PAL Final- Arsenal 5 Forest 3- Afobe hits hat-trick as Arsenal retain title

Benik Afobe scored a hat-trick as Arsenal under-18s defeated a spirited Nottingham Forest side 5-3 to retain their Premier Academy League trophy at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon. In front of a small crowd, the Gunners started sluggishly and fell behind but Afobe levelled before setting up Luke Freeman to put Arsenal 2-1 ahead. Afobe made it 3-1 just before half-time but Forest halved the deficit early in the second period. However, ensuing penalties from Afobe and Freeman ensured that the trophy remained with Steve Bould’s side.

Bould made just one change from the side that defeated Manchester United on penalties in the semi-final on Friday, with Oguzhan Ozyakup, Arsenal’s goalscorer in that fixture, replacing Roarie Deacon, who dropped to the bench. Deacon was joined by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Kyle Bartley, who recently returned from loan spells at Doncaster Rovers and Sheffield United respectively.






subs: McDermott, Bartley, Deacon, E.Thomas, Meade.

Arsenal were surprisingly slow out of the traps and, after a couple of minutes in which both sides attempted to adjust themselves to the prestigious surroundings, it was the visitors who created the first opportunity. Captain Nico Yennaris was exposed down the right and Mullen zipped past him before firing into the side netting.

It would be a harbinger of things to come because, just moments later, the same scenario occurred on the left, only this time with significantly more severe consequences. Cedric Evina had gone walkabout and Thomson marauded into the vacated space and crossed for Elliot to slot home.

If anything was going to wake Bould’s side from their slumber, then that was it and they attempted to respond immediately with Conor Henderson having a shot deflected for a corner following a neat interchange. Afobe then had a penalty claim turned down but Forest were still threatening intermittently and Ignasi Miquel had to be alert to block the danger on one occasion, whilst Diagne drilled a shot wide another.

Arsenal, though, were slowly beginning to click into gear. Henderson found Freeman with a lofted ball but the latter’s header on goal was tame. Ozyakup then had a ferocious shot blocked, whilst Chuks Aneke drilled a good effort narrowly wide following a well-delivered cross by Evina.

Frimpong and Henderson then tried their luck from free-kicks to no avail before Arsenal finally made the breakthrough. It came courtesy of one of Henderson’s trade mark long passes. Afobe latched onto it and saw his shot saved before exchanging passes with Freeman and slotting home for his 18th goal of the season. This was more like it from Arsenal and, under normal circumstances that goal could be said to be worth the admission price alone.

Arsenal were determined to go into the break on top and Evina was proving a useful outlet down the left, crossing for Aneke who headed just over. Ozyakup perhaps should have done better after a poor punch from the Forest ‘keeper presented him with a decent opportunity and the Dutchman had another effort saved by the ‘keeper after good work from Henderson.

The Gunners finally took the lead five minutes before the break, with Aneke threading in Afobe for a simple finish. It had to be said Bould’s side deserved it after recovering from their disappointing start. The half ended with Henderson and Aneke both coming close with further efforts but Arsenal were content to go into the break 2-1 up.

Arsenal’s vibrancy didn’t lose its  momentum during the interval as they burst out of the traps in the second period. Aneke, who was proving to be a real handful for the Forest defenders, slotted in Freeman who shot straight at the ‘keeper after some nimble footwork.

Then, out of nowhere, Forest struck to reduce the arrears, with Thomson slotting past Shea in a similar fashion to the first goal. Complacency, it seemed, had got the better of Arsenal and they had paid for it.

That setback only made the Gunners even more determined to put the game to bed. Henderson saw a shot blocked after being played in by Afobe and then the latter was awarded a penalty after being brought down in the area following a clumsy challenge. The England u-17 international stepped up himself and slotted it right down the middle to complete his hat-trick and put Arsenal back ahead.

Subsequently, Freeman saw a shot saved and then Arsenal were awarded another spot kick when Afobe was brought down again by Wilson. Freeman stepped up this time and hit it to the ‘keepers right.

That, it seemed, would be that as far as the game and the league title was concerned, but again Arsenal switched off and allowed Forest to carve them open almost immediately after the restart, with Mullen tucking home on this occasion.

Again Arsenal went forward in response and Miquel saw a header acrobatically cleared before the game finally was done and dusted once and for all with nine minutes remaining. Aneke found Afobe who unselfishly crossed to Freeman to finish and make it 5-3.

There were further opportunities to make it six, with Aneke and Afobe both coming close but that, in the end, was just enough.

In conclusion it was a microcosm of the season: superb going forward but fragile at the back. The latter was disregarded as Yennaris and co. hoisted the trophy aloft in front of the small crowd. Arsenal have worked extremely hard behind the scenes to nurture these players and build for the future. Hopefully this won’t be the last time the likes of Afobe and Aneke in particular are engaged in celebration at Emirates Stadium.

Player Ratings:

James Shea-6-Defence was rather to blame for the goals although he could have commanded his box better.

Nico Yennaris-6-Recovered from early blip and improved but is so much better in central midfield.

Daniel Boateng-6-Occasionally went missing

Ignasi Miquel-7- Still some errors to iron out but the signs are promising

Cedric Evina-6-Same old story. Weak defensively, dangerous going forward.

Emmanuel Frimpong-6-Broke up play well and started attacks.

Conor Henderson-6-Wasn’t at his vibrant best but still played some good passes.

Oguzhan Ozyakup-6-Had to come inside to be comfortable but didn’t exert as much influence as he would have liked.

Chuks Aneke-8-Says he’s not like Emmanuel-Thomas but he was reminiscent of him today. A real driving force.

Luke Freeman-7-Isolated at times but worked tirelessly and got his reward.

Benik Afobe-9-Can often go un-noticed for large periods but is deadly when the ball is at his feet.

subs not used : Sean McDermott, Kyle Bartley, Roarie Deacon, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Jernade Meade.



  1. Why were JET and Kyle Bartley allowed to be in the squad? I thought PAL was for U-18 players only. JET is already 19 and Bartley will have his next week.

  2. John Leake :Why were JET and Kyle Bartley allowed to be in the squad? I thought PAL was for U-18 players only. JET is already 19 and Bartley will have his next week.

    Overage players rule.

    1. It’s a good question. It must mean that both JET and Bartley were still eligible to play u-18 this season. I believe that if they both were still 18 by August 1 of last summer or something like that, then they were still eligible to play u-18 this year…could be wrong though. Jorge…?

      If they were still eligible for u-18’s this year that says a lot about our youth academy because both performed extremely well in the Championship this year, and Wilshere, who was definitely sill eligible to play U-18 level, did extremely well on loan in the Prem.

      The future is bright…the future is Arsenal!

  3. You are allowed three outfield players who were under-19 at the start of the season. Afobe is very, very good. You have to see his finishing ability in the flesh to appreciate just how good he is at scoring. The real test for him will be whether he can score with such regularity in the Reserves.

  4. Jeorge bird is disagree i thought aneke and freeman were our best players over 90minsutes they showed they are arsenal players for me.

    Conor henderson you can see the kids got talent but needs to to perform for longer durations.

    Miquel could be quality if only he could sort out little basic mistakes he does.

    I think arsenal need to sort out thier defence. I thought Shea was fantastic

    1. Completely agree. Freeman in particular was superb. Quick, intelligent and energetic – very interesting left foot.

      Aneke had a decent game – some excellent moments some sloppy moments. Looks very promising. same for Henderson.

      Afobe Is an interesting one….not sure he has ‘everything’ technically but has superb pace and power. His finishing is 7/10. imo.

  5. Aneke and Freeman had very good games but Afobe deserves to be commended for his clincialness. Football is about goals, after all. I agree about Henderson, he can play some superb passes but is not always consistent. As for the defence, Boateng and Miquel need to start playing together again with more regularity to rekindle their partnership , Yennaris is not a full back and Evina is much better going forward.

  6. Afobe scored a hat-trick and assisted 2 more goals today, yet honestly, I don’t think his performance was as excellent as those stats suggest. He missed a few chances in the first half that were set up for him by the brilliant Chucks Aneke. I will commend him very much for his movement off the ball though. It was excellent and gave the Forrest defense lots of problems.

    Luke Freeman was a stand out player for me today. He also has fantastic movement off the ball and a phenomenal work rate. He buzzes around the back four and is always alert and looking for holes to slide into. He was excellent today. Luke Freeman reminds me a lot of Craig Bellamy in his style…extremely pacy, hard worker, strength that belies his size, and very strong technically. Don’t get me wrong, I think he can become a better player than Bellamy, but his style reminds me a lot of Bellamy’s.

    However, the best player on the pitch for me was young Chucks Aneke. What a talent this kid is. He was the clear playmaker of the team. He controled the attack beautifully, spraying decisive passes all over the park and setting up the forwards with defense-splitting passes. His size and immense technical ability were far too much for the Forrest players to handle. He looked very much like the most mature and the most experience player on the field, and yet he doesn’t turn 17 for another 2 months… He’s an amazing talent…potentially on par with Wilshere!

  7. Is Afobe going to become the new JET? I mean in the sense that whatever he does, he will not be able to win over some fans. Just to say that Ian Wright didn’t have everything technically either, but he scored a shed load of goals for us and we loved him. I agree that Freeman is a fantastic worker and intelligent player. But he needs to prove that he can score goals regularly. That’s the job of a striker. Frankly i’d like to see them both make it, i don’t see why it has to be either or….

  8. I just think Luke freeman is a better all round player than afobe.

    I have seen most of the game and i got say freeman has improved so much hes gone stronger, faster, better tactically, his game undestanding is so much better.

    Hes a good dribbler, great left foot and very composed in the final third. He looks an Arsenal first team player. I think he could break through next season. He suits arsenal playing style.

    Hes got the David villa kind of playing style very unpredictable , quick feet, scores goals including headers and both footed as well

  9. “I thinkk he [Luke Freeman] could breat through next season.” …slow down there cowboy!

    Freeman is an excellent player. For me he was better than Afobe in both the semifinal and the final yesterday. That said, I do not rate him a better player than Afobe overall, and you have to consider that he’s more than a year older than Afobe.

    Arsenal’s strike force next year will be RVP, Chamakh, Bendtner, Eduardo, Vela, with Walcott and Arshavin alternating btw. wing and striker.

    Freeman isn’t even a stone’s throw from that group…he’s miles from that group. Some may say that Vela is vulnerable to a threat from Freeman but this is nonsense. Veala, despite a lot of playing time and despite fan frustration is still developing. He has become a proven international goal scorer for Mexico and the notion of Freeman displacing him or any other of our strikers next season is fantasy, plain and simple.

  10. KC why not? Freeman could get a few games in the carling cup etc.

    No i dont mean freeman will be in the first team squad i mean he could play some first team games fa cup, carling cup maybe champions league.

    Luke freeman will only get better as well but technically hes looks ready for arsenal hes a clever player knows when to drop deep, stay on the last man, how to bring a full back in, come inside, when to dribble his decisiona making is very good and nearly always right. And he doesnt give the ball away in the final third which is so important

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