Hayden hits brace and Crowley scores great goal as Arsenal U21s beat Forest Green 6-4

Pre-season Friendly

Forest Green Rovers 4 (Norwood (7, 38), Sinclair (63, 90) Arsenal 6 (Maitland-Niles (20), Toral (59), Crowley (65), Hayden (83, 85), Ajayi (90))

Arsenal U21s continued their pre-season preparations with a highly-entertaining 6-3 victory over Forest Green Rovers this evening. Steve Gatting’s side were behind on several occasions but showed terrific resilience to come back, even if some of their defending at times left a lot to be desired. Arsenal’s goals came courtesy of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Jon Toral, Dan Crowley, who scored an excellent long-range effort, Isaac Hayden, who hit a brace, and Semi Ajayi.

Gatting made five changes from the side that drew with Boreham Wood on Friday. Gedion Zelalem, Chuba Akpom and Hayden, who were all part of the Emirates Cup squad, returned, whilst Matt Macey and Glen Kamara also started. Alex Iwobi was missing through illness.

Damian Martinez, Hector Bellerin and Ignasi Miquel remain with the first-team squad ahead of the Community Shield.


Kamara-Ajayi-O’Connor-Ormonde Ottewill


Maitland Niles-Zelalem-Toral


subs: Crowley (for Maitland-Niles, 55), Iliev (for Macey, 59). Not used: Jebb, Lipman, Willock, Moore.

Forest Green are the longest-serving members of the Conference Premier and they certainly weren’t fazed by the visit of the Arsenal youngsters. The hosts took the lead with just seven minutes on the clock when James Norwood latched onto Marcus Kelly’s corner to head the ball past the stranded Macey.

Arsenal responded quickly, though, with Hayden doing well to find Maitland-Niles, whose shot was wayward. Maitland-Niles was far more accurate just minutes later, however, as he found the net after impressive work from Akpom.

Hayden was the architect of the majority of Arsenal’s attacking moves and the midfielder came close to giving the Gunners the lead, but his shot was saved by Sam Russell.

Instead, it was Forest Green who went into the break in the ascendancy after Norwood found the net again, with Kurtis Guthrie the provider on this occasion.

Arsenal were looking to their creative players for inspiration and they eventually managed to draw level when Zelalem received the ball from Toral and quickly played it back into the path the Spaniard, who beat the goalkeeper with a deft chip.

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images Europe

Isaac Hayden was impressive on his first appearance for the U21s this pre-season                                                                                                                                           Ben Hoskins/Getty Images Europe

Forest Green were soon back in front, however, with substitute Rob Sinclair capitalising on Macey’s hesitancy from a corner to make it 3-2.

It was, by now, an enthralling encounter, and there was yet more drama to come. Crowley, who signed his first professional contract yesterday, had replaced Maitland-Niles early in the second-half and the midfielder drew Arsenal level again with a superb strike from distance.

It was Crowley’s fifth goal of a hugely impressive pre-season, but the youngster instantly set about trying to put Arsenal ahead. He found Akpom with a clever pass, but the angle was against the striker and he could only divert his effort into the side-netting.

Arsenal came perilously close to scoring again on several occasions. Akpom had a penalty claim turned down and the striker then almost found the net with a header that was just kept out by substitute goalkeeper Paul White. The young Gunners were eventually rewarded for their persistence with seven minutes remaining when Hayden did well to work space for himself before firing past White.

Arsenal were utterly dominant in the closing stages and Hayden capped off a fine individual performance when he raced onto Crowley’s pass and finished well again to make it 5-3.

That looked to be that, but, remarkably, there would be two more goals. First Ajayi further increased Arsenal’s tally when he finished well from Olsson’s cross. Then Sinclair scored his second of the game and Forest Green’s fourth moments before the final whistle.

It was an excellent game, although, when the dust settles, the main positives to take out of it from an Arsenal perspective were the performances of Hayden and Crowley.

The U21s play Colchester United at the training ground next week in their final pre-season friendly before commencing their league campaign away to Reading a week on Friday.



  1. Pretty impressive Crowley. Played in 4 u21 games pre season and scored in all of them. I think he has the skill set to become a good scorer as well as his obvious creative talents.

    1. I understand that the U18’s lost 3-2 to Ipswich in a recent game at the AFC training ground, but for some reason there has been little if any mention of the game on this website.

      1. It’s a strange one, on arsenal.com it’s like the u18s don’t exist. No fixtures, no results, no profiles, there isn’t even anything on jonker and the new Dutch coaches. Yet people like court, massey and even djourou are still on there.
        Fulham have their u18 fixtures up, so they have been drawn. This is the best place to.get youth news, but even JB is missing out on the u18s this summer.

  2. If you take out the over age players we could field a damn strong u21 team this season

    Bellerin hayden ajayi ormonde-ottewill
    Olsson zelalem
    Gnabry crowley toral

    Iliev/vickers moore pleguezuelo kamara jebb maitland-niles lipman iwobi

    I am certain it’s the though for one or two of those to go out on loan? I think all are above u18s level, so not even playing regular for the u21s will be really holding them back.

    1. The U18 friendlies are behind closed doors so I can’t get detailed information about them- only results etc. When the season starts I will report regularly on the U18s.

      On Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 7:59 AM, Jeorge Bird's Arsenal Youth wrote:


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