Youth sides reach halfway point as Akpom signs professional contract

They may have been helped by a clutch of first-team players along the way, but Arsenal U21s secured their first win for over a month as they dispatched of Reading with a 2-0 win at Underhill last night and, in doing so, Terry Burton’s side ensured that they will be in a prominent position in the table going into the second half of the opening phase of the newly-restructured season at this level.

Everything had started so swimmingly for Burton, as following a largely impressive pre-season, he guided his new charges to three successive victories at the start of the campaign, with nine goals scored in the process and only one conceded, including two successes at Emirates Stadium. It was always thought, though, that despite their successful start to the campaign, the real test for the youngsters would come on the road, and they certainly found it difficult in less familiar surroundings, suffering consecutive defeats to West Ham and West Bromwich Albion before yesterday’s return to form.

Several players who started the campaign in the U21 side have since departed on loan, including Conor Henderson, Craig Eastmond, Sanchez Watt and Chuks Aneke, but their experience has been more than made up for in recent games as several members of the first-team squad have received run-outs, not least Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong, who, still under-21 themselves, have been using fixtures at this level to boost their fitness following lengthy lay-offs.

There have also been several encouraging performances from those seeking to join the likes of Wilshere and Frimpong in the first-team set-up. James Shea, who lacked height and authority in his early years, is now a composed, reliable shot-stopper, as demonstrated by his superb display against Reading last night, and the 21 year old benefitted greatly from Damian Martinez’s dismissal in the opening game of the season against Bolton Wanderers.

It could still be the case that Shea will not have a future at the club beyond this season, with his contract due to expire in June and Martinez still regarded as the more promising talent, but the former Dagenham & Redbridge loanee is at least giving the Arsenal coaching staff something to think about.

Serge Gnabry has not featured with regularity at U21 level so far this campaign, with his talents often being saved for the NextGen Series, but when he has been called upon, the young German has demonstrated just why Arsene Wenger is such a big admirer of him with some sublime pieces of skill, lots of threatening running and several fierce shots on goal.

Hector Bellerin has also demonstrated much improvement defensively to add to his attacking strengths, whilst Jernade Meade has been a solid and effective presence on the left flank, whether at left back or in his previous position on the left wing.

Chuba Akpom, meanwhile, has perhaps been the surprise star of the season, with the forward, who only turned 17 today, being fast-tracked to the U21s to such an extent that he is yet to feature for Pat Holland’s U18 side so far this campaign. Although there is still a lingering impression that his myriad talents are better suited to a wide role, Akpom has continued to develop and scored his first goal of the campaign last night. That was followed by the signing of his maiden professional contract this morning and, so far, the England youth international has adapted well to his more senior surroundings.

The U18’s form has been more patchy, although last weekend’s heavy loss to Reading did bring a five game unbeaten run to an end. Holland has rallied the troops following the hefty opening day defeat to Bolton, but has found his resources considerably stretched at times with the likes of Gnabry, Bellerin, Kris Olsson and Akpom featuring heavily for the U21s. Jon Toral, who has demonstrated his ability on numerous occasions for the latter age group so far this campaign, is likely to follow that trio in being promoted, meaning Holland will have to draft in several schoolboys, such as Jordan Brown and Gedion Zelalem, into his squad as the season progresses.




    1. I think his skills and pace can be a threat on the flanks. he has good shooting ability and I think that he will grow into the centre forward role over time, but it is a lot to ask for a 16 year old to compete with two imposing centre-backs. he is doing a good job up front, but i think his qualities could be utilised even better out wide.

    1. I think it’s Anekes number when he comes back from Crewe, Akpom will get 67. But we will see it when he will be added to the UEFA pages.

      1. And i think you will find that Danny will get 42 when he comes back, it’s been left side for him in alphebetical order.

      2. Jeorge & I discussed via twitter before. Afobe & Aneke particularly own 33 & 34, 35 was for Bartley, 36 was chosen by Martinez, 37 should go to Akpom being the next alphabetical (knowing he was in line for a pro deal) and the rest takes care of itself.

        But that’s just what I thought and said a few weeks ago.

      3. Well someone better tell uefa and the.premier league as boateng is registered as no. 37 with both bodies. i think i will run with those and jeorge who is pretty much on the button.

      4. Yeah, you could be wright Swifty, and i quite hope you do ’cause i kinda like it if Afobe and Aneke have got permanently 33 & 34, but i doubt it. I think there’s no number for Afobe at all this season ’cause he will be on loan all season and 37 have been left aside for Aneke when he comes back. In that theory there’s free numbers for first team if needed; 32, 33, 34 & 35. But of course i might be all wrong, we will see that when Akpom will be added to the Champions League squad list and when the loanees come back if their loans will not be extended, Aneke’s coming Nov12 and Boateng before the new year. Have a nice evening Swifty, don’t try to argue with you, just wanna put my view out and have a discussion of it.

      5. bc, Boateng’s not in UEFA list and in premier league list he’s 37 but there’s also 41: Luke Freeman and 17: Alex Song, so we shall see

      6. In premier league pages there’s also 36. Aneke, 33. Eastmond, 44. Henderson & 46. Lansbury, so you can see how reliable source it is. (Eastmonds number is 44, Hendersons 50)

  1. When is Zak Ansah expected to return? It will be interesting to see how the U21s might look when he’s back. Whether one of Ansah or Akpom will sit on the bench (or be rotated, only one playing at a time), or if Burton will try to play both, and in that scenario which one will be pushed wide.

    1. Akpom can play behind the striker and out-wide as well. Ansah played a number of positions last season deep in centre-midfield, number ten role, striker, out-wide etc.

    2. I had forgotten about Ansah playing deep in midfield, but I doubt that will happen again any time soon with the competition we have in that area. Even with Eastmond, Henderson and Aneke out on loan Toral and Jebb still find themselves in the U18s. I can’t see Ansah or Akpom playing anywhere other than in the front three.

      1. Toral is only playing for the U18’s because Frimpong and Jack are in the U21’s at the moment. Once Wilshere is back in the first-team and Frimpong out on loan the midfield will be Yennaris-Toral & Olsson/Eisfeld/etc

  2. Interestingly U21, U19 & U18 have all yet to win away from home so might be a case of a little bit more mental strength required.

    1. Nothing say they can’t get a pro when the season is over. Its all about performance. This U18 team look special to me. Lets see if the national team will recognize them.

  3. Hayden and BOO were called up to the England u18’s. Chuba wasn’t called up, but he’s a regular with the u19’s so far. I am happy for BOO, he didn’t get a call to u17’s so I thought he was out of the picture, but his call up is fully deserved he’s been brilliant so far. Hayden as well.

    1. Lipman and Jebb is being over looked? I can understand Lipman though because he hasn’t scored a lot. Its still nice to see our boys being called up to the national team.

  4. I read one of the Arsenal youngsters say tha Guideon Zalelem is brilliant technically. Anyone have a chance to watch him play?

  5. I don’t care how our players play for England, or if they even play for England at all. At any level. Until England lose some of their rather unsavoury characters, such as Terry, Lampard, Ashley Cole, Rooney, Gerrard etc,etc, I will never cheer for them!!! I used to cheer for them, but ever since these players have been playing for them, I have cheered for other nations, including my own, which is Canada. The only good thing about England caps, is that it SOMETIMES means our players are playing well enough to merit a cap in the first place. Walcott just got injured and will be out for a large amount of time, by the looks of it, playing for a team represented by shits…makes your day, doesn’t it???

    1. It’s important for our young players to make the England youth teams, not because representing England is so important, but to be amongst the best players in their age group. A player who has a chance at making it at Arsenal will be regularly called up for the 17’s, 19’s and 21’s as the level needed to make England youth teams isn’t all that high. If you can’t make those teams then you have little chance at making the first team.
      I usually watch to see which of our player make it in the England 16’s, so I know which ones to look out for in the future. So far this season, Tafari Moore. Denzeil Boadu and Ryan Hudart have been called up for England and I think at least Moore and Boadu will play in the 18’s this season as well.
      Jebb and Lipman didn’t get a callup in for the England 18’s and Lipman certainly hasn’t deserved one so I’m not surprised at all. Jebb has stronger case but he hasn’t really impressed me this season either, I was not really shocked. Both will need to raise their games to get back in the England squads and if they can’t to do that, their certainly not making it at Arsenal.

      1. dont know why but i have a good feeling about lipman and jordan brown who hasn’t been named in the latest squad. Good to see boadu getting a call up and its really a shame huddart belongs to the same generation as vickers and rcc as they’re all quality but only one is likely to make it. I’m not english but have been living in the country for quite some time and support them as a result but nothing beats arsenal for me!

      2. You are wrong. Alot of things can happen and getting a call up for england is HUGE deal because the level is extremely high. England is one of the top sides in the youth side and the competition for places is deadly hard. But its not everything. Ormonde-Ottewil was only called up once or twice since U16. rhys murphy was called up regularly and JET none. Eastmond none. Our U18 was winning FAYC and the league but only 2 or so got a called up for the national team. We had some of the best players in the same team and almost every single one of them is making it as a footballer. Why didnt they get a call up? Because the national coaches is stupid. They have their own style in their mind already and will pick the players needed to play that style.

        Bould would have chosen different players for the national team and so would wenger do. You can only tell if someone will make the first team if they play great in the reserve and whenever they get a chance to play in any league. Its damn hard to tell from national team pick. And then the second point is you have to do good for the national team too.

        For me its from the age of 17 you can really tell the quality expected for that player. Then at 19-22 you should see it even clearer where he will end up. But you can’t decide only from national team pick. League matches for U18 is very important too and U21.

      3. A86

        I have a good feeling about Lipman too. His link up play is really good. I am sure the goals will come. JET was most likely better than a few in the national team but he never got picked.

      4. Jom I agree that England youth team callups are decided by many different factors and certainly not a requirement for a professional career, but the level required to make the Arsenal first team is immense and is much higher bar than any England youth team. A player capable of forcing himself into the first team will force himself into the England sides along the way. Both Frimpong and Wilshere have been called up at all youth levels, though Frimpong hasn’t always accepted them, and Gibbs has played in the 19’s and 21’s.

      5. G

        If you are playing for Arsenal you are a good player. For arsenal not to have national team players is almost a failure. Look at our current u18 team, quite a few gas played for England but most likely 2 or less will make the first team. I am not saying this cant change but to be able to make it you need to be one of the best in the world at your age. If our u18 is winning the league by a convincing way, you know we got real quality in there. Same goes for U21. You get picked by the u19-u21 if you are good for arsenal first team I feel. The coaches would have been even stupider not to pick those players that are actually playing for the senior side. Like why is eastmond not getting a chance for u21 when he get a chance for arsenal?

        Talent and quality will be spotted in arsenal. We don’t need the national team to recognize the talent we have. We aim to develop them for the first team and if they are good for us they will be good for the national team too. Being good is not enough for Arsenal. You have to be world class. Being good for the national team is ok.

    2. It’s nice for the guys to get called up, it should be an honour for them to represent their country and it’s also a bit of recognition; that they are the best players in the country at their age.

      But in terms of their development, if they’re an Arsenal academy player I don’t believe it will be a very valuable experience. In many respects it’s a step down from what they’re used to – the facilities, the coaching methods and their team-mates are all likely to be inferior to what they have at Arsenal. The only plus point would be the experience of travelling abroad and playing against foreign, possibly superior, opposition. Yet even that’s not as valuable as it was now Arsenal are involved in the NextGen series.

    1. Cheers for that, it’s a great find. I like little things like that, when you get to find out a bit more about a player. Chuba seems like a driven, hard working kid by the looks of it, working on his fitness during his summer off and making the most of his chance. It makes you wonder whether guys like Lansbury or JET ever put in that sort of extra work, which I somehow doubt! And guys who were always injured like Randall, Murphy, Bunjaku, was it just bad luck or did they not care enough to spend time in the gym and be as well conditioned as they could be? I keep saying it, making it has as much to do with these kids’ personalities as their talent.

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