It is now mathematically impossible for Arsenal under-18s to retain the Premier Academy League title, an honour they had won in the previous two seasons, after they suffered a 1-0 defeat to their Tottenham Hotspur counterparts in a tempestuous encounter at Spurs Lodge, Chigwell, this morning.
Coach Steve Bould was forced to make several changes from the side that went down to Watford last week. Sean McDermott is on international duty and was replaced in goal by Reice Charles-Cook, whilst, with Martin Angha also absent, second-years Sead Hajrovic, Daniel Boateng and Jernade Meade came into defence, with the latter making his return from injury.
subs: Vickers, Akpom, Hayden, Rees, Jebb.
After a sluggish start to the game which saw several full-throttle challenges committed, both sides struggled to create clear-cut openings early on. Kyle Ebecilio’s teasing cross from the left was well dealt with, whilst Zak Ansah was presented with a half-chance but couldn’t direct his effort on target.
Charles-Cook was then called into action after Jamie Edge was robbed in possession, with the goalkeeper doing well to parry from a Spurs breakaway. The hosts squandered a headed opportunity from the resultant corner.
At the other end, Sead Hajrovic did well to get forward down the right and picked out Ansah, but the striker, who was surprisingly omitted from the recent England under-17 squad, couldn’t exert enough power behind his effort.
The best chance of a fairly mundane opening period came when a neat sequence of passing culminated in Ebecilio curling a lashed effort into the side netting. Elton Monteiro did well to clear a potentially dangerous situation at the other end but, if truth be told, the first half was forgettable fodder.
The second period was considerably more sprightly, with both sides creating several attacking opportunities. Alban Bunjaku, who had been quiet up until that point, saw his corner punched away, with Jordan Wynter trickling the knock-down wide of the target.
Ebecilio then found Ansah, who had another shot parried, before Boateng was in action at both ends, first coming close to opening the scoring with a header before making a vital interception when Tottenham looked threatening.
Spurs had a couple of chances of their own, but neither really troubled Charles-Cook, whilst the nasty side to the game reared its head again when Tottenham felt a foul should have been awarded for a challenge by Meade. Play was waved on, and the Gunners very nearly capitalised, with both Ebecilio and Meade having shots blocked before Jeffrey Monakana fired wide.
Charles-Cook made a couple of simple saves, but Arsenal were creating plenty of chances of their own. Meade, who was dangerous going forward from left-back, picked out Wynter, who saw his effort pushed round the post. Then a fine move involving a Wynter back-heel and a cross from Hajrovic resulted in another chance for Bunjaku, but again he fired wide.
Bould responded by making a triple substitution. Josh Rees came on at right-back in place of Monteiro, with Hajrovic switching to centre-back, whilst Jack Jebb and Chuba Akpom, who were both mightily impressive for England under-16s in midweek, replaced Edge and Monakana.
Ebecilio received a yellow card for an exceptionally late challenge, before Tottenham proceeded to score the only goal of the game in bizarre fashion. Nothing seemed on when a long punt up field from the hosts saw the ball fall to Meade, but he headed the ball across the face of goal towards Boateng who, in turn, headed back towards Charles-Cook. It was a dangerous move and proved to be a costly one as a Spurs player stole in to score.
Boateng was visibly distraught and it was definitely a throwaway goal, but, up until that point, the defender had been one of Arsenal’s most promising players.
Meade then had to clear off the line when Kudos Oyenuga got the better of Charles-Cook, with the latter making a superb save shortly afterwards to prevent Arsenal from slipping further behind.
Jebb and Bunjaku, two of the most technically skilful players on the pitch, then combined, but the latter shot wide again. Arsenal then had a seemingly legitimate claim for a penalty turned down when Ebecilio’s cross appeared to hit an out-stretched arm, before Bunjaku and Ansah both had shots blocked.
Ansah came close with another effort, Meade had a free-kick saved and Bunjaku fired wide again after good skill from Akpom had conjured up an opportunity but, ultimately, this proved to be another example of an Arsenal side not taking their chances.
Reice Charles-Cook- Blame for the goal laid with his defenders, and made some important stops throughout.
Sead Hajrovic Seems more comfortable at right-back and got forward well early in second-half.
Daniel Boateng An impressive, sold performance up until his involvement in the farcical goal.
Elton Monteiro Some good interceptions but can appear too causal in possession.
Jernade Meade Left some gaps defensively, but dangerous going forward.
Jamie Edge Has improved technically but still dithers for too long in possession.
Jordan Wynter Made some important tackles and contributed to the attacking movement.
Kyle Ebecilio Caused several problems with good balls into the box.
Alban Bunjaku Involved in several good passages of play, but should have taken his chances.
Jeffrey Monakana Worked hard up front seeking openings, but only had one real chance.
Zak Ansah Good link up play, but could have been more clinical.
Josh Rees (for Monteiro) Added urgency at right-back, although didn’t get forward as much as he would have liked.
Jack Jebb (for Edge) Ability is plain to see, although couldn’t quite find the right pass on this occasion.
Chuba Akpom (for Monakana) Struggled to get into game, but one superb piece of skill after drifting out wide.
* Jeffrey scored twice as the under-16s beat Spurs 4-1.