U18 Premier League
Arsenal 5 Blackburn Rovers 0
It’s safe to say that the first half of this season hasn’t exactly run smoothly for Arsenal’s U18s. The dismissal of coach Pat Holland after less than two months in the job wasn’t particularly helpful, whilst the young Gunners have struggled for consistency after many of their leading lights, such as striker Chuba Akpom, stepped up to the U21s on a full-time basis.
Today, though, Steve Gatting’s side ensured that the year will end on a positive note as a strong Arsenal outfit comfortably dispatched of their Blackburn Rovers counterparts at London Colney with a 5-0 victory. Tarum Dawkins, Alex Iwobi, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and Arinse Uade were all on target, in addition to Hector Bellerin, who, along with Akpom and Kristoffer Olsson, was making his first appearance at this level this season.
With the U21s having already concluded their fixtures for the first half of the campaign, Gatting was able to name his strongest league side of his tenure so far, with Akpom starting and the likes of Deyan Iliev, Jon Toral, Bellerin and Olsson on the bench. Uade returned from suspension, whilst Alfred Mugabo and Isaac Hayden, who have broken into the U21s this season, dropped back down to this level.
subs: Brown (for Dawkins, 46), Olsson (for Iwobi, 67), Bellerin (for Dawkins, 67). Not used: Iliev, Toral.
Both sides started slowly in this re-arranged encounter and, for a while, it seemed as if a repeat of September’s draw between the teams in Lancashire in September was on the cards.
Arsenal eventually asserted their control on proceedings, however, with Akpom and Austin Lipman both coming close to opening the scoring. The breakthrough eventually came when Lipman found Dawkins, who latched onto the pass and finished succinctly. The former Luton Town winger has, by his own admission, endured a difficult start to the campaign, but this was his second goal in recent weeks.
It would be 2-0 before the break after Akpom and Iwobi re-kindled their old understanding and the latter prodded home to double Arsenal’s advantage.
Schoolboy Jordan Brown replaced Dawkins at the break and very nearly made an immediate impact, shooting just over, before the ever-impressive Ormonde-Ottewill put the game beyond all doubt with a fine finish. He would soon be outdone, however, by Bellerin, with the Spaniard, who has been in fine fettle of late, embarked on one of his trademark mazy runs upfield before finishing with aplomb.
Uade, who, in contrast, has struggled somewhat so far this campaign, then tucked home following a scramble in the Blackburn penalty area to add further gloss to the scoreline.
Despite the emphatic nature of the victory, it was not enough to prevent Gatting’s side from missing out on participation in both the Elite Group Stage and Qualification Group 1, with their poor results over the course of the first half of the season meaning that they will instead face fellow struggling sides in Qualification Group 2, which Arsenal must top if they are to then reach the semi-finals of the overall competition.
It was a rather busy day for the U18 side as they also continued the club tradition of singing Christmas carols to the first-team squad, in addition to learning that they will host either Fulham or Middlesbrough, who play tomorrow, in the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup.