U21 Match report- Arsenal 0 Leicester 4- Young Gunners outclassed

U21 Premier League- Game 19

Arsenal 0 Leicester City 4 (Hopper 6, Watson 41, 50, Cain 80)

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park

Arsenal U21s suffered a deeply disappointing defeat to Leicester City in their penultimate home game of the season. Steve Gatting’s side, who were without several key players due to first-team and FA Youth Cup commitments, struggled to garner any sort of attacking momentum and didn’t register a shot on target until the second-half.

They struggled to break down a Leicester defence that was marshalled manfully by the experienced Republic of Ireland international Sean St Ledger, whilst their own defensive frailties were pounced upon all too easily by a determined visiting side. Arsenal’s league form at U21 level this season, particularly post-Christmas, has been rather alarming, with Gatting’s team winning just two games out of eleven.

The most concerning element is that Gatting, along with current U18s coach Carl Laraman, will still be in charge of Arsenal at this level next season, but it is hoped that the appointment of Andries Jonker as the club’s new Head of Youth Development will reduce the chances of results such as this occurring in the future.

Leicester were fully deserved of their win, but Arsenal’s play was painful to watch at times as some players struggled to make the requisite runs and others gave the ball away in dangerous areas. Their play in an attacking sense did improve a little following the introduction of Austin Lipman as a second-half substitute, but Leicester goalkeeper Adam Smith was barely tested throughout.

Arsenal were without several regulars at this level. Hector Bellerin is likely to be on the first-team bench against West Ham United tomorrow, whilst Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley, Julio Pleguezuelo and Jack Jebb were all left out with the second-leg of the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final against Chelsea in mind. Isaac Hayden, meanwhile, was missing through suspension.




Maitland Niles-Eisfeld-Iwobi


subs: Lipman (for Maitland-Niles, 70), Kamara (for Iwobi, 70). Not used: Huddart, Siemann, Ormonde-Ottewill.

Arsenal’s start was sluggish and set the tone for the rest of the game. Alex Iwobi gave away a free-kick which was taken by Callum Elder. Matt Macey was on hand to gather, but it wasn’t long before the Arsenal goalkeeper was picking the ball out of the back of his net, with Tafari Moore struggling to deal with the considerable threat of Tom Hopper, who beat the full-back for pace and then beat Macey with a confident finish.

That was just the beginning. Leicester were putting Arsenal under pressure at every opportunity and Gatting’s side simply couldn’t cope. The visitors came close from a corner before Macey had to deal with two free-kicks in quick succession. The pressure was relentless, with Ryan Watson then seeing a shot deflected narrowly wide.

Watson came close again shortly afterwards, with Stefan O’Connor then having to make a well-timed intervention to prevent further damage. Arsenal couldn’t stem the overwhelming tide of Leicester attacks, however, and they were soon 2-0 down, with Watson being rewarded for his persistence.

The midfielder finished well after being found by Harry Panayiotou from a corner, with Arsenal leaving the field at half-time without having even come close to threatening the Leicester goal.

Arsenal appeared a little more determined after the interval, with Zak Ansah’s attempted pass being gathered by Smith, but mistakes continued to plague their game. Alfred Mugabo, who is set to be released in June, inadvertently directed the ball into the path of Hopper, who shot wide.

In an all too rare attacking move from Arsenal Jon Toral found Kristoffer Olsson, whose shot was just off target, but normal service resumed when Leicester made it 3-0. O’Connor committed a late challenge high up the pitch, but the referee waved play on and Leicester took full advantage, with Watson embarking on a mazy run through the Arsenal defence before beating Macey once more.

Watson then came close to claiming a hat-trick, but shot wide. Arsenal sought to change things a little, with Lipman and Glen Kamara being introduced. Kamara at least provided protection to the defence, something that had been glaringly absent beforehand, whilst Lipman worked hard and attempted to make things happen on the right flank.

Arsenal’s best move came when Olsson closed down St Ledger’s clearance and played in Thomas Eisfeld, who was on the bench at Wembley on Saturday. The German directed the ball into the path of Ansah, whose effort struck the crossbar. Leicester were always on top, though, and inflicted further damage when substitute Michael Cain capitalised on some woeful defending to make it 4-0. This had long been a bridge too far for the young Gunners.

It was a deeply disappointing way to end their first campaign at Boreham Wood, but the Youth Cup has certainly taken priority this week. That said, some of the players who aren’t eligible for that competition, such as Eisfeld, Olsson and Toral, were far from at their best here, and a similar team managed to dispatch of Manchester City last week.

Mugabo is strong but deploying him at left-back is to nobody’s benefit, whilst Ajayi will have to be far more consistent if he is to become a first-team squad member next season. Hayden, meanwhile, was sorely missed. If Arsenal manage to prevail over Chelsea in the Youth Cup on Thursday then this game will probably be largely forgotten, but losing by such a scoreline should not be acceptable for a club that places so much emphasis on youth development.




  1. Maybe they think his is Arsenal so teams will fear them and they will win. Hope to see some intelligent hardworking player come in this summer, player that will earn there stripes.

    Really hurt to see Arsenal peter out this season, too many big-money big-name idiots, let’s go back to signing unknown gems with potential and turn them into world-class players

    1. We got plenty of potential in the teams but its the step up to EPL that is the biggest step you will ever take. We are always fighting for the top 4 spot so its extremely hard for a young player to come in and get times on the pitch. Its much easier to just buy a good player that will perform.

  2. Hey jeorge just wanted to ask if you think there’s any chance we could get Patrick Roberts of fulham as we’ve been linked with him recently (as have many other clubs)? Would really like him here even if it meant he was our only youth recruit this summer (though we’ve already agreed for graiciar apparently). Thanks in advance.

  3. ‘The most concerning element is that Gatting, along with current U18s coach Carl Laraman, will still be in charge of Arsenal at this level next season’
    Well said Jeorge – it kind of sums up this disappointing season for U18’s and U21’s. Undoubtedly we have real individual talent in our youth ranks, but I feel we lack the high-end coaching knowledge to push on player development to help build successful teams with a tactical/mental/winning attitude – that can go on to represent Arsenal at PL level. Roll on next season, hopefully with the changes in place that will start to make the crucial differences for our progression at these levels.

  4. It was an unwelcome fixture, but still shouldn’t have led to a kind of perfect storm of crapness.

    As I tried to calculate earlier in the day what the team would be I half-expected two or three schoolboys (those who look a bit stronger like Dobson and Mavididi) to be named, knowing a couple would be held back for first team and expecting perhaps none of Thursdays squad would play.

    So it was a surprise to see 3 or 4 of Thurday’s team involved. All measures should have been taken to avoid that. Unfair to ask those players to knowingly harm their chances of being at their best for their, and our, biggest game of season in two days’ time. They won’t be as fresh as they would have been.

    I guess it was just a very sharp illustration of the downside of loaning out most of the older lads. Chemistry in a team is paramount and that line-up looked distinctly short of bite and aggression. I can only think we were totally stretched and didn’t have any other options- were Uade and Dawkins unavailable through injury, for instance?

    Oh well, a stinker. Thursday provides a chance to still make it a good season, despite all the worrying performances and the embarrassing league tables. We really do need the shake-up, though, and a hope of mine is that a few older players will be retained longer, with less loans if possible, in the future, as it is harmful for development of better players to be involved in so many dispiriting struggles.

    We need more strength. We need to stop running our experiments : what happens in English competitions when you have nice players but no-one with real physicality in the centre of the park. It doesn’t work. Nobody benefits, nice players included.

  5. Oh, talking of sides predominantly featuring the schoolboys- apparently the u18s are playing Fulham tomorrow at noon! That’ll surely be one of youngest sides we’ve ever put out at that level, u16s plus one or two others.

  6. Can someone please explain this to me? I watched arguably the worst 1st half performance of any arsenal team I have seen this season. Not pointing fingers, that’s just a fact.

    My question came at half time: Why did nothing change?!

    Who watched that 45 minutes of football and said “Well played lads, keep going just like that”? There has to come a point where they have to call a spade a spade and make some sort of tactical decision. These players will never develop if they are caressed with compliments and progressions while their performances are below sub-standard.

    Am I the only one?

    1. Whoa, if it was worse even than a couple of the first teams performances it must have been very bad.

      Grim joking aside though, would be interesting to hear the take of someone who was there about what went wrong. My guess would be we were very short of leaders (Hayden is the only one I’m pretty sure of in that department, though Olsson also strikes me as having a good attitude) on the pitch; as well as bite, aggression and physicality all over the park. Is that accurate?

      If it is, I’m not sure how much you could change that at half-time- the likes of Toral, Eisfeld and Olsson don’t seem like people you could tell to get stuck into them or similar. It’s one of my concerns that we don’t have enough players to do exactly that and let the talents of those mentioned come to fore in the process.

      Where subs go it’s a bit of a similar story- not too much they could do (but you’d know more gain about whether anyone was so diabolical they should’ve been subbed)

      I’m hoping much of it was down to the weight of games catching up (11 last month, six so far this), but I fear plenty is also down to the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach of the club all the way through, i.e we like nice, passing football. For that to work everyone needs to be outstanding (and even then you need a Pique-type leader, and maybe a Yaya T, to hold it all together).

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