Early goal sees Arsenal’s UEFA Youth League chances crumble in Spain

UEFA Youth League- Last 16

Atletico Madrid 1 Arsenal 0

Just like last year Arsenal saw their UEFA Youth League adventure come to a disappointing conclusion in Spain, although on this occasion it was Atletico Madrid, rather than Barcelona, who inflicted the damage on the young Gunners.

Conceding early has been a concerning habit for Arsenal in this competition this season and, after taking the lead in the first minute, Atletico didn’t relinquish their advantage despite the best efforts of Frans De Kat’s side.

Attention will now turn to Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup campaign, which continues with a home tie against Crewe Alexandra next week, but this was still a hugely disappointing outcome for an Arsenal side that had shown some promise in their group stage fixtures.



Maitland Niles-Zelalem



subs: Keto, M. Bola (for Robinson, 52), Sheaf, Smith, Donovan, Eyoma, C. Willock.

Speculation had been rife that recent recruit Krystian Bielik could make his debut in this fixture, but the Polish midfielder is still working his way back towards full fitness following the Winter break in his home country. 

There was some good news on the injury front, however, with Stefan O’Connor returning from a back problem to partner George Dobson at the heart of the defence. De Kat faced a difficult selection decision with regards to his strikers and in the end he elected to deploy both Stephy Mavididi and Kaylen Hinds from the offset, with the latter starting on the left wing at the expense of Chris Willock.

An Arsenal side closely resembling this one conceded a shock early goal in the Youth Cup against Royston Town last week and they didn’t learn their lesson here, with Amath Diedhiou sending the ball past Ryan Huddart in the first minute.

Arsenal looked to respond instantly through Dan Crowley, who shot wide, but Atletico were presented with an opportunity to double their advantage when Gedion Zelalem, not for the first time in his Arsenal career, squandered possession in a dangerous area. However, Andres Mohedano couldn’t direct his effort on target.

Alex Iwobi, the most senior player in this Arsenal team, was attempting to show his younger team-mates how it was done and the winger, who has been training frequently with the first-team of late, shot just wide from a difficult angle.

Arsenal continued to carve out meaningful opportunities after the interval, with Stefan O’Connor, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kaylen Hinds all trying their luck, but an equalising goal continued to elude De Kat’s side.

Arsenal were handed late hope when Atletico were reduced to ten men in the closing moments after Theo was dismissed, but still the young Gunners couldn’t find the breakthrough.

Their final chance fell to Maitland-Niles, a player who has already featured in the Champions League proper, but his attempt went just wide before the referee’s whistle signalled Arsenal’s exit from this competition a round earlier than last year.

This isn’t a vintage crop defensively, with the absence of the injured Tafari Moore and Julio Pleguezuelo keenly felt, but a side possessing the technical talents of Maitland-Niles, Zelalem, Crowley, Iwobi and Hinds will be disappointed not to have even reached the last eight of this competition.

One silver lining is that many of these players will be able to feature in this competition again next season, if indeed Arsenal are involved by virtue of the first-team securing Champions League qualification.



  1. Feels like we have a lot of young ones that are underperforming at the moment…its sad as I went to the game last week and it really is frustrating at times to see that kids that get a chance just don’t seem to cut it… The likes of Crowley and zelalem, maybe mavididi, can still improve next season but I doubt that many of these youngsters will see an extension of their contracts…

      1. Hope he stays – clear to me that Akpom needs a bit more power and explosiveness to become an impact player at the top leve, but one can see that bit will come over time, as he is still only 19. But his technique is great and he is a really positive player.

        For now I think Akpom can still deliver out on the wing at least what one would expect for a second line player. So basically at least what Gnabry provided for the first team for a while last year.

      2. @ Ziontrain

        The games I’ve seen Akpom played in have been pretty poor. Off the ball movement and the passing range has to be a lot better. Compared to Afobe who I thought had a alot more in his game than Akpom tells me he might only barely become a championship player at best.

        But don’t worry… Mavididi and Hindes looks just as good as Akpom in the same age.

      3. That’s a shame – I really like his attitude. Afobe too, who I think will still be an England striker at some point if he can avoid injuries for a long stretch.

      4. I like Akpom a lot but so unfortunately do Liverpool and Spurs who are allegedly wanting to sigh him. Must be a real dilemma for the kid as with us he’s a long way down the pecking order, behind Giroud, Welbeck, Sanchez, Sanogo and Campbell, plus Walcott, Ox and Gnabry if you’re thinking in terms of playing out on the wing. At strikerless Spurs and Liverpool by contrast he could expect to walk into the first team. Unless Wenger is very persuasive I fear we could lose him this summer as a loan spell in the Championship probably doesn’t look very attractive compared to the chance to compete for a first-team place at a biggish Premiership club. Hope I’m wrong and Wenger can persuade him to be patient. He has so much potential and has been with us since he was seven.

      5. Spurs – no, I really doubt Akpom would actually go there. Couldn’t possibly face the stick from his mates that he’s been playing with for all the years.

        There really are no guarantees that his development would be accelerated by being at Liverpool. They actually have a lot of strikers – just either off form or injured plus at least two out on loan, and they buy more every year. So Akpom could sign on for them now and by July conceivably find himself in a worse situation than he is in here.

        I would think for Arsenal the move would be guarantee to him that he gets his chances for the rest of the season and that next year if the club won’t play him then they will at least loan he out to nothing less than Premiership level team.

        I would think the Dutch and Belgian league options are interesting but they don’t pay nearly as well as being a premiership striker, which Akpom could easily do.

        Am surprised the like of Swansea are not more linked with him – he could play there right away.

        But ultimately if he wants to be an England striker then his best move is to essentially force Arsenal to give him guarantees and maybe concede on the money in return. Knowing Arsenal It’s probably the money that’s the sticking point – Ashley Cole all over again?

      6. @ Ziontrain

        Let me see… You think someone like Akpom who hasn’t really scored or made a ton of assist in U21 to make a big impact in a quality league and team like swansea and any other team in the EPL? You are extremely delusional. First of all Akpom has to show how good he is in the U21, then on loan and that will never be in EPL or even championship. Just because he is being linked with other clubs doesn’t mean he is good enough to play in any other EPL first team. That simply means he is good enough for their academy at the moment and might get a chance on loan soon. Compared to any first team youths at Arsenal.. every single one of them has made a big impact on loan and in the U21. Keep in mind Arsenals U21 is not even in the highest division of U21 teams.

  2. Any whispers concerning Coquelin and signing his contract offer yet Jeorge?

    With Coquelin in mind, and how the fickle finger of fate can effect a footballers career, ie injuries, I wonder if, now that he can get an EU passport, if there’s a possibility that Wellington Silva will be given an opportunity next season?

  3. Shame we’re out but it wasn’t that unexpected since we failed to win the group and Atletico was quite a tough draw. At least we didn’t get hammered.

    Question: where do we have to finish in the under-21 league to be promoted? Top? Top three? Are there play-offs? Anyone know how it works? Currently we’re fourth, I think, so there’s perhaps been a minimal improvement on last year but we’re still looking way behind Chelsea, City, Southampton and co in terms of the talent we’re producing. As for the under-18s, their league position suggests there’s not yet been the progress we were hoping for. Does anyone understand how our academy got into this mess?

  4. jb , i always read your reports and i am grateful for the info you provide. but you don’t seem to like zelalem at all. you are always pointing out his mistakes. what is your problem???

    1. Zelalem is a very good talent with a good chance of making it at Arsenal. When he does well I say he does well. When he makes a mistake I say that he made a mistake. I don’t have an agenda against any player. I’ve said good things about him lots of times.

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