Central-defensive catastrophe as Arsenal U21s lose 7-0 to Luton

Pre-season friendly

Luton Town 7 Arsenal XI 0

By Jeorge Bird at Kenilworth Road

From the relative heroics of snatching a draw at Leyton Orient on Tuesday night, to this severe pummelling at the hands of a determined Luton Town outfit, the past week has carried a gamut of emotions for Arsenal’s U21s.

Despite the fact that it was a pre-season friendly, this result and performance will go down as one of the second string’s worst outings in recent times, just eclipsed by the 10-1 mauling away to Aston Villa in 2011. Arsenal were able to call upon two players who have played for the first-team in Nico Yennaris and Thomas Eisfeld, as well as the likes of Wellington and the returning Hector Bellerin, but struggled to find their passing rhythm throughout and were ruthlessly punished for some cataclysmic defensive errors, most of which were committed by the unfamiliar central defensive partnership of Julio Pleguezuelo and Ramy Bensebaini.

Pleguezuelo was making his debut for the U21s following his move from Barcelona last month, whilst Bensebaini, an Algerian defender, is currently on trial with the club and trained with the first-team yesterday. Both players unfortunately endured a day to forget, whilst the lack of creativity in an attacking sense was painfully evident until the introductions of Anthony Jeffrey and Dan Crowley.

Coach Steve Gatting, who will come under renewed and increased pressure following this game, made several changes from the 4-4 draw with Orient, with Bellerin, Pleguezuelo, Bensebaini and Alex Iwobi all coming into the starting line-up for the fixture, which was delayed by 15 minutes due to traffic congestion.






subs: Jeffrey (for Wellington, 61), Dallison (for Pleguezuelo, 61) Crowley (for Yennaris, 76). Not used: Vickers, Kamara, Siemann, Boateng.

It said something about Arsenal’s plight that Macedonian goalkeeper Deyan Iliev was one of the Gunners’ best players in the first half as he made several impressive saves despite the plethora of goals that he conceded.

Arsenal had actually begun on the front foot, with Isaac Hayden, operating as an attacking midfielder, shooting wide after good work down the right flank from Eisfeld, who himself had directed an effort off target just moments earlier.

The warning signs were evident for Gatting’s side moments later, however, when Iliev was almost caught out by a quickly-taken free-kick after he failed to organise his defensive wall properly. The first goal came with nineteen minutes gone after Mark Cullen tapped home despite Iliev making a good stop from the initial effort.

Arsenal sought to equalise immediately, with Bellerin, back from representing Spain at the U19 European Championships, forcing a corner with a powerful effort, whilst a precisely-delivered cross from Hayden just eluded the sliding Wellington at the far post.

Luton doubled their advantage shortly afterwards, however, and the goal stemmed from Kristoffer Olsson dwelling on the ball in midfield, with the hosts subsequently working their way into the box, where the clinical Cullen was on hand again to find the net.

Arsenal had called for offside in the build-up to the goal, but to no avail, whilst Olsson, desperate to make amends for his error, shot wide at the other end following good work from Wellington. Any feint hopes that Arsenal had of turning the game around appeared to dissipate soon after, however, after Pleguezuelo clumsily brought down an opponent in the area after failing to control a bouncing ball.

The referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot and Shaun Whalley, the player who had been fouled by Pleguezuelo, stepped up and converted emphatically past Iliev to make it 3-0.

The Arsenal goalkeeper was enduring perhaps the most difficult day of his fledgling career to date, and was under constant bombardment from the Luton attack, with the 18 year old having to tip a dangerous free-kick over his crossbar.

He was left stranded again, however, after Jake Howells capitalised on the lack of communication between Pleguezuelo and Bensebaini to head home and make it 4-0.

Arsenal, somewhat surprisingly, emerged for the second half without having made any substitutions, but, despite the fact that they saw a little more of the ball following the re-start, the general trend of the game remained the same, with Luton utterly dominant.

The chances, and then the goals, kept on coming for the Conference side, with Howells catching Iliev out with a lob from distance to make it 5-0. Arsenal were still determined to at least score one goal to reduce the deficit, with Eisfeld seeing a shot blocked, Bellerin shooting over and Wellington wasting a free-kick, but it was all in vain as it was Luton who would continue to motor forward and attack with alarming regularity.

Olsson again squandered possession in a dangerous area which almost resulted in another goal, before Andre Gray inflicted further misery upon the young Gunners when he capitalised on another mistake from the hapless Bensebaini.

Jeffrey, introduced off the bench, did at least provide some attacking vigour down the left flank, as he cut inside and had a shot saved, whilst Crowley, somewhat belatedly, entered the fray with just 14 minutes remaining, but, in that time, played a couple of superb passes which raised questions as to why he didn’t start the game.

There was still time for Gray to beat Iliev again as the goalkeeper was forced to pick the ball out of the net for the seventh time.

This was certainly a dark day for Arsenal’s youngsters, and although the lack of experience and familiarity at the heart of defence can partly explain the shocking scoreline, more worrying, perhaps, was the real lack of ingenuity provided by the side’s more attack-minded players.

It may only have been a friendly, but questions will still be asked following this debacle, with the only positive perhaps being that Gatting has a full two weeks to rectify these mistakes before the U21 season commences away to Stoke City.



  1. Really no way to defend this tbh. New partnership I know but there’s essentially one new individual in the trialist. Pleguezuelo’s first match at this level too but was there no protection from midfield? Hope this was an anomaly but whilst I’m glad crowley is doing great anyone else worried no one else is on his level? We’ve conceded like 13 in 3

  2. How big a talent is Pleguezuelo? Is he going to start alongside Hayden next season or isn’t he good enough?
    Also, will Crowley stay with the U-21’s or get demoted? If he stays, there will be a lot of competition for the midfield spots.

  3. Hey Jorge

    Is speculation about Gatting’s ability/future just your opinion or is it something the club are looking at?

    *something about Bergkamp*

  4. Agree with you but i felt our midfielders were very poor in defending.

    it was clear that Pleguezuelo and Bensebaini lacked match fitness and they could not communicate because they never player together and dont speak the same language.

    In terms of solo defending, I was very impressed with both Pleguezuelo and Bensebaini but they just could not work together, kept pressing too high, could not keep the defending line together. It is expected if they only played for the first time.

    Pleguezuelo however is very interesting from what I have seen, has top pace, good sweeper and strong.

    Wellington Silva was very tricky and direct but he lacked service and players did not go forward too much which made it difficult for him.

  5. In all honesty, steve gatting or whatever his name is needs to go…. He is a horrible excuse for a coach. I mean 7-0 at a certain point you cant blame that on the players to be quite honest. I mean look at his record since he has been in charge of this team…. quite distasteful

    1. Gatting in the position where he is, Is an absolute joke.
      Incompetent in an understatement, Stats do not lie.
      Do the decent thing and resign, Your out of your depth go back to teaching in your private school. Were here to develop players for Arsenal FC and your not doing it.
      Check your stats since you took over.

  6. 21st July i said
    Gatting is a bob a job from Brady. Hes a poor appointment bailed out by the individual ability of quality players. If you ask any of the players hes coached hes rigid boring and uninspiring. His background as a PE teacher is telling becusae hes never been tested in a professional environment. He probably wakes up and thinks hes won the lottery. His record in team management and player developement is poor. The elite players will prosper whatever he does its the average / above average players. Usual arsenal cutting corners and paying peanuts and getting monkeys –

    1. Job for the boys, Another cheap and cheerful friend to add to the payroll. We want quality not quantity. Academy is now full of poor coaches who will use Arsenal as a stepping stone to move onto bigger and better things. Looks good on your CV that your an Arsenal coach but we have deadwood Brady dross in positions which stifle development.
      New broom and clean sweep of all dead wood.

  7. That partnership at CB was always going to get destroyed and Gatting really needs to take the blame for putting two teenagers who have never played in England before at CB against one of the best teams in the Conference.

    Gatting has badly underestimated the quality of these teams and we need to bring in a handful of new 17/18 year olds to shore up this very weak generation of youth players (worst in at least 10 years I reckon).

    Against a team like Luton, in a friendly, there’s really no shame in approaching a couple of players released by League 1/League 2 level clubs who play against teams like Luton week in, week out to just guide the young lads along in a match like this. If Pleguezuelo had, say, a 28 year old with years of experience in the lower leagues alongside him today we wouldn’t have seen this debacle.

    Put a 16 year old who’s never played here before and another foreign teenager who’s only on trial together at CB and that will lead to disaster against any professional team made up of experienced players.

  8. What if I told you guys that Luton was just better than us? They are most likely more cohesive than the U21. But I expect players like Wellington to do a lot better.

  9. This result (although just a friendly) seems to sum up all what has gone on since Bould and Banfield were moved to the 1st Team.
    I cannot claim that i have the biggest in depth knowledge of the way things work in youth football and i cannot make strong judgments on the current youth coaches (after all they must be good if they are at one of the best academy in Britain?) but is it natural for the youth squad to take this long settle since the start of last season?

    Also did Gatting have lack of regular defenders to pick from today’s game? to chose two new foreign center backs against a very good conference team is very odd.

  10. Luton fan here, Please do not slaughter your boys, instead consider every cloud has a silver lining, Luton are obciously not a true non league outfit, they defeatex Premiership Norwich at Carrow Road last season, John Still is an ace manager, The young Araenal lads will learn from this, 7-0 defeat. Perhaps Luton would be a great loan destination for some of your youth players, I hoperhaps this fixture is repeated next season as it is a pleasure to watch the young Arsenal side play in Luton. Goodluck to both our clubs.

  11. Don’t rate either Gatting or Laraman. If you look at the stats since these two came into their U21 and U18 positions, it makes really poor reading. With results like this, I worry about the development of Arsenal’s young talent. Brady/somebody needs to rethink these two really important coaching positions, it’s clear these two aren’t up to the job – the stats don’t lie.

    1. Have to agree, Both out of their depth.
      Need a new man at the helm and get rid of all the drift wood that Brady bought in.
      Cheap and cheerful solutions is not the answer.

  12. An Arsenal team being bashed by Luton Town!!, I have said it in this forum many times, Gatting and some coaches in our Academy has to be replaced with a quality ex Player/Legend, It helps in driving this youth players further in dedication and committment.

    1. Replaced by better calibre coaches, we keep buying players from other academies why not invest in bringing in the coaches that make these players. Its not by magic.
      Do not agree that it has to be ex-players just better calibre.

  13. I thought the purpose of a youth team was to provide players for the first team, not to win games themselves. Yes they are incredibly weak, but also how many 21 or unders do we have with the first team? On top of that, the reserve first team players that could come in are being/have been moved on. Add to it that we are promoting and playing school kids together for the first time against a settled team of men & what do you expect?

  14. Gatting has to go, He is out of his depth in a big way. Yes he is a very good friend of Liams but he is an ex PE teacher who is not cut out for the role he finds himself in.
    Nice guys do not make great coaches, If he left Arsenal FC which other club would take him and give him the same role that he finds himself in today? Sadly the truth is nobody would. Liam bringing in Gatting equates to waking up and winning the lottery every day. He does not inspire or get the best out of anybody because he does not know how to. Sad but true.
    Yesterdays result was an embarressment and would NEVER have happend if either Bould or Banfield were in charge. Not saying bring them back but thats the calibre of coach we require. Sadly you have big boots to fill – Drummy, Bould, Banfield – and your not up to the task. Sorry Stevie G but you have to go for the good of the academy, Were here to make players not ruin them.

  15. I feel people are harsh on Gatting. He made a brave and bold descision on Pleguezuelo and the algerian lad which kind of backfired because they do not know and played wiyth each other. Felt we underestimated Luton massively ( don’t forget they beat Norwich 1 st team).

    I have to say though that I have been quite impresssed with the Barca lad Pleguezuelo. Although he didnt play good with his algerian lad. he was tenacious, strong and good sweeper.

    Baptism of fire for the lads but they’ll be alright

  16. Yes Luton did beat Norwiich last year, but with a different team to the one fielded yesterday (at least five changes) – they also finished 95 places below our first team in the ‘pyramid’. I saw the youngsters at Boreham Wood (Skrill South) and the technique and football intelligence was frighteningly deficient.

  17. hellooo friends i am algerian and i want speak about the defender Bensebaini he is very good player just must wait and you will see what this younger player will do
    i just want ask when will be the next match ????

  18. You should not be surprised by the result – this is what you get by putting square pegs in round holes. RB playing LB, DM playing AM and AM playing striker. There seems to be a policy of fitting players into the team regardless of consequence – Unfortunately this seems to be the the Arsenal way.

    You will also note the official site (http://www.arsenal.com/match/report/1314/post/reserves/luton-7-0-arsenal-xi-match-report) is in protection mode by adding Boeteng to the team instead of Bensebaini. Oh well I suppose that’s acceptable as he doesn’t have a future here anyway so can be a fall guy. No mention of names of who mistakes were made by either – Glasnost and all that eh.

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