Toral and Charles-Cook to the fore as Arsenal beat Bilbao and reach NextGen knockout stages

NextGen Series

Arsenal 4 (Hajrovic, Ansah, Toral, Hayden) Athletic Bilbao 2 (Aqueche (pen), Alvarez)

By Jeorge Bird @Underhill Stadium

A spirited Arsenal U19s side made up for their earlier failings in the competition to produce an impressive display and advance to the next phase of the NextGen Series with a 4-2 victory over Athletic Bilbao in an entertaining fixture at Underhill this evening.

Terry Burton’s side knew that they required a win to avoid elimination, and Jon Toral seemed more determined than most to achieve that aim, with the Spaniard finding the net and also teeing up Zak Ansah, who was making his first appearance in the tournament. Sead Hajrovic and the resolute Isaac Hayden also found the net late on, which rendered Bilbao’s two goals meaningless. Arsenal, though, had goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook to thank for some outstanding saves to deny the threatening Bilbao attack.

Arsenal included three players who travelled with the first-team to Olympiacos this week, whilst Samir Bihmoutine came in for Elton Monteiro in defence, with Martin Angha switching to centre-back. Serge Gnabry, Ignasi Miquel and Nico Yennaris were all absent through injury.

Charles Cook





subs: Ormonde-Ottewill (for Bihmoutine, 78), Mugabo (for Toral, 80). Not used: Jeffrey, Lipman, Fagan, Jebb, Iliev.

Arsenal started brightly and Hayden nearly engineered an opening early on, but his through ball just eluded Chuba Akpom. At the other end, Martin Angha, fresh from making his Champions League debut, made an impressive block to deny a Bilbao chance, before Gorka Santamaria’s effort was well gathered by Charles-Cook.

The first meaningful effort of the game came courtesy of Kristoffer Olsson, with the Swedish midfielder, who has looked assured in a deeper midfield role in recent fixtures, seeing a fierce effort deflected over the bar. From the resultant corner, Arsenal opened the scoring with Hajrovic rising high and heading home emphatically past Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Arsenal nearly undone all their good work in an instant, however, when a slack pass from Bihmoutine was pounced upon by Santamaria, but Charles-Cook was again equal to the danger. The Arsenal goalkeeper could do little, however, to keep out Ager Aqueche’s penalty after Hayden was rather harshly penalised for a challenge in the area.

With the sides now level, the game began to open up and it made for an enthralling spectacle, with both sides creating plenty of chances. Angha played a delightful cross-field ball which was knocked down by Olsson into the path of Ansah, and the forward struck a powerful effort over. Ansah had the ball in the net soon afterwards but the strike was correctly ruled out for offside.

Charles-Cook then had to tip a free-kick over his crossbar, before the impressive Unai Lopez twice came close with efforts from distance. Hayden responded with a burst forward but his shot lacked conviction, then Charles-Cook made another fine stop before the interval.

Arsenal emerged from the break with their tails up and came close through Thomas Eisfeld, who had been rather quiet up until that point. Akpom then brushed aside four opponents in one barnstorming move which culminated in Eisfeld, who went down rather theatrically it must be said, winning a free-kick.

Olsson took the resultant set-piece but his effort was saved, but Charles-Cook was being kept busy down the other end, with the 18 year old continuing to add to his repertoire of important stops. Arsenal sensed blood, however, and came close to regaining the lead when Hayden’s cross just eluded the sliding Akpom.

Arsenal finally made it 2-1 when a neat, flowing move eventually culminated in Toral crossing for Ansah to convert his first goal since his return from injury. Eisfeld then went close before the game was seemingly put beyond doubt when Olsson’s cross hit off Angha and, rather fortuitously, bounced into the path of Toral, who turned home to make it 3-1.

Arsenal then introduced Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and Alfred Mugabo into the fray, and shortly afterwards qualification was rubber-stamped when Hayden finished adroitly following a neat ball into the box.

Bilbao refused to give up, and reduced the deficit to 4-2 when Inaki Williams headed past the stranded Charles-Cook, but, despite some late pressure, Arsenal had done enough to prevail and could now face the likes of Barcelona and Inter Milan when the competition resumes in the New Year.

Player ratings:

Reice Charles-Cook- 8- Another brilliant showing from the 18 year old, who made several outstanding saves.

Hector Bellerin-6- Didn’t raid forward as often as usual, but was largely solid defensively.

Martin Angha-7- Captained the side well and made several important clearances.

Sead Hajrovic-7- The Swiss youngster made some important interventions.

Samir Bihmoutine-6- Largely unfazed, he stuck to his defensive duties well.

Isaac Hayden-7- Made some excellent forward runs and also very composed in a defensive sense.

Kristoffer Olsson-7- Demonstrated his sublime skills and played a key role in Hayden’s goal.

Jon Toral-9- Two impressive finishes and an assist for the Spaniard in addition to some sumptuous through-balls.

Thomas Eisfeld-6- Showed flashes of his potential, but the German was not heavily involved.

Zak Ansah-6- Worked hard and took his goal well, even if he did not receive as many shooting opportunities as he would have liked.

Chuba Akpom-7- One sublime piece of skill to bulldoze past the Bilbao defence, he worked hard all evening.


Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill (for Bihmoutine, 78)- Slotted in well at left-back.

Alfred Mugabo (for Toral, 80)- Operated on right flank but too little time to make major impact.

Not used: Deyan Iliev, Jack Jebb, Zach Fagan, Austin Lipman, Anthony Jeffrey.



  1. Charles~Cook, Toral, Olsson, Hayden and Akpom have a bright future ahead in the game , whether it will be with arsenal or another club ……Eisfeld too but he needs to be more consistent during the whole game . The rest are not Arsenal quality …….specially the back four who were pretty poor tonight.

  2. JB! Great report AFC should hire you they have Hajrovic for 1st goal today on website?

    Really like the promise of these youngsters especially Cook and Hayden and Toral!

    I just hope some these youngsters don’t catch the JET syndrome as I follow many on social media sites and some worry me!

    Peace! Who’s your 5 favorite prospects at the moment?

    1. I like the term the “JET sydrome,” Youth player have to find a balace of teensager social life and their professional soccer life and it important that the first team players set a good example and management keep them level-headed.

  3. Great result though the formation appears to be abit experimental. We’ve now guaranteed second At the least i take it considering Bilbao and olympiakos play each other. Hope we get a big team for the second phase personally as it’ll be a great experience for the youth. Btw I wrote an article about wenger if anyone is interested. Kinda my first attempt so go easy :p

    If I’m not mistaken you’re in favour of wenger leaving Jeorge but nonetheless I would like your opinion on this.

    1. I think your article is well written and you make some good points. I just feel that we won’t progress any more under Wenger. He’ll stay here until at least 2014, though.

    1. He can play at centre-back or in central midfield and is very calm on the ball and strong in the tackle. Maybe he doesn’t have as much technical ability as Busquets, but his style of play is similar.

  4. he’s now 16 or 17 year old i think ? and is playing for our reserves in that age i just hope this group of players to win the fa cup and some of them to make it at the first team hayden ,olsson ,toral,eisfeld,bellerin,akpom they are quality and of course to go a long way in nextgen

    1. At this rate we will have plenty of youth players in our first team..The question is… will they keep us top 4 or will they keep us in the EPL. I doubt they will be as good as our 2007-2010 first team with lots of young players and we really played amazing football back then. It was hard to keep our young players but today it is even harder… Never thought we would be another Liverpool so fast after being top 4 for so long.

      1. We’re another Liverpool? Talk about over-reacting. We finished 3rd last season and we’re only 5 points off 3rd now, with over half the season still to go and many of our toughest away games out of the way.

        Ironic how fans complain about the team and manager lacking leadership and mental strength when so many fans completely fold over and declare us out of the running every time we have a little blip.

      2. 5 points may not sound a lot for you but its a very tough job to keep up. And if you haven’t watching the whole season so far we have been piss poor! If you think we suddenly can perform and take those points and secure a top 4 spot than thats you. I have a very hard time to see us fight off unless we sign a couple of players. If we was that good we would be top 4 already and perform very well but thats not the case. The fact that we are losing top class players and not really replacing them is very worrying for the future. Its not a coincidence that we are in this position.The quality is just not there. We will never be able to win the CL and the EPL with this team. NEVER.

        Injuries will come and since we have been so poor with key players out then what tell you that we will be good the other half? This is by far the worse Arsenal team since many many years. This is the first season I am worrying about the top 4 spot.

      3. We haven’t been poor all season, we had a decent start. Picked up a very good win at Liverpool and a decent point at City. Individual mistakes at the back have cost us, as have the injuries to Rosicky, Diaby and Wilshere because we haven’t been able to rotate in midfield so Arteta and Cazorla have been playing 90 minutes every game. It’s only in recent weeks that our performances have dropped as fatigue to the Spaniards (and Podolski, who has apparently been playing with an ankle injury) have taken its toll on our tempo and movement. But Rosicky is back now so Cazorla can have a break and get back to his best. Szczesny and Gibbs are also back so no more Mannone or Santos to make sloppy errors. Vermaelen and Koscielny look to have got back into form after some poor games. Things are getting better rather than worse.

        I think we need a couple of players to secure top 4 and Wenger appears keen to strengthen in January so I’m positive. The moaners are having a field day with us being 10th in the table but 5 points off 3rd is nothing, we’ll have a good run at some point and be right back in there.

  5. Something i have been watching closely this season is the goalkeeping situation. there is a real tussle developing at all levels martinez v shea charles-cook v iliev as well as vickers v huddart v ross. obviously you also have the szcesney v mannone v fabianski situation as well. There is going to be some tough decisions to be made soon and obviously many will falter. i just wonder what the keeping line ups will look like say in 3 years time.

  6. Jeorge, I was wondering…if you don’t think that Wenger is the man to take us forward, what do you think would happen to the youth system, and the chances afforded our youth team players??? Could, or wouldn’t, that mean the end of this blog, and the great work that you do??? You seem to be conflicted in that you don’t think Wenger is the right man, but you want to continue your work, or do you??? Would you rather see someone take over and drive us to a title, by overspending and not giving the youth a chance, or would you rather see us pick someone more similar to Wenger??? I don’t mean this as a personal affront, I just find it strange.

      1. Overspending in itself does not guarantee anything. The clubs which have overspent have all consistently finished below us in the table. One or two have won the CC or the FA Cup – once – but not the PL title. What city and Chelsea have done is not overspending – they have spent hundreds of millions which their owners have poured in and which their owners can afford, even if the undoped club could not. We don’t have anything like the money to buy the title.

  7. True, I see where you are coming from. Would you trust Wenger to appoint his successor, or would you leave that to the board, who are just as much to blame for our current predicament, as Wenger is???

  8. I have to say a word or two about Santi Cazorla and his blatant dive. I think Santi IS an honest man, and I would like to think that in some small way he will own up to the fact that he took a dive there. I just hope the youth know what they are looking at and say to themselves, “I don’t want to do what he did in that particular situation.”

    1. I hate to see our players diving but I have some sympathy for Cazorla here because I can understand his position. Steven Reid took a wild swing of the leg at him and it’s human nature when you see that coming to try and avoid it, I know I would. I wouldn’t just let him kick my foot off! In this case I feel Gareth Bale’s pathetic excuse of “I’m trying to avoid injury” might actually be justified.

      PS. I’ve seen an image of the incident where it appears Reid might have made contact with Santi. It’s only slight contact, but at the force that Reid swung his leg it would have still hurt like hell.

  9. Naaaaa mate…I’ve been on the end of some nasty challenges and collisions, not just in football, but hockey and basketball, and I can say that without hesitation that that was a dive of immense proportions. Reid swung his leg, BUT then you could see him hesitate and take it away mid-swing. He halted the momentum that would have caused any sort of injury to him. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the media should make as big a deal of it as they are going to, but it was a dive. An epic dive!!!:D I can’t get too angry, but I still think we should be educating our players that that type of conduct is unacceptable.

    1. I didn’t say it wasn’t a dive, I said I sympathised with Cazorla. I think he acted on instinct to avoid a hard kick to his leg, and will probably now be unfairly branded a ‘diver’ after one incident (as Eduardo as) when the likes of Bale, Young and Suarez were guilty of simulating for months and years before they gained any sort of reputation. While the likes of Rooney and Gerrard have been at it for a decade and are widely thought of as ‘good, honest English pros’.

  10. I have slowed the tackle right down on HD and there IS the slightest of contacts, very similar to the eduardo v celtc tackle. You can actually see santi’s foot stop and very slightly move backwards at the point of impact. I would say he has gone down easily upon impact but nevertheless there is a definte touch

  11. Yeah, I know, the media will jump all over this one…I would like to think that you are right about him just trying to avoid contact and not diving for a penalty, but this isn’t the first time he’s gone down after minimal to no contact. He did it recently, (against Villa I think???) and will gain a reputation if he doesn’t stop doing it. Common sense, and not a technicality regarding contact, would dictate that he has no business going down in that situation, and I will not stand up for him in this instance. It was a dive.

    I’m happy that we won though. Wilshere really deserved a goal or an assist or two for his efforts. Gervinho again got in to good positions, he just can’t seem to finish, and then Lukas came on and skied the only chance he got. Hopefully next time they will finish off the chances created for them, but I wouldn’t hold my breath regarding Gervinho. If he scores, it’s nice, but his finishing is less consistent than Walcott’s was a couple of years ago. He wasn’t a bad buy for 10 million pounds though. Just not the type of player who should be starting week in week out for us. I would put Santi over on the wing for a bit and re-integrate Rosicky, just to mix it up a bit and see what happens. People forget that Rosicky was very good playing the left side for us in 2007-08 before he got injured. Granted, that was five seasons ago, but still I think he and Santi could exchange positions to great effect.

  12. Its contact for sure. And it might not been a bad injury but that will still hurt a lot for a few second or minute. If Cazorla and Arsenal get punish for this then the football organization can go to hell. I never seen punishment for Ronaldo. It must be because they have bet on the game and don’t wanna lose money.

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