It was a frustrating game for Arsenal as they failed to break down a well-organised New York Red Bulls side today, but one player to emerge with credit from the disappointing 1-0 friendly defeat was Isaac Hayden.
The 19 year old, who formed an unorthodox central-defensive partnership with Nacho Monreal in the first-half, made several important interventions during his 45 minutes on the pitch as he staked his claim to be the club’s fourth choice in that position for the new campaign.
Chuba Akpom, who was rather surprisingly left out of the starting line-up, showed some neat touches after the interval but failed to get on the scoresheet, whilst Damian Martinez was assured in goal as he looks to finally earn promotion to the senior squad this Summer.
Hayden was the only member of the U21 squad to start in the first-half as Arsene Wenger opted for a rather bizarre formation that included no orthodox striker; Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla alternating up front.
Wojciech Szczesny made an impressive save to deny Thierry Henry a dream goal in the opening stages, with Santi Cazorla, who was making his first appearance of pre-season, responding by shooting just wide at the other end.
Gedion Zelalem, stationed primarily on the right flank, struggled to have much influence on proceedings, and much of Arsenal’s play seemed a little too intricate at times, which wasn’t exactly surprising given the number of midfielders on show.
Abject defending from a corner enabled Bradley Wright-Phillips to score what would prove to be the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time, although the introduction of Akpom did at least mean that Arsenal had a recognised striker on the field after the break.
Hector Bellerin and Ignasi Miquel also received run-outs, although neither of the Spaniards were posed too many problems defensively, whilst Bellerin was unable to venture into the attacking third very often given the resilience of the opposition.
The remaining two youngsters, Jon Toral and Kristoffer Olsson, were introduced during the second-half, although neither was especially influential.
A trip to Austria and then the Emirates Cup are the next assignments for Wenger’s side, and it will be interesting to see which youngsters remain with the squad over the next week. Martinez, despite the impending arrival of David Ospina, seems likely to be named as third-choice goalkeeper, whilst the confident Hayden has barely put a foot wrong so far this pre-season.
The situation is more complicated for Bellerin, given the expected acquisition of Calum Chambers, whilst Olsson and Toral may be limited to Capital One Cup appearances this season. For Akpom, things are still undecided, but, despite his obvious technical qualities, the 18 year old is still in need of a loan to a Championship side. Miquel, meanwhile, has a lot of experience for a 21 year old, but Hayden appears to be the more intriguing prospect.