One of the longstanding criticisms of Arsenal’s Hale End Academy has been its inability, since its inception, to produce a high-quality striker capable of gracing the Premier League on a regular basis.
On the evidence of yesterday’s enthralling 5-3 victory over West Ham United, however, that stance may soon have to be altered, with six of the eight goals being scored by strikers who came through the ranks at Arsenal. Chuba Akpom, back from his loan spell at Coventry City, scored an impressive hat-trick, Zak Ansah marked his return from injury with a dramatic goal and West Ham’s Jordan Brown, who left Arsenal in the summer, pounced upon his former club’s hesitancy in defence to score two goals on his first U21 start.
If just one of Akpom, Ansah and Brown goes on to be a Premier League regular, then the perception of the Hale End Academy may well change. All three are still a considerable way from achieving that aim, but have enough raw talent about them to inspire hope.
Akpom is certainly the closest to making the breakthrough, although he may have been a little disheartened to find himself back in the U21s upon his return as opposed to the senior side. With Nicklas Bendtner set to depart in the Summer, however, Akpom may well earn a permanent promotion, especially if he can replicate the form he showed during the pre-season tour of Asia last year.
Ansah, meanwhile, is in a slightly more precarious situation, with his contract due to expire at the end of June. If he can continue to impress for the U21s in their last seven games of the season he should be able to earn an extended stay, with a loan spell a possibility next season if he manages to steer clear of injury problems.
Brown, who left Arsenal to get more chances at a higher level, seems justified, at present, in his decision to move to West Ham, with the 17 year old having already signed a professional contract at the East London club. If he was still at Arsenal, the striker most probably would have found himself below Akpom, Ansah and Austin Lipman in the pecking order, and he is certainly making the most of his increased game time at his new side.
There were further positives to take for Arsenal, with Jon Toral and Alex Iwobi particularly impressive, whilst Thomas Eisfeld seemed rather sharper than in recent weeks. On the other hand, there are still causes for concern defensively, with left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, despite his considerable prowess in an attacking sense, being caught out again yesterday on several occasions.
The deployment of Gedion Zelalem and Kristoffer Olsson, two technically-able but physically slight players, as a midfield pivot, was not the wisest move by coach Steve Gatting as it enabled West Ham to break forward readily, but the overall result and performance will still have given Arsenal confidence going into their trip to White Hart Lane on Friday night.