“We were well beaten by a very good technical, tactical and physical outfit”. Arsenal U18s coach Carl Larman was talking about his side’s 3-0 defeat at home to Chelsea at the weekend, but could just have easily been referring to several other discouraging performances from the Gunners’ youngsters this season.
The Chelsea game, in which Jeremie Boga delivered an inspired performance for the opposition as he scored a first-half hat-trick, was Arsenal’s seventh loss at this level so far this season, whilst it has been well documented that Laraman’s team are still without a win since their opening day success against Liverpool.
The performances of the younger age-group are in stark contrast to those of the U21’s, with the second-string playing some swashbuckling football at times and dispatching of Aston Villa’s much-vaunted youth set-up with considerable ease last week.
At U18 level, however, things are not going so well, and the bad run of results cannot exactly be attributed to inexperience, with players such as Chuba Akpom, Jack Jebb and Alex Iwobi, who have regularly represented the club at far higher levels, all featuring against Chelsea.
Akpom and Jebb both came close to scoring, the latter striking a post with an excellent free-kick, but Arsenal’s defensive performance left much to be desired, with a lack of cohesion across the back line painfully evident. Leander Siemann and Arinse Uade are still struggling to convince despite now being second-years, whilst Tafari Moore and Elliot Wright possess promise but are still in the early months of their scholarship deals at the club.
The defence were not offered much in the way of protection, with Alfred Mugabo, who was deployed in defensive-midfield against Chelsea, not yet fully fit following a lengthy injury lay-off. Dan Crowley failed to make much of an impact against Arsenal’s London rivals, but the playmaker has only recently returned from a spell on the sidelines himself and is still adjusting to his new surroundings.
At times it seems as if most of the inspiration, particularly in an attacking sense, is provided by schoolboys who are determined to impress, with Kaylen Hinds and Stephy Mavididi, neither of whom featured against Chelsea, both finding the net this season and delivering commendable performances.
In fact, at U18 level, no player has scored more than two goals for the club so far this season, suggesting that, as well as the aforementioned defensive concerns, there is also a problem up front. The question must also be raised as to why some players can perform to such a high standard at U21 level, but fail to replicate that form when they return to the U18s, which should ordinarily be an easier level to play at.
Laraman’s performance in a coaching sense will also be questioned, but it seems unlikely that the coach will be dispensed of in the near future, and certainly not until a permanent replacement is found for Liam Brady as the club’s Head of Youth Development.
All the youngsters in the U18 side can do is apply themselves fully and hope to earn a promotion to the second-string as quickly as possible. Results at youth level are certainly not as important as in the senior game, but when the performances are also of questionable quality, then concerns begin to arise.
The aim will be to end this run as quickly as possible, with the mini North London Derby away to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday providing the ideal opportunity to end the hoodoo.