeney to gather his well-struck effort.
Arsenal then introduced Renny Smith into the fray against his former club in place of Mugabo, but Chelsea were still the more dangerous side, with Brown testing Huddart again, this time from long-range.
Arsenal’s plight was epitomised by Beeney being equal to Jebb’s effort following good work from Maitland-Niles down the right flank, and, although Akpom came close to reducing the deficit in the dying stages, the Gunners had given themselves too difficult a task as a consequence of their disappointing first-half performance.
Chelsea were fully deserved winners, and, in Boga and Brown, possess two supremely talented youngsters. Arsenal, meanwhile, are now without a win in eleven games at this level and have the small matter of facing Tottenham Hotspur away next weekend.
When Arsenal released a plethora of youngsters in the summer, questions were raised regarding whether the club would even be able to field a side capable of performing at U21 level, but Tuesday’s victory over Aston Villa demonstrated that coach Steve Gatting still has a whole range of options to choose from when selecting his second-string squad.
Against Villa, Gatting was able to call upon a starting line-up with a combined total of 33 appearances for the Arsenal first-team to their name, whilst regulars such as Chuba Akpom and Kristoffer Olsson were restricted to places on the bench.
Source: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe
When it is also considered that Zak Ansah and Zach Fagan are both still injured, whilst Anthony Jeffrey, Daniel Boateng, Gedion Zelalem, Hector Bellerin, Jack Jebb, Glen Kamara, Deyan Iliev, Tafari Moore, Leander Siemann, Renny Smith, Alex Iwobi and Jamaal Raage were all either on international duty or left out of the squad entirely, the strength in depth that the club possesses at this level becomes apparent.
Part of the reason for this surfeit of talent is the fact that, in comparison to previous seasons, the club have rather few players out on loan at present, with Ignasi Miquel, Damian Martinez, Chuks Aneke, Wellington, Josh Vickers and Austin Lipman the only players from outside the first-team squad who are currently on temporary transfer.
The loan transfer window for Football League clubs closes on November 28th, and, with Arsenal’s participation in the Capital One Cup over, it seems likely that some of the more experienced U21 players will go out on loan in the next couple of weeks.
One outstanding candidate for a loan spell is Thomas Eisfeld, with the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder having turned in a commendable performance against Aston Villa. Now regularly deployed in an attacking midfield role, the German is becoming increasingly involved in the build-up play as well as regularly contributing with goals and assists. That said, he will turn 21 in January and still lacks any experience of English league football, with a loan spell, perhaps at a Championship club, being the perfect opportunity for him to prove his worth.
Nico Yennaris, meanwhile, would also benefit from a spell elsewhere. The defensive-midfielder’s time with Notts County in 2012 was curtailed by illness, and, now 20, he is in need of regular football. It has been notable that Yennaris has trained with the first-team regularly this season since recovering from injury, suggesting that he still remains highly regarded by Arsene Wenger, who handed the youngster his Premier League debut against Manchester United two seasons ago.
Benik Afobe, perhaps once he has completed a couple more U21 matches, is also capable of playing at a far higher level, and has already experienced his fair share of loan spells with lower-league clubs. There have been some suggestions, however, that it would be preferable for Afobe to stay at Arsenal until January at least in case he is required for the first-team given the current lack of striking options.
Another player in need of a loan spell, but for rather different reasons to those listed above, is defender Daniel Boateng, who has entered the final year of his contract at the club and will be released in the summer. Boateng started the season in the starting line-up for the U21s, but has been increasingly marginalised in recent weeks, with 16 year old centre-back Julio Pleguezuelo being preferred to start instead. Boateng, who barely featured during spells with Swindon Town and Oxford United, will be seeking to find a club where he will be guaranteed regular game time in the hope of earning a permanent move next summer.
Arsenal 4 (Gnabry 16, Toral 25, 36, Frimpong 45) Aston Villa 2 (Drennan 53, Burke 75)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Photo by Kieran Clarke
Considering that they had not played competitively for over a month, it can only be presumed that Arsenal U21s were saving their energy for this fixture. That certainly seemed the case in the first-half as a strong Arsenal second-string raced into a four-goal lead at the break against an Aston Villa side who, despite their disappointing defending, gave a positive impression of themselves at the other end of the pitch.
Arsenal’s play became somewhat lackadaisical after the interval, with Villa allowed to reduce the deficit to 4-2, but there were still a plethora of positives to take from this encounter for Steve Gatting and his coaching staff, not least the performance of Jon Toral, who scored twice and completed 77 minutes as he continued his rehabilitation from injury.
There was further welcoming news as striker Benik Afobe completed 90 minutes for the first time since February, with the striker impressing with his link-up play, whilst first-team squad members Emmanuel Frimpong and Serge Gnabry also got on the scoresheet, the latter continuing his impressive recent run of form.
Gatting, whose side remain unbeaten this season, named an extremely strong line-up, with Nico Yennaris, Isaac Hayden and Thomas Eisfeld also featuring, whilst regulars such as Kristoffer Olsson and Chuba Akpom only made the bench.
Villa, in contrast, named a rather inexperienced side that included Lewis Kinsella, who came through the club’s Hale End academy. The opening exchanges contained few goalscoring opportunities of note, but Arsenal were heavily reliant on the aerial prowess of Semi Ajayi, with the centre-back making several important clearances.
Arsenal gradually began to assert themselves on proceedings, with Gnabry a persistent menace down the right flank. The 18 year old cut inside and tested Benjamin Siegrist with a fierce strike before sending a dangerous delivery across the face of the Villa goal.
Villa responded by carving out a chance of their own. Daniel Johnson played a perceptive pass into the path of Graham Burke, with the midfielder forcing a resolute save from Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Macey.
It soon became apparent that Villa were dangerous on the counter-attack, with skilful winger Jordan Graham a useful outlet on the left flank, but Arsenal, despite being forced into some desperate defending at times, were ruthless at the other end and took the lead when Toral sent a precise cross into the area and Gnabry finished adroitly before Siegrist had time to react.
It could have been 2-0 shortly afterwards with Yennaris, operating at right-back on this occasion, delivering a cross which Afobe headed just over, but Macey then had to make two commendable saves in quick succession at the other end.
Photo by Kieran Clarke
Arsenal’s attacking momentum was too much for Villa to handle, however, and Gatting’s side doubled their advantage following a move that was orchestrated by Eisfeld. The German midfielder worked space for himself following a bursting run and delivered a teasing cross that was touched on by Afobe into the path of Toral and the latter made no mistake in beating Siegrist from close range.
The third goal followed shortly afterwards, with Afobe latching onto a long ball and sending a lofted effort over the stranded Siegrist. The ball was destined for the back of the net, but Toral denied Afobe a comeback goal by applying the finishing touch before it crossed the line.
Graham was still an intermittent threat for Villa, but Arsenal continued to create chances aplenty, with Eisfeld shooting just over and Afobe coming close to lobbing Siegrist again after being played through by Frimpong.
Arsenal would make it 4-0 before half-time, however, with Frimpong heading in from a corner to score a rare goal.
The scoreline was rather harsh on Villa, who had posed a threat themselves going forward, but Arsenal had been ruthless in attack and calm in possession.
They were forced into a change prior to the second-half with Stefan O’Connor replacing the injured Pleguezuelo. Arsenal continued from where they had left off, however, with Frimpong and Afobe combining well again, but the latter couldn’t go round Siegrist.
Michael Drennan then shot wide as Villa sought to at least reduce the deficit, and they did just that when Drennan latched onto a horribly misplaced pass from Macey to make it 4-1.
It was notable that Arsenal, perhaps with an element of complacency creeping in, had begun to squander possession rather needlessly after the break. Macey, seeking to atone for his error, made a good save from close range, whilst Villa also squandered a free-kick from an inviting angle following a clumsy challenge from Frimpong.
Photo by Kieran Clarke
Villa received a further reward for their second-half dominance when Burke scored with a shot that Macey perhaps should have been equal to, and the visitors almost found the net again late on, but Arsenal’s first-half performance had been more than sufficient to earn them the three points.
Gatting will no doubt be delighted with several of the individual performances this evening, with Ajayi continuing to grow in stature and Eisfeld also far more involved in the general play than perhaps he has been in the past.
The U21s are next in action away to Norwich City in the new U21 Premier League Cup next week, for which Gedion Zelalem should be available following international duty.