Gnabry fires Arsenal through in NextGen but whole side deserve credit for professional display

NextGen Series- Quarter-Final

Arsenal 1 (Gnabry 56) CSKA Moscow 0

By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium

In the build-up to this hotly-anticipated fixture, much was made of the possibility of Serge Gnabry not being available to play due to his international commitments with Germany. As it transpired, Terry Burton and the rest of the Arsenal youngsters will be extremely pleased that the dynamic youngster featured, as he scored the decisive goal to send Arsenal through to an all-London semi-final with Chelsea, whilst also coming close on several other occasions.

That is not to discredit the performances of Arsenal’s other starlets, however. Sead Hajrovic and Isaac Hayden were impressive at the back, Hector Bellerin raided forward regularly from right-back, and indeed was involved in the move that led to Gnabry’s goal, and Thomas Eisfeld, operating in an unorthodox position on the left flank, rattled the crossbar with a free-kick from distance late on.

Arsenal were certainly worth their victory, despite the fact that CSKA Moscow caused them some problems in the opening period. In the second-half, however, Burton’s boys were largely dominant and could well have extended their lead had it not been for some profligate finishing in front of goal. They now stand a genuine chance of winning this competition and, whatever happens against their London rivals in Lake Como on Friday, can be extremely proud of the fighting spirit and determination that they demonstrated to carve out a victory here.

Burton made just two changes to the side that overcame treacherous conditions to prevail past Inter Milan in the Last 16, with Elton Monteiro and Zak Ansah dropping out for Kyle Ebecilio and Eisfeld. With so many creative talents to cram into his starting line-up, Burton’s team selection was somewhat unbalanced, with Ebecilio and Eisfeld filling the wide roles and Gnabry operating as a playmaker behind lone striker Chuba Akpom, whilst Kristoffer Olsson partnered Nico Yennaris in midfield. Schoolboy Ainsley Maitland-Niles made the bench following an injury to Austin Lipman.

Arsenal, in front of a crowd of over 6000 people, started on the front foot, and twice came close to opening the scoring early on. First Akpom, recently recovered from a groin injury, chased down a loose ball and eventually unleashed a shot that was well held by Sergey Revyakin, then, following a typically swift break up-field, Bellerin’s cross picked out Gnabry in the area and the German met it with a diving header which may have crossed the line.

CSKA, who had posed little attacking threat in the opening stages, then conducted a counter-attack of their own, but Dmitry Efremov hashed his effort horribly wide, with his scrabbled attempt eventually trickling out for a corner. CSKA’s players may have found the near-arctic conditions in North London somewhat accommodating, but they received short shrift from Hajrovic and Hayden, who, in tandem, did excellently to repel their every move.

David Khurtsidze volleyed straight at Deyan Iliev in the Arsenal goal as the visitors sought to crank up the pressure, but both sides were limited to half-chances for a while before Ebecilio, hitherto ineffective, picked out Gnabry with a glorious toe-poke, with the latter subsequently driving forward and forcing a corner with a firm strike. Gnabry was certainly coming to the fore at this stage, playing a neat one-two with his compatriot Eisfeld before shooting wide, with Yennaris following suit shortly afterwards.

CSKA threatened again before the interval, but Arsenal’s defence stood firm, although, at that point, the feeling persisted that the Russian side, should they display a little more endeavour, could have escaped from the Emirates with a victory. Such fears were swiftly averted in the second period, however, with Eisfeld signalling Arsenal’s intent with a shot just wide of the far post after being played through by Yennaris, before the adventurous Bellerin shot wide.

Bellerin would play a key role in the game’s decisive moment shortly afterwards, with the Spanish right-back exchanging passes with Gnabry, who, upon receiving the ball for a second time, quickly worked space for himself to shoot before dispatching a low shot that was out of the reach of Revyakin. It was, somewhat remarkably, Gnabry’s first goal of the tournament, and players and supporters alike united in euphoria, but the job was far from done at that stage, with Efremov shooting wide as CSKA hoped for an instant response.

It didn’t come and, instead, Arsenal’s stranglehold on the tie grew ever stronger. Martin Angha, an effective force down the left flank, received the ball back from Gnabry and shot wide, before Zak Ansah was introduced for Akpom, who was struggling with a recurrence of his aforementioned groin problem.

CSKA seemed to sense that the game was up late on and it was Arsenal who came closest to scoring the second goal of the game with Eisfeld’s spectacular free-kick smacking against the crossbar late on. As it transpired, the Gunners had already done enough to proceed to the semi-finals and, for a side who, at one stage, were in serious danger of exiting this competition at the group stages, to reach this stage is in itself a significant achievement.

These players have such a strong sense of unity and belief, however, that their will to win will not yet be sated and they will now be hopeful of progressing all the way in this competition at their first attempt.

Player ratings (4-2-3-1)

Deyan Iliev-6- Authoritative and calm in dealing with everything that was asked of him.

Hector Bellerin-7- Largely resolute defensively and provided a regular attacking threat, including in the move for the goal.

Sead Hajrovic-8- Has matured greatly over the past few years and was imperious at the back alongside Hayden.

Isaac Hayden-8- Has played in many positions at youth level, but centre-back may well be his best option for a future career.

Martin Angha-7- Raided forward regularly from left-back, and came close to scoring himself.

Nico Yennaris-7- Kept Arsenal’s play ticking with some subtle forward touches.

Kristoffer Olsson-7- Can be accused of possessing style over substance, but was effective in both regards here with his flair.

Kyle Ebecilio-5- Perhaps the one disappointment from the night, he failed to build on some impressive recent performances.

Serge Gnabry-8- Scored the decisive goal and could have had several more, and relished playing in the playmaker role.

Thomas Eisfeld-6- Came close with a thumping free-kick but did not seem eminently suited to playing on the left.

Chuba Akpom-6- Came close early on but succumbed to injury before being withdrawn.


Zak Ansah (for Akpom, 78)-6- Added a measure of directness and pace to the attack following his introduction.

Not used: Josh Vickers, Alfred Mugabo, Jack Jebb, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Alex Iwobi, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill.




  1. Very accomplished performance from the lads, I think Hayden, Angha & Olsson were particularly good. Only Ebecillo was less than impressive. Looking forward to beating Chelski on Friday

  2. Gotta love that performance. I disagree with you, Jeorge, about Haydens final position. I see him as a Petit like midfielder, but lets see how he goes.
    For a team that looked so Arsenal like in defence for most of the season, the way they have defended and dug in at times has been pleasing.
    Ebecilio has had too many injuries in his career thus far, his development is being killed.
    The big worry is Thomas Eisfelds failure to make a mark at this level. I have said before that I cannot see him progressing any further, and tonight enforced this belief. Many better players at his age have failed to make it at Arsenal, Henri Lansbury being a recent example.

    1. He played in an unfamiliar left wing position so I would not read much into his performance today.
      Eisfeld is technically better than most players(if not all) in our youth team and he has that predatory instinct in front of goal. While his success at the top level is by no means certain, his attribute give him a very good shot

  3. Well done Arsenal. Judging by the match report, a professional team performance and a deserved result. Onwards and upwards you Gunners!

  4. Dear lord is Eisfeld already being written off? Might as well sell him, only been with us a year and he’s not a starlet so why bother?

    He missed alot of chances yesterday, tried to do too much in my opinion but you don’t discount talent over a couple of patchy games. He still got into positions to score and most importantly he always wanted the ball and tried to make things happen. This was a good if not limited defense, they were well aware of the threat he posed so they played him accordingly. You also have to take into account he’s a CM not a winger where he was played out to last night.

    Also give a special mention to Olsson, they know if they gave him space in the middle he’d just run further infield with it, that creates space in other areas of the pitch for people to run into and utilise which Bellerin, Angha and the wingers did particularly well. Good performance, some really crisp and intelligent passing in the final third

    Also a shout out to Akpom, play the ball up to your striker and he makes it stick, runs with it and brings other players into play, although he didn’t score, his contribution was just as vital.

  5. i just watched the highlights of this game…nd was pretty impressed by the performance of our team
    and for those who didnt watch

  6. ebecillio worked extremely hard considering he’s been injured for a while, attacking wise he may have not been effective but im sure he matched all the other players with his work rate and to give him a 5 is slightly unfair.

  7. I am once again beating the drum for Hajrovic. He has really turned the corner and it will be such a shame if he doesnt get at least 1 more year to prove his worth. Certainly his recent international call up has given him new impetus and of the 5 (inc miquel, boateng, monteiro, and angha) not only is he the most improved but could also be the pick of the bunch at the moment. his recent loan spell at barnet may also have something to do with it and could be giving him that edge. I know miquel has already impressed in one or two 1st team matches so he is ahead of SH but i would give him (SH) at least as long as Boateng has had to prove his worth.

  8. Neither Eisfeld or Ebicilio are playing wide because that’s where they perform at their best, they’ve been deployed there to aid their development. Much like Ramsey was played wide for a period and has performed infinitely better in central midfield since he’s been returned back to that position. It’s not fair to judge their potential on these wide performances.

    The player I was most impressed with yesterday was Olsson, I thought he demonstrated more intelligence than anyone else. Great appreciation of space, of movement, timing. He was very comfortable on the ball, always knew where the space was (sometimes without even looking) and he was absolutely vital in retaining and circulating the ball and keeping CSKA pinned back. If Hayden or Ebicilio had been played next to Yennaris instead we would have sorely missed Olsson’s guile.

  9. Tbh I do feel there’s more a case of olsson and toral being under rated more than anything else. I feel eisfeld is undoubtedly getting a lot of hype based on the reading game and that’s great to an extent. However he does tend to go missing in games as does Olsson who it must be taken into account is about 2 yrs younger. People aren’t giving toral a lot of credit due to his injury but I rate him more than the other two at least as a cm. Really like hayden a lot and is versatile type who seems to have more consistency to his game than anyone else. Reminds me of Chelsea’s nathaniel chalobah. Realistically you can’t expect all three of toral, eisfeld and Olsson to make it. We should be fortunate if one does. It’s gonna be close but I do feel its going to eventually be Olsson and toral though all three have a great attitude. If I was forced to pick those who are going to make the cut (from yesterday’s starting eleven) i would say hayden, bellerin, gnabry, akpom and Olsson. Opinions will differ though and the optimism within me as an arsenal fan is probably over rating some of them but hey it’s not like no other team says the same!

    1. We’d be lucky to get at least 2 from this group making inroads into the first team. We’ve probably had a better squad of players at a similar age in past years yet the majority of them are plying their trade elsewhere either because of competition for places in the first team or that simply they’re good players, but just not good enough at the elite level. Wilshere and Gibbs made the cut out of that group. Out of this group, I genuinely only see Bellerin and Gnabry making the cut. Bellerin because there’s a genuine chance for someone to stake a claim at RB when Sagna leaves, and he’s impressed tremendously. Doesn’t look quite big either but has good upper body strength for someone his size, is very quick and his dribbling is sensaitonal. Gnabry is an exceptional talent but I’d still like him to go out on a loan to a Championship club where his physique wouldn’t be much of an advantage as it is in these competitions.

  10. The ratings are way off, I was at the game Eisfeld was one of the most impressive on the pitch his first touch is brilliant.

    Think the 5 below have a reasonable chance of making the grade at Arsenal, Ebecillo was dreadful.

    1 Gnabry
    2 Bellerin
    3 Eisfeld
    4 Yennaris
    5 Hajrovic

    None of the others will come close.

  11. The big worry is Thomas Eisfelds failure to make a mark at this level. I have said before that I cannot see him progressing any further, and tonight enforced this belief. Many better players at his age have failed to make it at Arsenal, Henri Lansbury being a recent example.

  12. I really liked Hayden as center back. Think he will have a good chance of making it in this position in the mould of ferdinand.
    Other than him, i have high hopes for Gnarby, Akpom, Bellarin.
    Other than these, dont think anyone will make it at arsenal to be fair.

  13. Most impressive for me was olsson then hayden. Hajrovic may have been there to clear but its not a performance that made me think…wow what an intelligence defending and great tecnique, great ability to play from the back… It was more like horrible clearance and giving the ball away straight away when clear. when he tried to play the ball it was not good either.

    Hajrovic got 8 and Olsson 7? I think some of the ratings was way off. I can’t really trust it now in the youth levels..

    Same goes for Anga who I thought gave the ball away many times and never looked like an amazing ball playing right-back. I know its not his *main* position but come on.. he have been there for 2 yearsor so… its basically his main position too.

    Akpom was a lot worse than I thought but showed good signs often.

    Yes we won convincing but the level was way lower than I thought. This looked nothing like the FAYC winning team. I have seen Barca and Chelsea play and they look a lot more closer to that level I expect from these players. They better step up and fight for the place vs chelsea.

    Overall I am disappointed of many players and only Olsson, yennaris and Hayden was on that level I expected.

    1. I think your appraisal of the team as a whole is harsh; there was wonderful interplay, strong and convincing defending, and we were in control throughout. But I’m glad you also appreciated Olsson’s contribution, I felt he dictated the game and I really enjoyed watching him play in a deep position. It was also a brave decision from Burton, he could have gone with someone bigger and stronger next to Yennaris for defensive security in a big game like this but going with Olsson really paid off, he controlled that midfield.

  14. It’s a great result and a good cup run in an elite European competition, and it’s about representing the club. In this regard they’ve all done brilliantly and it’s churlish (albeit tempting) to obsess about who is going to make it in four years’ time. Chelsea may put the dampeners on things on Friday, but we’ve been pretty evenly matched in the past with this generation, if memory serves. Overall, the boys have done themselves proud and the club, too. That’s the story here. Let’s enjoy what we’ve got while we’ve got it.

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