Arsenal’s youngsters forced to move on quickly from heavy defeat


A 5-1 defeat, at any level of football, is not a result that can be brushed aside with much ease, but the Arsenal youngsters who featured in last night’s heavy loss to Sunderland at U21 level will be forced to do just that, with several games at various levels coming thick and fast before the New Year.

On Friday Torquay United visit Meadow Park in the FA Youth Cup, whilst next week the U19s will be seeking to secure qualification to the next phase of the UEFA Youth League when they travel to face Napoli.

There are still some aspects of last night’s performance, however, that are worth reflecting on, particularly the inability of Arsenal’s ball-playing midfielders, namely Kristoffer Olsson, Jon Toral, Gedion Zelalem and Thomas Eisfeld, to make a significant impression on the game. They found their passing moves regularly stopped by Sunderland’s resolute defence, with Chuba Akpom receiving very little in the way of service up front, whilst Isaac Hayden was not at his most resolute in defensive-midfield, meaning the opposition were free to wreak havoc upon Arsenal’s vulnerable defence.

The lack of a natural wide player in the side, until Ainsley Maitland-Niles was introduced midway through the second-half, seemed to be part of the problem for Arsenal, who had fielded at least one nominal winger from the offset in each of their previous fixtures at this level this season.

Nonetheless, the relative experience of Benik Afobe, Nico Yennaris and Hector Bellerin was missed last night, although the presence of Dan Crowley amongst the substitutes indicates that the latter is on track in his development having impressed since joining from Aston Villa in the summer.

Crowley, as he demonstrated in pre-season, is already well equipped to play at U21 level in terms of his technique and tactical awareness, but he may be held back from regular involvement at that level until he is more capable of coping in a physical sense, with Zelalem, another slight midfielder, being frequently pushed off the ball last night.

The situation regarding Zelalem remains somewhat strange. His ability to play defence-splitting through-balls is unquestioned, as he demonstrated for the first-team during pre-season, but too often at U21 level he has failed to make a sustained impact on the game and, despite being part of the senior squad, has been withdrawn early in each of the past two fixtures. Perhaps some outings at U18 level would be beneficial in terms of enabling him to build up his confidence. The 16 year old is an immense talent and would perhaps benefit from having natural wingers supporting him on the flanks, but he must be given time to develop.

 

9 comments

  1. Good you mentioned about Zelalem its a bit strange at youth level he is not as outstanding as what we saw in pre season but he is still 16 i think we should not put too much pressure on him if he is in the first team there must be a reason.By the way Jeorge how ha Ajayi done since he came because its rare we sign a 20 year old centre back for that level

    1. First of all young players tend to be inconsistent, so this is no crime. Wilshere for example is a bonafide player but even he had indifferent or low-impact spells at youth level.

      More importantly, Zelalem is precisely the sort of player who will always do better at senior level than at youth level. This because first of all he has no problem with keeping it simple if that is what is on – no Gerrard-like addiction to “hollywood2 balls. And further because when you have a guy who thrives on passing, it implies that the team around him be really aware of space: how to create it, so the pass can come – as opposed to going too early and drawing in the defense. Think of some of those balls Zelalem was feeding walcott: it was because Theo knows how to back off and wait – and because the other forward players know how to stay out of that space too and thus create the gap for Theo to come in to.

      That said, Zelalem for me resembles Cesc in a lot of ways. And Cesc benefitted from being played deeped in midfield when he was younger, Forcing him to learn how to battle and hold his own and contribute when not making assitsts – and how to come from deeper into the hole instead of just sitting there waiting for things to come to him. Ditto for Ramsey and now Wilshere is making that step up too, though still in progress.

      What I am saying is hold off the artifical “crisis” on an 16 yr old boy.

      For those talking about Zelalem being only on a 2 year contract, well he isnt in the first team for no good reason. And he will be resigned, short of a catastrophic drop in his interest in the game, which is unlikely the happen. That kid is for me a gem a potential lethal weapon in the making. Arsenal would never drop him as they would come to regret it. Especially as he am herefor practically nothing in cost and the carrying cost of paying him while he is learning is nothing compared to having to buy that kind of talent at age 20. No Zelalem is not going anywhere.

      1. I think Jeorge was referring to Ajayi having 2 years left on his contract and having to impress to get a first team chance.

      2. You still made very good points. Zelalem’s vision demands excellent movement in order for him to shine, we only witness his full talent when he is alongside top class senior players. I think AW is just waiting for Zelalem to physically mature a little bit more, and possibly also waiting for him to turn 17 in January and we can tie him down to a long-term professional contract, before giving him his first taste of high level competitive football. Zelalem is a very special talent and we can all look forward to witnessing his development.

  2. Recovering from a heavy defeat is one of the process of development. Those who best cope with it will be the better for it. Playing without natural wingers? That’s emulating the senior side. Being younger may explain why they are not gelling as well as the First teamers in this situation. This again goes to show how important it is to get the right balance for the team, no matter at what level.
    By the way Jeorge, do you know how much time Arsene spent/gives time to intervene/interact with the Young Gunners? Or does he do so through the coaching staff? How does he import his way of play to the youngsters?

  3. Well done Maitland-Niles who came on and look sharp and made the assist for Jon Toral. Not sure why this was not mentioned as it was clearly a one two he wanted back, but credit to the finish from Toral.

  4. Vickers in goal moore & Boo 2 attackin fullbacks pleggy & o’connor 2 pacey cb kamara dm zelalam & crowley partnership is mouthwaterin akpom upfront flanked by iwobi & mait-land subs: huddart mugabo jebb lipman hinds/willock akpom jordan brown played as a school boy so 1promisin schoolboy should feature

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