Iliev sent off as Arsenal U21s lose to Middlesbrough

U21 Premier League

Middlesbrough 3 (Ledesma 16 (pen), Maloney 36, Wildschut 41) Arsenal 2 (Iwobi 31, Crowley 72) 

Zimbio.com

Zimbio.com

An Arsenal U21 side that played the majority of the game with ten men suffered a 3-2 defeat away to their Middlesbrough counterparts this evening, further reducing their chances of returning to the top flight of second-string football next season. 

The young Gunners had goalkeeper Deyan Iliev dismissed for conceding a penalty that was converted by Emmanuel Ledesma and, although they drew level through Alex Iwobi, Arsenal found themselves 3-1 down at half-time.

Dan Crowley’s second-half goal provided Arsenal with a glimmer of hope in their quest to snatch a point, but they failed to get the better of the league leaders and suffered their second defeat in succession. 

 Iliev, who recently signed a new three-year deal with the club, replaced Macey in goal, whilst Renny Smith, who previously spent time on trial at Charlton Athletic, was drafted in at right-back. George Dobson started in the absence of the injured Krystian Bielik, with Julio Pleguezuelo also missing out.

Further forwards Stephy Mavididi started, whilst Gedion Zelalem returned to the fold. The latter was the only first-team squad member on show, with neither Abou Diaby or Serge Gnabry involved.

Iliev

Smith-O’Connor-Dobson-Ormonde Ottewill

Kamara-Maitland Niles

Iwobi-Zelalem-Crowley

Mavididi

Subs: Macey (for Mavididi, 15). Not used: M. Bola, Robinson, Mourgos, C. Willock

Arsenal prevailed with a 2-1 victory when these sides met in the reverse fixture in October, but it was Middlesbrough who created the first chance of the game at the Riverside Stadium, with England youth international Harry Chapman getting the better of Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and sending a cross into the box, but Iliev did well to gather with the dangerous Ledesma lurking.

Ormonde-Ottewill then redeemed himself somewhat, with the left-back receiving the ball from Crowley before crossing towards Mavididi, but the striker’s effort was saved.

Arsenal looked to be building up some momentum, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles shooting just over after good work from Crowley, but their hopes of taking something from this game were hampered by the next major incident in the game.

Iliev, not for the first time in his Arsenal career, was sent off, with the Macedonian failing to control George Dobson’s back-pass before panicking and bringing down Chapman in the area.

The dismissal forced Arsenal into a reshuffle, with substitute goalkeeper Matt Macey replacing Mavididi. Macey couldn’t keep out Ledesma’s penalty and Middlesbrough took the lead.

Arsenal, to their credit, responded well to the setback, with Zelalem, who has often been accused of going missing in matches, at the very forefront of proceedings. The midfielder, who was an unused substitute in the previous two U21 games, saw a shot deflected off target before then playing a neat pass through to Alex Iwobi, who finished well for his seventh goal at this level this campaign.

Arsenal then sought to go ahead, with Zelalem finding Crowley, but the latter couldn’t direct his effort beyond the reach of goalkeeper Connor Ripley.

For all Arsenal’s dominance in that period of the game, however, it was Middlesbrough who would score the next goal, with Lewis Maloney finding the net from 25 yards out with an impressive strike that left Macey stranded.

Middlesbrough found the net again in a similar vein not long afterwards, with Yann Wildschut the scorer on this occasion from 20 yards out.

Macey made a good save to prevent Maloney from inflicting further damage shortly after the interval. The goalkeeper, perhaps providing further evidence as to why he should have started ahead of Iliev in the first place, then did well to deny Chapman.

Arsenal, now a little disheartened, struggled to test Middlesbrough for a prolonged spell and the hosts squandered an inviting opportunity to add further gloss to the scoreline when Maloney shot over.

That missed opportunity seemed to spark Arsenal back into life and they quickly reduced the deficit, with Zelalem initiating a move that culminated in Glen Kamara finding Crowley, who scored his third goal against Middlesbrough this season.

The game started to open up a little thereafter, with Ledesma’s deflected effort forcing Macey to tip the ball over the crossbar.

There were further chances in the dying moments, with Macey making a good save to deny Wildschut and Ripley then doing likewise at the other end to prevent Iwobi from scoring a dramatic late equaliser.

Arsenal were a little fortunate not to have a second goalkeeper sent off in the same game when Macey received just a yellow card for bringing down Ledesma just outside the area. The 26-year-old sent his free-kick just wide and there was no time for Arsenal to respond.

Middlesbrough held on for the victory and seem set to be promoted to the top division of U21 football. Whether Arsenal will be joining them there next season isn’t currently clear, but the young Gunners will have to win the majority of their remaining five fixtures to stand a chance of doing so, starting with the game against Aston Villa at London Colney on Friday.

U18s analysis- what went wrong for Arsenal against Newcastle?

Screen shot 2015-04-20 at 10.50.46

In the aftermath of Arsenal U18s’ confidence-sapping 6-0 defeat to Newcastle United at the weekend several questions were asked about the club’s youth department, the most pertinent of which was how could such a scoreline be allowed to happen?

From the moment that Arsenal submitted a team sheet that contained Aaron Eyoma (who has impressed as a winger this season) at right-back, the inexperienced Toby Omole at centre-back and a defensive-midfield partnership of two attack minded players in Marcus Tabi and Joshua Da Silva, the Gunners’ prospects of taking something from this game looked rather bleak.

After the game coach Frans De Kat didn’t appear too disheartened with the outcome as he stressed that several players had been left out ahead of the two U21 fixtures this week. He also said that the players that were involved will learn much from this encounter, but that is a phrase we have heard before and, in many cases, it has proven to be a hollow one.

Before proceeding to dissect some catastrophic defending, it is worth pointing out that there were at least some positives to take from a dismal encounter.

Winger Reiss Nelson, one of several schoolboys to make his first start at this level, provided some flashes of brilliance, whilst, on the opposite flank, Joe Willock came close to scoring on a rare appearance for the U18s.

There were debuts, too, for U15 players Rob Howard and Emile Smith-Rowe, with the latter showing some good touches late on, but, from a defensive point of view, this was a very disappointing game indeed.

Newcastle took the lead through Jamie Holmes after Eyoma, who is evidently not a right-back, was unable to cut out a cross. Eyoma has played in that position previously, but, with Tafari Moore and Chiori Johnson out injured and Jonatas Centeno having recently left the club, Arsenal are currently without a natural player on the right side of defence.

For a little while it seemed that Arsenal, despite fielding a very young team, would be able to compete with Newcastle, and they came perilously close to scoring on two occasions.

Firstly Nelson cleverly exchanged passes with Edward Nketiah before shooting into the side-netting upon receiving the ball back.

Willock then struck the post as Arsenal enjoyed a rare spell of possession, but normal service was soon resumed as Newcastle proceeded to double their advantage.

Luke Charman was the scorer after the Arsenal defence failed to deal with two crosses in quick succession. The midfield, unsurprisingly given that Tabi and Da Silva aren’t players with natural defensive instincts, was completely overran and that proved to be the case again for the third goal as Newcastle scored a third just moments after Arsenal restarted the game from kick-off.

This goal, however, stemmed from Arsenal’s own ineptitude, with Kristopher Da Graca struggling to control Omole’s overhit pass. Holmes punished him by seizing possession and finishing confidently to make it 3-0.

There was more misery to come for the young Gunners before the interval, with Holmes completing his hat-trick after his effort struck the crossbar and, after much delay, was eventually deemed to have crossed the line. Again Arsenal were at fault defensively, with full-backs Eyoma and Ilias Chatzitheodoridis woefully out of position.

Matters didn’t get any better after the break. Omole was enduring a miserable day, with the youngster almost scoring an own goal after conceding a free-kick in a dangerous area. Ryan Huddart made a good initial save, but he couldn’t prevent the rebound from falling to Jamie Cobain, who made it 5-0.

At the other end Nelson struck the crossbar from a free-kick, but it wasn’t long before Arsenal’s misery was compounded when Kyle Cameron got a decisive touch from a set-piece to put Newcastle six goals to the good.

Seven of the players who started the game for Arsenal were schoolboys, whilst Da Graca and Chatzitheodoridis’ defensive problems were hardly a secret going into the match.

This isn’t the first occasion that the U18s have suffered a mauling in recent times and it appears that it won’t be the last. The lack of quality defenders coming through the club’s Hale End system is a real concern, although some solace can be taken from the fact that the likes of Nelson, Willock, Charlie Gilmour, Tabi and Da Silva (when played in their correct positions) are good prospects for the future.

In recent years, however, there have been far too many inept defenders deployed by Arsenal at youth level. The likes of Zach Fagan and Arinse Uade clearly weren’t up to standard and are now playing non-league football, whilst Omole, on this evidence, looks like he has much work to do if he is to stand any chance of making the grade at the club.

With players such as Stefan O’Connor, Julio Pleguezuelo, Krystian Bielik, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem, Stephy Mavididi and George Dobson having all pushed into the U21s, the U18 side was always going to struggle in the second half of the season, whilst on Saturday the likes of Marc Bola, Tyrell Robinson, Harry Donovan, Ben Sheaf, Savvas Mourgos and Chris Willock were all left out, presumably preserved for the U21s, with Moore, Johnson and Kaylen Hinds were all out injured.

There are two U18 games remaining this season, at home to Southampton and away to Fulham, but it would take quite a turnaround now for Arsenal to avoid finishing bottom of the third tier- the lowest academy league section. Five years ago, spearheaded by Benik Afobe, the U18s won the Academy League title for the second season in succession.

Many changes have taken place since then, most notably the arrival of Andries Jonker as the club’s Academy Manager, but, whilst some intriguing attacking talents are being produced, the same can’t be said of defenders (with the exception of Isaac Hayden).

Playing and losing nearly every week is hardly beneficial for the development of the youngsters involved and their best hope can be to progress to the U21s as quickly as possible and leave the U18s behind. Many of those involved against Newcastle (the likes of Nelson, Joe Willock and Gilmour) will be key players for the U18s next season, but suffering results such as this one is hardly going to do much good for their confidence.

Loan report- Campbell hits the crossbar; Sanogo has goal disallowed

Joel Campbell started on the right wing and played the whole game as Villarreal drew 0-0 with Cordoba. The Costa Rica international hit the crossbar with one effort.

Yaya Sanogo was introduced for the final ten minutes as Crystal Palace lost 2-0 to West Bromwich Albion. The striker found the net late on but his effort was ruled out for offside.

Chuba Akpom was introduced as a substitute in the 89th minute and had little time to make an impact on proceedings as Nottingham Forest drew 3-3 with Blackburn Rovers. Arsenal academy graduate Henri Lansbury was amongst the scorers for Forest.

Wellington started on the right wing but was replaced after four minutes of the second half as Almeria lost 2-0 to Rayo Vallecano.

Jon Toral was brought on in the 79th minute as Brentford drew 2-2 with Bolton Wanderers. The Spaniard created a chance for Harlee Dean before seeing his own attempt cleared.

Carl Jenkinson played the entirety of West Ham United’s 2-0 defeat by Manchester City. The right-back made a good interception to deny Sergio Aguero, but was caught too high up the field at times.

Jack Jebb returned from injury to play the last 12 minutes of Stevenage’s 2-2 draw with Accrington Stanley.

Josh Vickers was in goal as Concord Rangers lost 1-0 to Hayes & Yeading United.

Emiliano Martinez‘s Rotherham United weren’t in action this weekend, but the goalkeeper did play the whole game against Fulham in midweek and made a good save in the 1-1 draw.

Lukas Podolski was an un-used substitute as Inter Milan drew 0-0 with AC Milan.

Ryo wasn’t part of the FC Twente side that lost 1-0 to Utrecht.

Semi Ajayi didn’t make the Cardiff City squad for their goalless draw with Millwall.

Inexperienced Arsenal U18s lose 6-0 to Newcastle

An experimental Arsenal U18s side that contained seven schoolboys in the starting line-up suffered a 6-0 defeat away to Newcastle United today.

Ryan Huddart, Aaron Eyoma, Kristopher Da Graca and Ilias Chatzitheodoridis were the only full-time players who started, with Toby Omole making his first start at centre-back and Marcus Tabi and Josh Da Silva forming an unfamiliar defensive-midfield partnership.

There were more schoolboys on the bench, with right-back Rob Howard and attacker Emile Smith-Rowe earning their maiden call-ups at this level. The latter became the first player to be called up to the U18 squad who was born in the 21st century.

Huddart

Eyoma-Da Graca-Omole-Chatzitheodoridis 

Tabi-Da Silva 

Nelson-Gilmour- J. Willock

Nketiah 

Subs: Keto, Benson, Howard, Smith-Rowe. 

Newcastle started brightly and took the lead through Jamie Holmes with 20 minutes gone.

It was 2-0 18 minutes later, with Luke Charman finding the net from close range, with Holmes completing his hat-trick to give  the hosts a seemingly unassailable lead before the break.

The damage was far from over, however, with goals from Jamie Cobain and Kyle Cameron inflicting further damage on the young Gunners.

Quite why Arsenal chose to leave out the likes of Chris Willock, Savvas Mourgos, Harry Donovan and Ben Sheaf is unclear, but the decision to play a team with so little experience of U18s football certainly backfired.

Frans De Kat’s next game is at home to Southampton.

Which youngsters could leave Arsenal this summer?

Image: Arsenal Mania

(Image: Arsenal Mania) Austin Lipman could leave Arsenal this summer.

There are still some key issues to be addressed for Arsenal at youth level this season, with the U21s seeking to earn promotion back to the top tier, whilst the U18s will hope to avoid the ignominy of finishing bottom of the lowest section for their age group.

Soon after the campaign is over, however, there will, as has become customary at this time of year, be an announcement regarding which of the club’s youngsters will be let go this summer.

As ever, there are some prominent candidates for departure. Semi Ajayi, for instance, has already been informed that he is set to leave when his contract expires at the end of June. The imposing centre-back is currently on loan at Cardiff City but is yet to represent the Championship side at first-team level and is likely to be on the lookout for a new club in the near future.

Another loanee who could find his Arsenal future under threat, but for rather different reasons, is goalkeeper Josh Vickers. The Hale End product has impressed on loan at non-league side Concord Rangers this season, adding to the valuable experience he gained at Canvey Island last campaign. However, with fellow shot-stopper Deyan Iliev having recently signed a new long-term contract with the club, Vickers’ chances of making the grade at Arsenal have been hurt somewhat, despite his considerable talent.

Perhaps the most high-profile young Gunner who is out of contract this summer is midfielder Jon Toral. The Spaniard, who has been an Arsenal player for nearly four years, has provided some tantalising glimpses of his undoubted potential whilst on loan at Brenford this season, but he hasn’t been a regular for the Championship side, and, at the age of 20, he will be looking for first-team opportunities as soon as possible.

The likely option is that Toral will be offered a new one-year deal ahead of another possible loan spell next season, but he will find it difficult to make it in the long term at Arsenal with several midfielders ahead of him.

That is a problem that also faces Jack Jebb, a player who clearly has talent but has seen his progress hampered by several injuries of late. Jebb, who once drew comparisons to Jack Wilshere, is currently on loan at League Two side Stevenage, but it remains to be seen whether he will be offered a new deal at Arsenal.

Austin Lipman, a player who progressed steadily through the ranks at the club’s Hale End academy, is likely to be let go. The hard-working striker spent time on loan at Boreham Wood earlier in the campaign but, despite a goalscoring return against Newcastle United, has recently lost his place in the U21 squad to first-year forward Stephy Mavididi and could see his time at the club come to an end. Lipman represented Charlton Athletic at U21 level this week in their game against Brentford.

Left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, another who has struggled with injuries this campaign, also finds himself out of contract. However, despite persistent concerns about his positioning, the former England youth international should recieve a new short-term deal ahead of a maiden loan spell next season.

Finally, it appears that the club have already made up their minds regarding the two remaining second-year scholars- Renny Smith and Elliot Wright.

Smith, a versatile Austrian youth international, has been told that he is likely to leave and recently spent time on trial with Charlton, whilst defender Wright, who has been with the club for many years, is also set to be released.

In summary, it seems likely that Ajayi, Vickers, Lipman, Smith and Wright will all leave, with uncertainty over the future of Jebb, whilst Toral and Ormonde-Ottewill should be granted extended stays.

Wellington Silva, who finally received his Spanish passport this week, is set to return to the club this summer and link up, initially at least, with the first-team squad.

If all of the above changes take place, then Arsenal’s U21 squad could look something like this next season:

Macey

Iliev

Huddart

Keto

                          Moore- Hayden*– O’Connor-Ormonde Ottewill 

          Johnson-Pleguezuelo-Dobson-M. Bola

                                                                          Chatzitheodoridis

            Bielik*-Maitland Niles

Kamara-Sheaf

 Donovan

    Toral-Zelalem*-Crowley

Iwobi-Jebb-C. Willock

                Eyoma-Mourgos-Robinson

Akpom*

Mavididi

Hinds

*= already member of first-team squad

Players in italics are likely to go on loan at some point next season

Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers and Serge Gnabry will still be classed as U21 players next season but are likely to be with the first-team squad.

U21s report- Wilshere impresses but Arsenal U21s lose to Reading

U21 Premier League

Arsenal 0 Reading 1 (Keown 8)

By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium

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Under-21 games are supposed to showcase the future of Arsenal, but tonight it was a name from the club’s illustrious past that proved to be the undoing of the young Gunners.

Playing against a spirited Reading side, Arsenal fell behind to an eighth minute goal from Niall Keown- son of Arsenal legend Martin- and failed to stage a comeback despite creating numerous opportunities in the second-half.

Jack Wilshere, who played the majority of the game, was impressive and at the heart of many of Arsenal’s attacking moves, but fellow first-team players Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry weren’t at their sharpest, whilst the Gunners’ defending left a lot to be desired at times, with full-backs Julio Pleguezuelo and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill often caught out of position (the former, admittedly, is much more at home at the heart of the defence).

This result, against a Reading side that was already above them in the table going into the match, puts a dent in Arsenal’s hopes of earning promotion to the top tier of U21 football, but from a first-team perspective, Wilshere’s display was encouraging.

Mikel Arteta wasn’t involved on this occasion, with Wilshere operating in a deeper midfield position alongside Diaby. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was deployed further forwards but soon interchanged with Gnabry, who moved into the middle. Elsewhere, Matt Macey replaced Deyan Iliev in goal.

Macey

Pleguezuelo-O’Connor-Bielik-Ormonde Ottewill

Diaby-Wilshere

Maitland Niles-Gnabry-Crowley

Iwobi

Subs: Dobson (for Bielik, 54), Mavididi (for Diaby, 56), Kamara (for Wilshere, 88). Not used: Iliev, Zelalem.

Arsenal were impressive in their dispatch of Stoke City last week and they started confidently here, with Diaby playing a neat pass into the path of Ormonde-Ottewill, who in turn found Dan Crowley, but the diminutive youngster shot over.

Reading scored with their first attack, with Keown rising highest above the Arsenal defenders to direct his header beyond the reach of Macey. Crowley complained that the corner shouldn’t have been awarded in the first place, but the youngsters failed to deal with the set-piece and were made to pay in emphatic fashion.

Arsenal nearly mounted an instant response, with Crowley’s pass just eluding Gnabry, but, as the game started to open up, Reading also came close after Pleguezuelo lost his footing, but Macey was on hand to avert the danger.

Alex Iwobi, who was so impressive against Stoke, then tried to work an angle for himself but his effort lacked conviction, with Crowley’s pass subsequently teeing up Maitland-Niles, who could only find the side-netting.

Reading provided the occasional threat, but Arsenal were seeing more of the ball. The problem was that the Gunners weren’t effective enough when presented with shooting opportunities. Krystian Bielik dribbled forwards and found Gnabry with a superb pass, but the German blazed his effort over the crossbar, with Maitland-Niles, whose form has dipped a little of late, then squandering a presentable opportunity.

Gnabry then shot over again before coming a little closer with a more measured strike and Arsenal were unfortunate not to equalise before the break when Wilshere embarked on a mazy dribble through the Reading defence but saw his effort parried for a corner.

Arsenal created a greater number of chances in the second period, but their finishing still lacked conviction. Iwobi had a shot saved following an intelligent flick from Wilshere, but Arsenal were forced to re-group after Bielik suffered an injury and had to be replaced by George Dobson.

Stephy Mavididi, who scored against Stoke, then replaced Diaby, but the striker failed to make a good connection from a Crowley free-kick.

Wilshere sought to take the game by the scruff of the neck, with the 23-year-old exchanging passes with Crowley before being denied by a well-timed sliding challenge.

Crowley then caused consternation in the Reading defence with a run of his own which led to him finding Mavididi, but the latter’s effort again lacked conviction.

Crowley sent a fierce effort over as Arsenal upped the ante considerably, but still a goal continued to elude the young Gunners.

Reading, organised by the excellent Aaron Kuhl, continued to hold firm despite the incessant Arsenal pressure. Maitland-Niles and Wilshere both came close to scoring in the closing stages, but it was Reading, despite the strength of Arsenal’s side, who emerged victorious.

This was something of a coming back down to earth moment for Arsenal’s U21s after the euphoria of last week’s win over Stoke. Although they enjoyed much possession, there was a severe lack of movement on many occasions, with the requisite runs into space often not being made.

Wilshere’s display, as he linked play effectively, was encouraging, but not too many of the youngsters stood out. Crowley tried his utmost, but at times Reading found it far too simple to exploit Arsenal’s defence.

Quite how many first-team players will remain with the U21 squad for next week’s trip to face Middlesbrough remains to be seen, but Arsenal’s youngsters can’t afford too many more results like this if they want to test themselves against the elite academy sides next season.

Arsenal U18s analysis- Mixed fortunes for Chatzitheodoridis

Screen shot 2015-04-13 at 13.44.19

It is fair to say that Ilias Chatzitheodoridis has struggled at times defensively since joining Arsenal last summer.

The Greek youngster, who is usually deployed at left-back, has frequently found himself caught out of position when representing the U18s campaign, and on Saturday those tendencies were again in evidence during a 2-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers.

It should be noted, however, that Chatzitheodoridis was operating on the other side of defence on this occasion and, whilst he has much to work in a defensive sense, he was perhaps Arsenal’s most significant threat going forwards.

Arsenal started the game in the ascendancy, with Chris Willock doing well to win possession before embarking on a mazy run that culminated in him hitting the post.

It was Bolton, though, who would take the lead, with disappointing defending from Chatzitheodoridis enabling the hosts to work an opening and Tyrell Palmer finding the net to make it 1-0.

Bolton made it 2-0 shortly afterwards. Ennock Likoy-Elumba was the creator-in-chief on this occasion, with his cross finding Ryan White, who scored with the aid of a deflection.

The game could have effectively been over just moments later, but on this occasion Likoy-Elumba’s effort struck the crossbar as Arsenal’s defenders again demonstrated their inability to deal with dangerous crosses.

Chatzitheodoridis, however, went some way towards making amends in an attacking sense as he cut inside cleverly before sending a sublime effort into the far corner of the net.

The second-half was less eventful, but two good saves from Hugo Keto to deny substitute Tyler Garratt kept Arsenal in with a chance of snatching a draw late on.

They very nearly took full advantage of the opportunity, with Chatzitheodoridis seeing his effort clip the crossbar in the last meaningful action of the game.

Afterwards coach Frans De Kat, a little worryingly, expressed his concerns with the players failing to follow his tactical instructions.

Gedion Zelalem captained the side but, despite his relative seniority in comparison to most of the other players on show, the midfielder failed to have much influence on proceedings.

Arsenal’s inconsistent set of results at this level continues. De Kat’s side have three games remaining this campaign- against Newcastle United, Southampton and Fulham.