Toral impressive as Arsenal U21s continue good form with win over Aston Villa

U21 Premier League- Game 6

Arsenal 4 (Gnabry 16, Toral 25, 36, Frimpong 45) Aston Villa 2 (Drennan 53, Burke 75)

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood

Photo by Kieran Clarke

Photo by Kieran Clarke

Considering that they had not played competitively for over a month, it can only be presumed that Arsenal U21s were saving their energy for this fixture. That certainly seemed the case in the first-half as a strong Arsenal second-string raced into a four-goal lead at the break against an Aston Villa side who, despite their disappointing defending, gave a positive impression of themselves at the other end of the pitch.

Arsenal’s play became somewhat lackadaisical after the interval, with Villa allowed to reduce the deficit to 4-2, but there were still a plethora of positives to take from this encounter for Steve Gatting and his coaching staff, not least the performance of Jon Toral, who scored twice and completed 77 minutes as he continued his rehabilitation from injury.

There was further welcoming news as striker Benik Afobe completed 90 minutes for the first time since February, with the striker impressing with his link-up play, whilst first-team squad members Emmanuel Frimpong and Serge Gnabry also got on the scoresheet, the latter continuing his impressive recent run of form.

Gatting, whose side remain unbeaten this season, named an extremely strong line-up, with Nico Yennaris, Isaac Hayden and Thomas Eisfeld also featuring, whilst regulars such as Kristoffer Olsson and Chuba Akpom only made the bench.


Yennaris-Ajayi-Pleguezuelo-Ormonde Ottewill




subs: O’Connor (for Pleguezuelo 46), Maitland-Niles (for Toral, 77), Olsson (for Frimpong, 87). Not used: Akpom, Huddart.

Villa, in contrast, named a rather inexperienced side that included Lewis Kinsella, who came through the club’s Hale End academy. The opening exchanges contained few goalscoring opportunities of note, but Arsenal were heavily reliant on the aerial prowess of Semi Ajayi, with the centre-back making several important clearances.

Arsenal gradually began to assert themselves on proceedings, with Gnabry a persistent menace down the right flank. The 18 year old cut inside and tested Benjamin Siegrist with a fierce strike before sending a dangerous delivery across the face of the Villa goal.

Villa responded by carving out a chance of their own. Daniel Johnson played a perceptive pass into the path of Graham Burke, with the midfielder forcing a resolute save from Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Macey.

It soon became apparent that Villa were dangerous on the counter-attack, with skilful winger Jordan Graham a useful outlet on the left flank, but Arsenal, despite being forced into some desperate defending at times, were ruthless at the other end and took the lead when Toral sent a precise cross into the area and Gnabry finished adroitly before Siegrist had time to react.

It could have been 2-0 shortly afterwards with Yennaris, operating at right-back on this occasion, delivering a cross which Afobe headed just over, but Macey then had to make two commendable saves in quick succession at the other end.

Photo by Kieran Clarke

Photo by Kieran Clarke

Arsenal’s attacking momentum was too much for Villa to handle, however, and Gatting’s side doubled their advantage following a move that was orchestrated by Eisfeld. The German midfielder worked space for himself following a bursting run and delivered a teasing cross that was touched on by Afobe into the path of Toral and the latter made no mistake in beating Siegrist from close range.

The third goal followed shortly afterwards, with Afobe latching onto a long ball and sending a lofted effort over the stranded Siegrist. The ball was destined for the back of the net, but Toral denied Afobe a comeback goal by applying the finishing touch before it crossed the line.

Graham was still an intermittent threat for Villa, but Arsenal continued to create chances aplenty, with Eisfeld shooting just over and Afobe coming close to lobbing Siegrist again after being played through by Frimpong.

Arsenal would make it 4-0 before half-time, however, with Frimpong heading in from a corner to score a rare goal.

The scoreline was rather harsh on Villa, who had posed a threat themselves going forward, but Arsenal had been ruthless in attack and calm in possession.

They were forced into a change prior to the second-half with Stefan O’Connor replacing the injured Pleguezuelo. Arsenal continued from where they had left off, however,  with Frimpong and Afobe combining well again, but the latter couldn’t go round Siegrist.

Michael Drennan then shot wide as Villa sought to at least reduce the deficit, and they did just that when Drennan latched onto a horribly misplaced pass from Macey to make it 4-1.

It was notable that Arsenal, perhaps with an element of complacency creeping in, had begun to squander possession rather needlessly after the break. Macey, seeking to atone for his error, made a good save from close range, whilst Villa also squandered a free-kick from an inviting angle following a clumsy challenge from Frimpong.

Photo by Kieran Clarke

Photo by Kieran Clarke

Villa received a further reward for their second-half dominance when Burke scored with a shot that Macey perhaps should have been equal to, and the visitors almost found the net again late on, but Arsenal’s first-half performance had been more than sufficient to earn them the three points.

Gatting will no doubt be delighted with several of the individual performances this evening, with Ajayi continuing to grow in stature and Eisfeld also far more involved in the general play than perhaps he has been in the past.

The U21s are next in action away to Norwich City in the new U21 Premier League Cup next week, for which Gedion Zelalem should be available following international duty.



  1. Jeorge, do you think Akpom will lose a lot of game time behind Afobe or will either go on loan? Because It would be awful if if Akpom rarely plays if Afobe stays.

  2. Eisfeld, Jon Toral, Jack Jebb, Bellerin, Chuba Akpom, Omonde, Hayden, Pleguezuelo, Olson, Crowley, Maitland-Niles, Yennaris, Lipman, O’Conor, Semi, arrggggg. Great generation..

  3. JB – What has happened to boateng, Fagan and Jeffrey? Jeffrey in particular looked impressive, I guess with the rise of ajayi, oconnor and plezeguelo the 2 centre backs appear to be on their way out? whilst Jeffrey seems to be slipping way down the pecking order, with the likes of maitland-niles and iwobi seemingly in front of him now?

    1. Boateng will be released at the end of the season. Fagan is injured at the moment, but it seems that Arsenal will give as many opportunities to play as possible to Pleguezuelo, so it could be difficult for him to get into the side. Jeffrey has fallen down the pecking order a little bit, but I think that he will get more chances when some of the older players go out on loan.

  4. It’ll be tough for afobe obviously but I think he has a better chance than most would think. Akpom, sanogo and campbell are more like guile and craft strikers bringing others into play but afobe has power and pace playing of the last man. Needs a loan more than any other player currently not on loan though.

  5. What a strong side/squad that is, was there last night and first half Arsenal were very good. That squad is surly the strongest 21 squad in this premier under 21 league, villa were far better second half but if that side keeps together that’s a championship winning side,ive seen Liverpool , chelsea, west ham, Man u and a few others and that 21 squad is far stronger than any of them.

  6. Yennaris, Afobe, Frimpong, Boateng and Eisfeld really should all go out on loan in the next two weeks before the windows shuts. Gnabry going out on loan in January makes sense with Podolski and Chamberlain back by then.

    1. Gnabry should stay. Chamberlain and podolski still need match fitness and will have a hard time doing an impact right away I think. Gnabry is not only young but he is ready to play in the PL.Some of our players like Özil, cazorla and rocisky might need a rest soon so he will be great to have. If we advance in the CL then he will be great to have in the FA cup and an impact player like walcott.

  7. hey jeorge, transfermarkt has a Kostas Pileas, a Cypriot LB, listed as part of the U18. This is the first I’ve heard of him, is he in the U16? bear in mind it also lists that Christopher Regis is a member and he know plays for Southampton, so it could be just poor editing on their part.

    1. actually I think I figured it out. He’s a 99, so that would make him a member of the U15s, he was discovered as part of an academy we have in Greece apparently. The reason he’s listed in transfermarkt it seems that if a player appears for his country at U16 level they get a profile on transfermarkt and thus have to be listed as being part of a club’s U18 even if they haven’t appeared. Theres a similar profile for Charlie Gilmour whose also an U15 and has played for Scotland U16s

    1. I think that’s skewed a bit by the fact that Afobe is coming back from injury, whilst others like Crowley and Moore have also been injured recently. Akpom didn’t get called up as England u19 are looking at different players. We do have quite a few English talents it’s just that a lot of them, for various reasons, weren’t called up on this occasion.

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