U18 Premier League- Tier 3
Fulham 5 Arsenal 1 (Donovan)
By Jeorge Bird @Motspur Park
Arsenal U18s concluded what has been another torturous season in terms of results by suffering one final indignation today as they were thrashed 5-1 by Fulham at Motspur Park. The result means that Frans De Kat’s side will finish bottom of the third tier of the U18 Premier League having won just one out of their seven play-off fixtures.
The damage could have been even greater for Arsenal had goalkeeper Hugo Keto not made an impressive penalty save early on. The Gunners, you may be surprised to learn, actually took the lead through Harry Donovan, but they soon found themselves unable to cope with Fulham’s sustained attacking pressure.
There were three changes to the side that lost to Southampton last week, with Keto, Marc Bola and Chiori Johnson all coming into the side, the latter making his first appearance since January after recovering from injury. Once again De Kat fielded an inexperienced side in an attacking sense, with the entire front four being schoolboys.
Subs: Da Graca (for Johnson), Gilmour (for Donovan), Smith-Rowe (for Da Silva). Not used: Burton, Keto.
Arsenal won 3-2 here earlier in the campaign, but today Fulham looked on top from the offset, with their tricky winger Ravin Shamsi causing some problems for the young Gunners’ defence early on.
Luca De La Torre then shot over as Fulham upped the ante, but Arsenal mounted something of a response, with Edward Nketiah shooting wide after he was found by Reiss Nelson, who was again deployed as a central attacking midfielder. Nketiah then returned the favour for Nelson, but the England U16 international could only shoot over.
Fulham were then presented with an inviting opportunity to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty following a foul by Ilias Chatzitheodoridis in the area. Keto was prepared, however, with the Finnish goalkeeper making an instinctive stop to keep the scores level.
That save appeared to provide Arsenal with a much-needed injection of confidence that they could take into their attacking endeavours. Nelson saw his free-kick tipped wide, with a long, searching pass from Bola then finding Savvas Mourgos, who was offside.
Johnson had to be alert at the other end to make an excellent recovery challenge to prevent Fulham from taking the lead and, not long afterwards, it was Arsenal who opened the scoring, with Donovan finding the net for the second game in succession after he pounced upon a weak clearance from Fulham goalkeeper Magnus Norman and finished from close range.
Arsenal were in buoyant mood, but the lead didn’t last very long at all, with Shamsi getting the better of Keto with a wonderfully struck free-kick to make it 1-1.
Arsenal looked to regain the lead imminently, with Mourgos seeing a free-kick saved, but matters quickly turned from bad to worse when Fulham were awarded another spot-kick following an incident involving Keto and Bola.
Keto, remarkably, again managed to prevent Fulham from scoring the penalty, but this time the goalkeeper was powerless to stop Isaac Pearce from scoring the re-bound.
Fulham went into the break in the ascendancy, and their cause for victory was strengthened further when Arsenal made a double change at the start of the second-half, with Kristopher Da Graca and Charlie Gilmour replacing Johnson and Donovan.
The changes had an adverse effect on Arsenal, with Da Graca appearing uncomfortable throughout and Gilmour not providing sufficient protection to the back four.
Keto had to do well to parry a teasing cross from Shamsi, with Pearce later sending a venomous effort over the crossbar as Fulham provided an indication of their attacking capabilities.
Fulham were, by now, playing with much confidence, but the way in which Arsenal’s defence was carved apart for the hosts’ third goal was alarming and, unfortunately, not too surprising given that many incidents of a similar ilk have occurred this season.
De La Torre slipped a neat pass into the path of striker Aaron Redford, who finished adroitly past Keto, but Arsenal’s newly-established central-defensive partnership of Da Graca and Bola had been culpable in the build-up to the goal.
Arsenal struggled to get most of their attacking players into the game, with wingers Nathan Tella and Nketiah often being crowded out and Josh Da Silva starved of service up front. When Arsenal did create chances, Mourgos and Nelson were usually involved and both players had efforts saved, with Nelson then seeing a penalty appeal turned down.
By this point there appeared to be no way back for Arsenal and so it proved as Fulham continued to attack at will. Keto had to make an intelligent save after a long ball over the top unlocked the Gunners’ defence, with Chatzitheodoridis then sending an effort over his own crossbar as he panicked when dealing with a cross.
Fulham’s fourth goal was calamitous from Arsenal’s perspective, with a lack of communication between Keto and Gilmour allowing the hosts to score with a simple strike.
Emile Smith-Rowe, a youngster who offers some hope for the future in these troubled times for the academy, was then introduced, but the pattern of the game had long since been established and the only question now was just how many goals Fulham would score.
In the end, it was Arsenal who would score Fulham’s fifth goal for them, with Bola inadvertently heading the ball past Keto to make it 5-1 and rather sum up yet another abject day for De Kat’s side.
Yes, development takes precedence over results at youth level, but how can Arsenal lay claim to having anything approaching the best academy in the country when scorelines such as this are hardly a freak occurrence?
The campaign started so well for Arsenal, with emphatic victories over Brighton & Hove Albion and Chelsea, but many of the results and indeed performances since then have been nothing short of abysmal.
Played 29, Won 7, Drawn 6, Lost 16- Arsenal’s overall record at U18 level this season hardly makes for good reading, even when it is taken into account that many of the older players have been pushed into the U21s. If you look at the team that played today, however, only two or three of them, even at this early stage, can be considered to have any realistic chance of becoming a regular for the first team.
Changes need to happen, but that said the situation now under Andries Jonker doesn’t look any better than it was before his arrival. He should be given time to make alterations, but right now there really isn’t much to be optimistic about with regards to the club’s academy.