Arsenal U21s see their unbeaten record obliterated by superb Sunderland

U21 Premier League- Game 7

Arsenal 1 (Toral 64) Sunderland 5 (Watmore 34, Mandron 44, 51, 90, Lynch 75)

Bt Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park

Arsenal U21s saw their unbeaten start to the season come to an abrupt halt as they were thrashed 5-1 by a vibrant Sunderland side at Meadow Park this evening.

Arsenal’s performance was not quite as bad as the scoreline may have you believe, but Steve Gatting’s side lacked any sort of ruthlessness in attack and were punished by a Sunderland side who strode forward with ease, with French striker Mikael Mandron scoring a hat-trick to add to goals from Duncan Watmore and Craig Lynch. Jon Toral replied with a well-taken effort in the second-half, but by that point the Gunners were three goals down and the game was already well out of their reach.

It was a memorable debut for goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano, who signed on loan from Palermo on deadline day, but for all the wrong reasons as he conceded a quintet of goals. In his defence, however, some of the goals were unavoidable and the 28 year old did make several impressive saves throughout the evening.

Arsenal, though, will be left somewhat rattled by this defeat. Despite being able to call upon the technically-able talents of Thomas Eisfeld, Kristoffer Olsson, Gedion Zelalem and Toral, they struggled to break down a resolute Sunderland side and were extremely wasteful in possession. Having only conceded four goals in their first six games this campaign, it was a shock that Arsenal let in five on this occasion, although the glut of goals conceded can be partly attributed to an unfamiliar defensive back line, with Semi Ajayi and Daniel Boateng partnering eachother at centre-back for the first time.

There were a horde of changes from the team that were so impressive in beating Aston Villa last time out, with Viviano, Tafari Moore, Boateng, Olsson, Zelalem and Chuba Akpom all coming into the side. Dan Crowley, meanwhile, earned his first competitive call-up at this level after impressing for the U18s at the weekend.


Moore-Ajayi-Boateng-Ormonde Ottewill




subs: Maitland-Niles (for Zelalem, 61). Not used: Kamara, Siemann, Crowley, Macey.

It was evident from the offset that Sunderland had been instructed to close Arsenal down at every opportunity, with Viviano’s first action in an Arsenal shirt being to make a hashed clearance under pressure.

The goalkeeper, who has been capped six times by Italy and was by far the most experienced player on the field this evening, then had to be quick off his line to prevent a Sunderland attack, before he was almost deceived by a well-struck low effort from winger George Honeyman.

Arsenal, for all their attack-minded talent on show, struggled to create many fluid attacking moves in the opening stages, with a case in point being when Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill’s dangerous cross from the left flank was not met with a recipient in the area. A delivery from Thomas Eisfeld from the other flank shortly afterwards yielded a similar result, but Sunderland soon showed Arsenal how to make the most of their chances.

The visitors, in their yellow shirts, swarmed forwards in swashbuckling style, with the enterprising winger Watmore demonstrating superb skill to weave his way through the Arsenal defence, play a quick one-two with a team-mate and then finish superbly past Viviano to open the scoring.

The rangy Mandron then had a shot saved by Viviano as Sunderland sought to double their advantage almost immediately, but Arsenal, in contrast, were struggling to string more than three passes together, with their attacking moves, coincidentally or not, frequently breaking down when the ball reached the feet of Toral on the left flank.

On one occasion, however, the Spaniard did well to spot Eisfeld in space, but the latter could only direct his effort into the side-netting and Arsenal were made to pay for their profligacy, with Mandron turning home to make it 2-0 but only after a superb double save by Viviano in the build-up.

Akpom, who featured briefly against Sunderland in the Premier League earlier this season, then shot over in frustration in a moment that epitomised a difficult first-half for Arsenal’s youngsters.

It would not get much better in the second period. Arsenal started to create more, but, such was their lack of defensive solidity, they became increasingly vulnerable to Sunderland’s counter-attacking style, with the visitors’ third goal a case in point as the alert Mandron applied the finishing touch to a multi-pass move.

Zelalem, not for the first time this season, was then withdrawn following a rather ineffective display, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles sent on as his replacement. That change allowed Eisfeld to play more centrally and subsequently Arsenal possessed a greater deal of attacking momentum, with Olsson forcing a corner, from which Toral eventually reduced the deficit with a well-struck effort.

It was the Spaniard’s fourth goal in five matches since his return from injury, but this was no time for plaudits, as Arsenal’s hopes of winning the game at this point rested somewhere between highly unlikely and non-existent.

The latter scenario would ultimately transpire, with Lynch making it 4-1 just eleven minutes later with a strike that Viviano could do little about. Arsenal responded with shots from Toral and Olsson, then Viviano made a good save to prevent further damage, but it was all rather futile given what had preceded it.

The ultimate sense of indignation came in stoppage time, with Mandron sealing both his hat-trick and Sunderland’s emphatic victory having reacted quickest after substitute Adam Mitchell’s cross had cannoned off the far post and back into play.

After their stellar start to the season, this was a rather humbling experience for Arsenal’s youngsters, who will look to bounce back quickly when they face Leicester City and Manchester United later this month. They also have the small matter of an U21 Premier League Cup fixture away to Fulham to come before the year is out and Gatting’s side will certainly need to demonstrate far more cohesion when they visit Motspur Park.

U18 Premier League- Game 14

Arsenal 0 West Bromwich Albion 0

On a more positive note, Arsenal U18s delivered one of their most impressive performances of the season and were unfortunate not to emerge with more than a point from their encounter with West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.






subs: Bola (for Mavididi). Not used: Ejaria, Eyoma, Donovan, Iliev.

Carl Laraman’s side are still without a win since the opening day of the season- a run that has now stretched to 13 games- but they were in impressive form at London Colney, with Dan Crowley and Tarum Dawkins delivering notable performances.

In the first-half, Crowley found Dawkins with a superb lofted ball and the winger subsequently scored with a header, only to see it ruled out for offside. Schoolboy Tyrell Robinson, who started the game at left-back, then had a to make a vital clearance at the other end, before Dawkins saw a shot tipped over the crossbar by West Brom goalkeeper Ethan Ross, who was released by Arsenal last year.

Crowley then did well to work space for himself only to see his effort rattle the crossbar, with West Brom also striking the same section of the goal in the second-half. Dawkins had another shot saved and Arsenal could have won it late on, but neither Glen Kamara or Alex Iwobi could get a decisive touch on Robinson’s teasing cross.



  1. hmmm, is zelalem not fit? ive said before a player like zelalem is more impressive playing with first teamers than reserves (as we saw in pre season)

    1. But we never saw him in a real competition. If first teamers like United, chelsea and city struggle vs EPL teams… what will Zelalem do? Dominate them? He played 3-4 games? 2 of them was very low tempo with very light tackles. Add 40% more tempo with physical contact where the opposition will try to get the ball back for 90min and then counter attack. I doubt he will last 20 min.

      U21 teams are not that bad as you make it sounds. Didn’t you saw them play in preseason and capital one cup? Playing with Arsenal first team is easy. Playing with Arsenals first team vs real quality like in EPL is another thing.

  2. I’m convinced Zelalem is more suited to a deep-lying role than as a number 10. A Pirlo role than an Ozil role. He doesn’t seem to thrive when he’s given the freedom to roam behind the main striker, but when he receives the ball in the center of the midfield where he can switch defense to attack he thrives because he’s extremely elusive and hard to rid the ball from. Wilshere himself said that in training its virtually impossible for him to lose the ball. Think about how Busquets and Pirlo play. They play a mixture of short and long passes and in tight situations in midfield they can wriggle themselves out of it. This is often the catalyst for a lot of attacks for Barcelona, once Busquets gets the ball past the opposing teams midfield and plays it forward either to the advanced Xavi or Iniesta or out wide. So even though Zelalem has fantastic vision and his through balls are a joy to behold, they’re much more suited for a deep lying position, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that his vision will be hindered. His pass for Eisfeld back in pre-season was essentially from just past the mid circle.

    1. I’ve thought about this too, Zelalem’s vision in a deeper position would be similar in style to Busquets’ role for Barca – feeding perfect passes into the advanced midfielders roaming between the oppositions’ defence and midfield. But what I would add to that is that Zelalem is said to have fantastic stamina so it’s just as possible that he could be a box-to-box player, in which case he’s able to do both! Initiate attacks from deep and also pop up in advanced areas to make killer through passes.

  3. Yes Zelalem and Ollson are very similar in that respect. Both are good in and around the final third in how they can spot a final pass, but when asked to play as an attacking midfielder and stick to that area of the pitch they are less influential. For me Zelalem will develop as an Attacking midfielder with Ollson as the more deep lying of the two. I can see Zelalelm becoming a player similar to Toni Kroos of Bayern Munich

  4. My Arsenal addiction is so out of hand this year that I even find defeats for the youth sides a big dissapointment. Got to keep in mind, though, that it’s all about player development.

    If it were primarily results, then the likes of Yennaris and Bellerin and Aneke would be mainstays of u21 squad instead of out on loan. Also, if results were the thing, Gnabry* would surely have been given some youth team duties in recent times instead of staying with first team where, especially since Theo’s return, it’s very hard to see him getting on unless we establish a big lead early, and even then Wenger’s priority will be giving game time to Vermaelen and Monreal and whichever big name midfielder missed out on starting.

    It seems we were hurt quite badly by losing five or six of those older more experienced lads- Frimpong, Afobe, Ryo, Yennaris- who’ve been playing recently, and you did wonder with the teamsheet if, though packed with skill and huge promise, the midfield lacked some strength last night.

    Take it Afobe, Ryo and Frimpong all have injuries?

    Only bright spot of week was clips of Crowley from u18. Could be something else that lad.

    * Goals seem to have dried up for Akpom in his absence.

  5. Ricky I agree with you on Crowley. the boy is very gifted. I saw the highlights of under-18 against west brom and I was impressed with Crowley. that pass to Dawkins for the disallowed goal was delicious. and the way he passed through the west brom defense to make that shoot against the crossbar was absolute wonderful

  6. Agreed, Crowley is very gifted and a one to watch, he’ll be a real player without a doubt. Iwobi also played very well and stood out IMO. Having managed to get some time off work, I managed to see the U18’s game at Shenley. Where as Arsenal did play better than they have done in recent weeks, I wouldn’t say the U18’s were as impressive or the game was as one sided as the reports suggests. West Brom played deep, soaking Arsenal pressure and attacked on the break – it could have gone either way if I’m honest. I’d forgotten about Reece Grenwich the tall ex-Arsenal centre half playing for West Brom, he was very dominant and looked like he had a point to prove. Apparently the West Brom GK was also ex-Arsenal too, he was also very good and controlled the back line very well. Obviously Brady can’t keep every schoolboy, but it seems like we might have let a couple of good players go.
    (For once, it seems that the U18’s did better than the U21’s this week…)

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