U21 Premier League Cup Semi-Final preview- Hayden could return

Match preview-

U21 Premier League Cup Semi-Final

Arsenal v Reading

Meadow Park, Saturday March 15th, kick-off: 3pm

Arsenal’s youngsters successfully negotiated their way past the first obstacle in their considerable Cup schedule by dispatching of Everton U18s in the FA Youth Cup on Monday, but tomorrow brings another challenge, with Reading’s strong U21 side standing between them and a place in the Final of the U21 Premier League Cup.

Arsenal reached this stage by edging past Chelsea in extra-time over six weeks ago, but, since then, they have lost the talents of goalscorer Benik Afobe, who joined Sheffield Wednesday on loan shortly afterwards. With Chuba Akpom likely to be involved for Coventry City at the weekend, Steve Gatting could call upon 18 year old Austin Lipman to lead the line at Meadow Park, a ground he knows well following his stint with Boreham Wood earlier in the campaign.

Ideally, Arsenal would field as strong a side as possible in this game, with the likes of Carl Jenkinson and Ryo having featured in previous rounds, but that may not be possible given the injury situation that is currently afflicting the first-team squad. Isaac Hayden should, however, be available, despite making the bench for the senior side in Munich in midweek.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe

The aptly named Semi Ajayi has played an important part in Arsenal reaching the Semi-Finals, with the imposing centre-back playing every minute of the victories away to Norwich City and Fulham and particularly impressing against Chelsea. Ajayi will be an important player tomorrow, and he will be hoping that the defence is far more organised than they were against Reading in the league last month, when the Royals prevailed 2-1 by capitalising upon some slack marking.

Many of Reading’s key players will be familiar to Arsenal following the encounters that have taken place between the two sides over the past couple of years. Niall Keown, the son of legendary Arsenal centre-back Martin, should feature, along with dangerous midfielder Aaron Tshibola. Striker Gozie Ugwu, who has spent time on loan at various clubs, is another player to be wary of, as is fellow forward Dominic Samuel, who has already represented the Reading first-team.

The winners will take on either Manchester City or Burnley in the two-legged Final and progression to that stage would be a hugely commendable feat for Arsenal, not to mention a rather surprising one given their indifferent league form. Those that are eligible could be forgiven for allowing their mind to drift ahead a little towards next week’s UEFA Youth League encounter in Barcelona, but, nonetheless, they are certainly capable of achieving a positive result tomorrow.

This game heralds the start of a challenging run of fixtures for the youth sides at various levels, with the alarming possibility being that, should they progress on all fronts, the young Gunners could be involved in 24 fixtures between now and the end of April. Indeed, tomorrow morning the U18s are scheduled to face Norwich City away, although the team for that game, if it goes ahead, is likely to be comprised mainly of schoolboys. All the players can do is take each game individually, and, hopefully, they will have at least one trophy to show for their efforts by the end of the campaign.

Possible team:


Bellerin-Ajayi-Pleguezuelo-Ormonde Ottewill




subs: Iliev, Moore, Kamara, Jebb, Maitland-Niles.



  1. I’d rather they tried someone other than Zelalem- Jebb or Kamara- for this one. Clearly they feel, with good reason, it’s important to toughen him up, but I think they can be smart about it and not just stick him in there for every tough match.

    What with Reading reportedly being a very physical side, Jebb deserving recognition for his recent performances, and Kamara being banned for the Barca game, combined with the fact that Barca game may well be the best chance to shine Zelalaem’s had all year, I hope the club see it that way.

    But,then, they rarely seem willing to do it- recognise sometimes you have to win the battle battle first, and select the team accordingly- at any level.

    Always want to see them win, but this is definitely the lowest of the three for me, partly because it’s not a great reflection of what we’ve got at that level. If the loan players- Afobe, Aneke, Miquel, Akpom- were available, I’d have us as strong favorites.

    1. THANK YOU, you’ve seen the light, bro ! Arsenal should concentrate more on developping his footballing skills than on his strength right now. overplaying him, or killing him in the gym won’t help in any way. it will only affect his game, and then cynical people will jump on him because ‘he didn’t do so well’ bla bla bla. the kid has to rest if they want the best out of him. Besides, Gedion, whether he was born in Germany, or grew up in the USA, has Ethiopian DNA. Ethiopians, and generally East africans, are lithe and slim, just look at the Olympic gold medallists etc like the Dibabas, Aman Mohammed etc. he will always be slim and slender. Arsene knows!

    2. I agree zelalem will develop physically regardless as he ages but I don’t feel it’s out of the question he will end up playing in a deeper role. In fact I would like to see him play something of a busquets role in the first team. Consensus seems to be an am furthest forward in the midfield but I honestly think crowley would be preferable to him in that role. He can’t play box to box as the all action aspect wouldn’t suit him. He would be a very different proposition to flamini and bit close to Arteta.

      The tactical nous (which I feel is his strongest point), vision and, critically, range would be ideal to initiate counter attacks and break up play, not via rugged sliding tackles but interceptions and positioning. You also have to take into account that most of the passes he executed in preseason came from a much deeper midfield position. He could obviously do so as an am but that would limit the opportunities presented to do so. I’ve said this before but a lot depends on how he progresses physically but NOT by forcing the issue. For now it would be best to observe patiently rather than prematurely designate a fixed position.

  2. Its about time Jebb finally gets to train with the first team. He is so good yet he is not being noticed. I am glad to see Jebb and maitland-niles training with the first team.

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