U18 Premier League- Game 8
West Ham United 0 Arsenal 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Little Heath
They may not have been able to match the drama of Chelsea’s incredible 12-2 victory over Aston Villa, but Arsenal and West Ham U18s still conjured up a hard-fought encounter at Little Heath today.
This was an engrossing battle between two sides that have started the season in splendid form. Arsenal have lost just once under new coach Frans de Kat, whilst West Ham remain unbeaten this campaign, although that wouldn’t have been the case had Stephy Mavididi converted an inviting opportunity in the second-half.
In the end a draw was probably the correct result, however, with both sides enjoying periods of sustained dominance without creating too much in the way of attacking opportunities. Arsenal had goalkeeper Ryan Huddart to thank for keeping them level on several occasions, with many of West Ham’s best moves involving Hale End graduate Jordan Brown.
De Kat made four changes from the team that were held by Southampton last time out. Huddart returned in goal, whilst there were also re-calls for Elliot Wright, Chris Willock and Kaylen Hinds.
Centeno-Wright-T. Bola- M. Bola
subs: Da Silva (for Mourgos), Tabi (for Mavididi). Not used: House, Johnson. Booked: Willock.
There were very few chances created by either side in the early exchanges, with both defences proving difficult to break down. Wright, who will be seeking to follow Stefan O’Connor in turning professional with Arsenal, made some important interventions, but eventually West Ham managed to outmanoeuvre the Arsenal defence.
Brown was spotted in space and, upon receiving the ball, forced a good save from the alert Huddart. The tall goalkeeper was in action again just moments later as he produced a superb double stop to preserve parity.
West Ham’s pressing made it difficult for Arsenal to retain possession, with the young Gunners struggling to get many of their flair players into the game. Willock was impressive when he received the ball, but he wasn’t always offered much support and was the victim of some robust challenges from the opposition.
It was from a Willock free-kick that Arsenal created their first chance of note, but Harry Donovan couldn’t quite connect with it properly. An incisive Willock pass then located Marc Bola in space, but the left-back’s cross was cut out before it could reach the waiting Mavididi.
Brown turned down a scholarship deal at Arsenal as he felt he would receive more opportunities at West Ham and the striker was heavily involved here, with Huddart having to intervene again to make a sprawling save at the feet of the striker.
When Arsenal were forced to defend they largely went about their task well, with a particular highlight being Wright’s superb sliding challenge to deny Brown, who was bearing down on goal.
Arsenal had one opportunity before the interval, with Savvas Mourgos combining with Willock, who eventually found Mavididi. However, the striker, who was so prolific in the early weeks of the season, couldn’t quite direct his effort on target on this occasion.
There was a little more rhythm to the game in the second-half, with Arsenal finally managing to free themselves from the shackles that West Ham had imposed on them. Arsenal were starting to get Mavididi involved in the game, with the striker heading wide from Willock’s cross before a well-timed challenge prevented him from getting his shot away in the next attack.
West Ham still posed a threat on the counter-attack, however, and Tolaji Bola did well to clear the danger with Brown in close proximity.
Hinds was a hub of creativity for Arsenal, with the England youth international seeing a couple of efforts go narrowly wide.
Hinds was involved in perhaps Arsenal’s best move of the game and it was one that really should have yielded a goal. Aaron Eyoma played a perceptive pass into the path of Hinds, who crossed invitingly for Mavididi, but the striker was unable to find the net from close range.
Arsenal then introduced Josh Da Silva in place of Mourgos, who had struggled to impose himself on his second start at this level.
West Ham still threatened, with Huddart watching a shot go just wide of his goal, with Mavididi then directing an effort off target after good work from Donovan.
In an engaging final few minutes, Hinds struck the side-netting, with West Ham then squandering several opportunities to snatch a late winner.
In truth, defeat would have been rather harsh on either side, with both teams defending well. Arsenal’s play was not quite as fluent as expected, but there were some good performances at the back, with Wright and Jonatas Centeno acquitting themselves well.
Hinds and Willock continue to appear to be the club’s standout talents in this age group, even though not everything they attempted worked today. Huddart’s excellent performance didn’t come as too much of a surprise, whilst Tabi did well after coming on as a substitute.
De Kat could be forgiven for being a little worried that, following the glut of goals his team scored in the early weeks of the season, they have now gone two games without finding the net. He will be hopeful that Arsenal, and Mavididi in particular, will be able to rediscover their goalscoring touch in time for their next assignment against Tottenham Hotspur.