Match report- Olsson provides excellent assist as Arsenal U21s are held by Derby

U21 Premier League- Game 2

Arsenal 1 (MAITLAND-NILES) Derby County 1

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park

Arsenal’s youngsters learnt tonight that they will not have things all their own way in the second tier of the U21 Premier League.

Steve Gatting’s side were subjected to a rigorous work-out by a well-organised Derby County side, who levelled from the penalty spot after Ainsley Maitland-Niles had earlier given Arsenal the lead.

The penalty award, given after a challenge by Alex Iwobi, seemed a little harsh, but the scoreline didn’t, with Derby closing down Arsenal at every possible opportunity and eventually reaping the rewards.

It was anticipated that Arsenal would sail through their second division fixtures and instantly be reinstated into the top tier, but tonight showed that they will still face some considerable tests.

Dan Crowley, despite evidently being frustrated at being stationed on the left flank, provided moments of genius, but overall this was a somewhat scrappy affair that was enlightened by Kristoffer Olsson’s inch-perfect pass to find Maitland-Niles, who finished well for his third goal at this level.

Arsenal, for large spells, found cohesion difficult to come by, which wasn’t surprising considering both full-backs were playing out of position, whilst Crowley, in a similar manner to Santi Cazorla in the first-team, was constantly drifting inside rather than remaining stationed on the wing.

Ignasi Miquel and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill were absent, meaning Glen Kamara and Stefan O’Connor came into the side. There was a familiar face in the Derby line-up too in Alban Bunjaku, the playmaker who left Arsenal in controversial circumstances two years ago. He showed glimpses of his superb technical ability, but the threat that he provided was often snuffed out by Arsenal captain Isaac Hayden.







Arsenal had started the season with a victory over Reading and the early signs suggested that they were on their way to another success here, with Tafari Moore winning a corner following a rampaging run down the left flank, before Crowley and Olsson exchanged neat passes only for Semi Ajayi to be caught offside.

Derby responded quickly, however. Kamara did well to cut out a cross from the opposing right-back Kieron Freeman, with Tom Naylor then directing an effort well off target.

Crowley came close to scoring with a free-kick at the other end, but Derby still threatened intermittently, with goalkeeper Matt Macey called into action on several occasions.

Crowley was the instigator of much that was good about Arsenal’s play, with the diminutive midfielder finding Maitland-Niles, who in turn slipped the ball through to Akpom, but the striker lashed over from a difficult angle.

There was a sense of early-season rustiness about Arsenal, with several passes going astray, and matters could have got even worse had Kwame Thomas not directed his header over when well placed.

It was a rather uneventful opening period, but Arsenal did come perilously close to scoring when Maitland-Niles, involved yet again, played in Akpom, who embarked upon a trademark double stepover before striking the far post with a fierce effort.

Derby, when they attacked, possessed a commendable amount of confidence, with one sweeping move culminating in Kamara committing a clumsy foul on the edge of his own penalty area. The free-kick was deflected out for a corner and eventually, after the ball was played back in following the initial set-piece, Macey, as he did on several occasions last season, made an excellent stop from point-blank range, with Thomas kept out this time.

Arsenal squandered an excellent opportunity to take the lead before the break, though, with Crowley blazing horrendously over when well placed having been found by Gedion Zelalem.

Early in the second-half Macey almost undone his good work after he lost concentration, allowing Thomas to close him down. Thankfully for the goalkeeper the striker somehow failed to find the net, but it was major left off for Gatting’s side.

They certainly made the most of the reprieve, and, just moments later, they were ahead. Olsson, as he has a habit of doing, unlocked the opposition defence with an exquisite long-range pass that landed precisely at the feet of Maitland-Niles, who finished adroitly to open the scoring.

Bunjaku then threatened at the other end, but he couldn’t manoeuvre his way past Arsenal’s defence. The game was a little more open now, but Arsenal had to be wary of Derby’s threat on the counter-attack and Ajayi was perhaps fortunate to stay on the field when he committed a rash challenge. The centre-back was booked but may well have been dismissed if this was a senior fixture.

Macey did well to push the resultant free-kick around the post. Arsenal then sought to put the game beyond all doubt, but they fluffed their lines on two occasions. Firstly Akpom couldn’t quite connect with Crowley’s clipped pass, then O’Connor’s header was deflected wide from Olsson’s corner.

It was Iwobi who would be involved in the game’s controversial moment, with the second-year scholar adjudged to have committed a foul in the area. There was some bemusement at the decision, but Derby took full advantage of it, with Alefe Santos confidently converting past Macey.

There were chances for Arsenal to regain their lead in the closing stages. Akpom played in Maitland-Niles, whose effort was kept out by goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell. Crowley then produced a superb piece of skill, which resulted in him being hacked down. He took the free-kick himself, with Mitchell doing well to tip his effort over the crossbar. Iwobi then threaded the ball through to Akpom as the clock ticked down, but again Mitchell was alert and Arsenal, for all their endeavour, had to settle for a point.



  1. I wasn’t expecting us to sail through the fixtures, regardless of playing second tier teams (we are there for a reason!), although we have some big reputations in the team, the football played hasn’t been very convincing in recent times. Well, it’s good to see Crowley has hit the ground running in u21s football despite being hammered by one of their players all game, he was reputedly the standout player against reading. Interesting he is frustrated playing on the left? I’m afraid we have 3 CB who need game time, so one (Hayden) has to play in midfield, along with Olsson, which then leaves one space between Crowley and zelalem, and Crowley being more versatile is the natural choice to move over to the left.

    1. I agree with you. That bit about us being expected to sail through the lower division strikes me as odd. Expected by who? On what grounds? We were relegated last season and, since we’ve still got the same coaches and players, what could have changed?

      If anything, I’d expect us to find the lower division tough going, partly because we’ll be less up for it than against the top clubs and our traditional rivals (United, Chelsea, Spurs, etc.) and partly becuase the well-organised, physical Championship-type sides (Stoke, Blackburn, Derby, etc.) are precisely the ones we’re most likely to struggle against.

      I don’t think we lack talent – some of our performances in the Uefa youth thing last season, especially against Barca, suggests we have plenty. More likely our inability to win is to do with lack of motiviation and tactics.

      OK, so scorelines may not be considered important by Gatting, but I’m glad the under-18s look to be getting better results with their new coach. Surely learning to win, to follow a game plan and work as a team, are also a valuable part of development? Hopefully Jonker will soon take this in hand as I can’t see how a further season in the lower division will benefit our development very much.

    2. Crowley getting kicked again was he? I think the most intelligent thing to do would be to give him a pass on some u21 games this year with the occasional appearance for u18s. His season was badly derailed by ankle injuries last year and it’s debateable to me that any more can be learned against 25 tough physical opponents as opposed to ten/15. They need to find the balance between toughening up and exposing him to unnecessary risk.

      I expect virtually nothing will happen to a player who makes a wild damaging tackle at this level, whereas at least in high level football there’s the threat of real punishment (allbeit for 3 games only) to keep people in check.

      As the for me almost sociopathic targeting of Wilshere’s ankles shows, it’s still considered fair game and no doubt encouraged, though maybe only with euphemisms, to kick the sh*t out of better players

      If it’s too early for first team, and it is, I’d like to see a mix of u21 and u18 games for him, as well as u19s should CL qualification be attained- would also help in terms of allowing him game time in his favored position. Dread to think of him playing at Stoke away. The injury at Middlesborough away last year showed there’s literally no way to protect yourself from stupid challenges other than by never looking to hold onto the ball.

      1. Too right. My heart really sinks at the thought of a year of being kicked black and blue by Stoke, Blackburn, Derby, Bolton and co. Quite apart from potentially career-ending injuries, a season on crutches doesn’t do wonders for anyone’s progress. Yes, play as many of the more skilful kids as are eligible just in the under-18s and Uefa youth league. Only snag is, if we protect all the talented ones from under-21 games how are we to get promoted out of this division?

        Pity we didn’t think of this last year, or even the year before that. It’s not like we didn’t know we’d be relegated if we didn’t pull up our socks or what the consequences of relegation would be. The warning signs were obvious two years back, but for some reason the coaching staff seemed to simply ignore them. Didn’t they think it mattered that we’d be excluded from the league for top academies and left to the mercy of the thugs? Or were they just powerless to get better results despite the talent at their disposal? Either way, it doesn’t look good.

    3. If Crowley is “frustrated” by playing on the left flank then that’s a red flag for attitude. The likes of Pires, Rosicky, Carorla, Hleb and even Ozil have managed to interpret the playmaker role from a wide position. The days of the pure 10 are gone, so hope there are not kids thinking they can make a top level career as a passer without being flexible. They cant.

  2. Was you at the game because I was and the penalty was given against Alex iwobi not stefan O’connor, it was a soft penalty unlucky arsenal

  3. Great run, control and finish from Maitland-Niles and good pass from Olson. Iwobi gave away the penalty of which should not have been as he cleary blocked the shot and was outside the box. Good tempo after the goal and would like to see the boys moving it like that more often

  4. We seem to have an unusual amount of dodgy decisions go against us even at this level. Crazy pen at Norwich away and the pretty shameful decision * to allow Chelsea keeper to stay on- after the most blatant red, by the rules, imaginable- spring to mind.

    Doesn’t help my paranoia that anti-Arsenal feeling is virulent in the game!

    *same ref had sent off one of our players ten mins into derby with Spurs a fortnight before for a much less clear-cut one.

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