Pleguezuelo aiming to captain U21s to glory before leaving youth football behind

The involvement of Calum Chambers meant that Julio Pleguezuelo had to fill in at right-back for Arsenal U21s last night- certainly not his preferred position- but the Spaniard still coped well and played his part as the young Gunners edged closer to the top tier.

As captain, Pleguezuelo will be determined to lead his side to victory against Aston Villa in next week’s play-off final, but, approaching the end of his third season at the club, now seems to be the time for the former Barcelona prospect to make the step up to senior football in some capacity.

Although not the tallest, the centre-back is quick and an excellent reader of the game, whilst, as you would expect from a La Masia graduate, he is superb technically.

Pleguezuelo’s performances during his first couple of campaigns with Arsenal were almost flawless, but this season his form wavered a little as he made some avoidable errors.

On last night’s evidence, however, the prospect is back to his best and earning promotion would be a fitting way to conclude the season and, perhaps, his involvement at this level.

Pleguezuelo has regularly partnered Krystian Bielik at the back for Arsenal’s youth sides this campaign, but at present it is the latter who seems closer to the first-team set-up.

As a consequence Pleguezuelo may well be sent out on loan next season and the 19-year-old will be determined to make a stellar impact as he seeks to join his compatriot Hector Bellerin in the first-team.

For now, though, Pleguezuelo’s focus will be on ensuring that the U21s earn promotion, even if he might not be playing at that level himself next season.

Report- Willock hits brace and Cazorla assists as Arsenal U21s edge closer to promotion with win over Blackburn

U21 Premier League- Division Two Play-off Semi-Final

Arsenal 2 (C. Willock (49, 80) Blackburn Rovers 1 (Rankin-Costello (64)

By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium

cazorla

Zimbio.com

Arsenal U21s edged closer to promotion to the top tier of second-string football as a brace from the superb Chris Willock was sufficient to overcome Blackburn Rovers at Emirates Stadium tonight.

The young Gunners’ cause was helped by the involvement of several senior players, not least Santi Cazorla, who was excellent on his first appearance of 2016 and provided the assist for Willock’s opener.

Tomas Rosicky, Calum Chambers and Serge Gnabry also featured, but Blackburn managed to equalise after Cazorla’s withdrawal and Arsenal had to battle arduously to regain the lead, which they eventually managed to do when Willock doubled his tally with a fine strike ten minutes from time.

Arsenal now face Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium next week in the Play-off Final.

With Chambers operating at centre-back, captain Julio Pleguezuelo moved across to right-back. Meanwhile, as several players are away at the U17 European Championships, Edward Nketiah, who has been prolific for Arsenal at U18 level, was named on the bench.

Macey

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C. Willock-Rosicky- Gnabry

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Subs: Crowley (for Cazorla, 62). Not used: Huddart, Johnson, Hinds, Nketiah.

Despite Arsenal fielding a significantly stronger side, it was Blackburn that started in the ascendancy, with the visiting team having an effort deflected wide after Stephy Mavididi squandered possession.

Arsenal soon started to come into their own, however, with Gnabry coming close to scoring twice in quick succession before Ben Sheaf’s effort was saved.

Willock was starting to become increasingly influential, with the winger causing numerous problems for the Blackburn defence.

Rosicky and Gnabry both tried their luck, but Arsenal struggled to make the breakthrough against a Blackburn side that was defending diligently.

It appeared increasingly clear that if Arsenal were to break the deadlock then Willock would have a prominent part to play in proceedings. The England youth international did well to find Mavididi, but the striker’s goalscoring touch deserted him on this occasion.

Arsenal kept probing, with Willock and Gnabry having further attempts, but Blackburn managed to get to the interval without having conceded.

Although Blackburn had some sporadic attacks of their own, the general pattern of the game was set by this point, with Arsenal pushing forwards with regularity.

Cazorla, a European Championship winner no less, was clearly playing in second gear, but he was still far too good for this level, with the Spaniard spraying passes around the field with consummate ease.

One such pass helped to finally end Blackburn’s resilience, with Cazorla threading the ball through to Willock, who finished calmly but celebrated wildly.

Arsenal were buoyed by that goal and immediately set about attempting to double their advantage, with Cazorla playing some superb passes.

Having completed 62 minutes, Cazorla was replaced by Dan Crowley and Arsenal suddenly lost all sense of cohesion as Blackburn edged back into the game.

That wasn’t particularly Crowley’s fault, more a reflection on how much the young Gunners had been relying on Cazorla.

Arsenal weren’t able to retain possession quite so well and Blackburn took full advantage, with Joe Rankin-Costello getting the better of Matt Macey.

For a while it seemed as if Arsenal’s hopes of promotion were going to disappear there and then, with Blackburn growing in confidence.

Mavididi missed what, at the time, appeared to be a pivotal chance and extra-time and the possibility of penalties was looming.

Willock, though, had other ideas and proceeded to score the winner with a fine individual strike to send Arsenal through to the Final.

The starlet’s performance tonight provided further evidence to suggest that he could well soon be playing with players such as Cazorla on a regular basis.

 

Malen and the five other Arsenal youngsters seeking to impress at the U17 European Championships

The latest edition of the U17 European Championships gets underway in Azerbaijan this week, and Arsenal will have six representatives at the tournament.

Here’s a look at the young Gunners who will be seeking to make a stellar impact at the showpiece event.

DONYELL MALEN (Netherlands)

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The forward has enjoyed a superb first season with Arsenal, during which he has broken into the U21 side and also trained with the first-team.

Malen is part of a hugely exciting Netherlands side that are amongst the favourites to go all the way in the competition.

MARCUS MCGUANE (England)

McGuane featured in last year’s U17 European Championships for the Republic of Ireland, but the talented midfielder has since switched his allegiance to England.

Excellent at breaking up play, the prospect has established himself as a regular in Arsenal’s U21 team.

REISS NELSON (England)

Perhaps Arsenal’s brightest young talent, the winger has featured for the club at U21 level despite still being a schoolboy.

The prospect has already been mentioned by Arsene Wenger as a potential future first-team player for the club.

YASSIN FORTUNE (France)

fortune

Signed from Lens amidst much hype, Fortune’s Arsenal career has got off to a rather slow start, with the attacker having mainly been restricted to appearances for the U18 side.

Fortune has delivered some impressive performances for Arsenal on the left wing but needs to improve his end product.

TOLAJI BOLA (England)

Bola has featured prominently for Arsenal U18s this season and signed professional terms earlier in the campaign.

The centre-back is still rather error prone but he is highly thought of at international level.

JOAO VIRGINIA (Portgual)

A talented goalkeeper who was signed from Benfica’s academy, Virginia has been impressive for Arsenal in recent weeks.

Virginia is expected to continue as Arsenal’s regular goalkeeper at U18 level next season.

 

Loan report- Akpom hits woodwork; Debuchy features in victory 

  
Mathieu Debuchy played the whole game as Bordeaux beat Troyes 4-2. 

Chuba Akpom played 70 minutes and hit the woodwork as Hull City lost 1-0 to Bolton Wanderers, whilst Isaac Hayden played the whole game. Wellington wasn’t involved for Bolton.

Gedion Zelalem played 74 minutes as Rangers drew 2-2 with St. Mirren in their final league fixture of the campaign. 

Glen Kamara played 70 minutes as Southend United lost 1-0 to Bradford City. 

Emiliano Martinez was an unused substitute as Wolverhampton Wanderers drew 1-1 with Nottingham Forest.

Wojciech Szczesny is expected to feature when Roma face Genoa tomorrow.   

Yaya Sanogo missed out through injury as Charlton Athletic beat Leeds United 2-1. 

Injury meant that Jon Toral wasn’t involved as Birmingham City drew 2-2 with Middlesbrough. 

Ainsley Maitland-Niles wasn’t in the Ipswich Town squad for their 3-2 victory over MK Dons. 

Nketiah hits hat-trick as Arsenal U18s draw 3-3 with Tottenham in De Kat’s final game

U18 Premier League

Arsenal 3 Tottenham Hotspur 3

tella

Nathan Tella (Image: Tottenham Hotspur)

This was Frans De Kat’s final game in charge of Arsenal U18s before he takes up a position with the Dutch FA, and what unfolded really couldn’t have been a more accurate representation of his tenure as a whole.

Arsenal were hugely impressive going forwards, with forward Edward Nketiah scoring a hat-trick to take his tally for the campaign to 24 goals at this level, but the young Gunners struggled in a defensive sense, with Jordi Osei-Tutu and Kristopher Da Graca both scoring own goals, which, in addition to a Aramdie Oteh strike, ensured that the game finished 3-3.

This was chaotic, breathless stuff, but when the dust settles this campaign will be remembered primarily for the brilliance of Nketiah, who, it appears, will end the season top of the scoring charts in the U18 Premier League.

The forward put Arsenal into the lead on this occasion with an astute finish, but it wasn’t long before Tottenham equalised when Osei-Tutu, who has endured a difficult first season at the club, inadvertently turned the ball into his own net.

Arsenal seized control thereafter, with Nketiah scoring twice from difficult angles to put De Kat’s side in the ascendancy.

For a while it seemed that Arsenal would cruise to victory, but Tottenham didn’t give up easily and reduced the deficit through Oteh before Da Graca, on his final appearance at this level, scored an own goal with just eight minutes remaining.

The game finished 3-3, and the season is now over for Arsenal  U18s, with the focus switching to the U21s’ attempts to secure qualification for the top tier via the play-offs.

Goalkeeper Okonkwo earns call-up and Nketiah tops scoring charts as Arsenal U18s beat Sunderland

It wasn’t common knowledge at the time, but Arsenal U18s’ 4-1 victory over Sunderland last weekend was Frans De Kat’s final away game in charge of the young Gunners.

There have certainly been some mixed results during the Dutchman’s two seasons at the helm, and the triumph in the North East was perhaps a typical Arsenal youth display as it contained some woeful defending and some scintillating attacking moves.

De Kat made several changes from the previous fixture and gave a first call-up at this level to U15s goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo.

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Da Graca-T. Bola-Pileas-Robinson

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Subs: Okonkwo, Mourgos, Nelson, J. Willock.

Sunderland took the lead in the 15th minute, with hesitant defending from Kristopher Da Graca providing Joel Asoro with too much time in the penalty area.

Arsenal sought to respond, with Joshua DaSilva doing well to find Edward Nketiah, who, operating in a slightly withdrawn position, could only find the side-netting.

The forward was back to his prolific best shortly afterwards when he latched onto Vlad Dragomir’s ball in and found the net for the 20th time this season.

Nketiah then found the net again to put Arsenal in the lead and also put himself in the lead with regards to the U18 Premier League goalscoring charts. On this occasion the forward applied the finishing touch to a neat move that also involved Donyell Malen and captain Aaron Eyoma.

Substitute Reiss Nelson, who according to reports was dropped from the starting line-up after his mobile phone rang in a pre-match meeting, made it 3-1 after being found by Joe Willock, with Malen then adding further gloss to the scoreline with an astute finish.

Arsenal conclude their campaign this weekend with a game at home to Tottenham Hotspur, and will be eager to exact revenge on their rivals after suffering a 4-0 defeat in February.

 

De Kat to leave but who will replace him as Arsenal’s U18 coach?

Frans De Kat will step down as coach of Arsenal U18s at the conclusion of the current campaign, with the 51-year-old poised to take up a position with the Dutch football association.

De Kat’s tenure hasn’t exactly been positive in terms of results- Arsenal finished bottom of the lowest section of the U18 Premier League last season- but he has helped to nurture some impressive prospects over the past couple of years.

Arsenal U18s, then, find themselves on the lookout for yet another coach, and here is an assessment of some of the potential candidates to fill the position.

KWAME AMPADU

ampadu

Perhaps the logical choice as De Kat’s successor, Ampadu is the current coach of Arsenal’s U16 side, so he inevitably is hugely familiar with the players who will make up the core of the club’s U18 squad next season.

Ampadu has a strong association with Arsenal having featured for the club at youth level as a player before making two senior appearances.

JAN VAN LOON

Another Dutch coach, van Loon joined Arsenal alongside De Kat and has shared U16 coaching duties with Ampadu.

Van Loon has previously worked for the Dutch Football Association and PSV Eindhoven.

THIERRY HENRY

The club’s record goalscorer has been a regular presence at U18 matches this season, helping to provide Arsenal’s youngsters with advice.

With his UEFA A Licence now obtained, Henry is permitted to coach at academy level, but it seems more likely that he will be an assistant coach for the U18s next season as opposed to taking on the main position. 

RYAN GARRY

Another former Arsenal player- indeed an academy product himself- Garry is the current coach of the club’s U13 side, while he also oversaw some U19 training sessions alongside Henry this campaign.

Perhaps stepping up to the U18s next season would be a step too soon for Garry, but he may well be under consideration for the position.

MIKEL ARTETA

Arsenal’s captain is out of contract at the conclusion of the current campaign and has been linked with coaching posts at Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. The 34-year-old has played for Arsenal’s U21 side and is familiar with the club’s youth setup, so could be tempted to remain with the Gunners in a coaching capacity.

CARL LARAMAN

Laraman previously coached Arsenal U18s before stepping up to assist Steve Gatting at U21 level. There is a possibility that he could revert back to his former position given his familiarity with the club’s youngsters.