Report- Zelalem scores late winner and Reine-Adelaide debuts as Arsenal U21s beat Fulham at Emirates

U21 Premier League

Arsenal 1 (Zelalem 86) Fulham 0

By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium

Arsenal U21s started their new league campaign against Fulham this evening with a new-look side on show, but it was the club’s most experienced player at this level, Gedion Zelalem, who proved to be the difference between the two sides, with the talented midfielder scoring a late winner to cap off a fine individual performance.

For much of the game this had threatened to be a missed opportunity for the Arsenal youngsters as they dominated proceedings but, mirroring an accusation that has often been levelled at the first-team, they often failed to convert their possession into goals.

There was much to admire about Arsenal’s attacking play, with Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Alex Iwobi both impressing in patches. Neither player quite lived up to their performances in the Emirates Cup, but they still figured prominently against a Fulham side who, whilst resolute defensively, also posed a threat on the counter-attack.

Arsenal’s defence managed to stand firm, however, with the central-defensive partnership of Krystian Bielik and Julio Pleguezuelo remaining sturdy.

Coach Steve Gatting surprisingly elected to deploy Bielik at centre-back rather than in defensive-midfield, with Stefan O’Connor named amongst the substitutes. Meanwhile, there was a first call-up at this level for striker Yassin Fortune, who made his debut in the second-half.


Moore-Bielik-Pleguezuelo-M. Bola


Sheaf-Reine Adelaide-Iwobi


Subs: Fortune (for Mavididi), Eyoma (for Reine-Adelaide). Not used: Iliev, O’Connor, Mourgos.

Whilst Arsenal were playing their first league fixture of the campaign, Fulham had already started their season with a victory, so Gatting’s side were aware that getting three points wouldn’t be straightforward this evening.

The young Gunners made much of the early running in front of a small Emirates crowd, with Stephy Mavididi heading wide from Tafari Moore’s cross before Zelalem did well to work space for himself only to direct his effort straight at Fulham goalkeeper Jesse Joronen.

A full Finnish international who has played for Fulham’s first-team, Joronen put his relative experience to good use as he made several impressive saves to thwart Arsenal throughout the course of the evening.

Arsenal managed to keep the ball well but were often over intricate in their build-up play. On one occasion Sheaf found Iwobi with a clever pass, with the winger in turn finding the on-rushing Bola. The Hale End product delivered a fine cross but unfortunately there was no recipient waiting in the penalty area.

Fulham responded, with their captain Dean O’Halloran shooting wide, but Arsenal continued to create the vast majority of the chances, with Sheaf and Mavididi both coming close to finding the net.

At times Arsenal’s play was sublime, with Zelalem, Reine-Adelaide and Iwobi all combining to excellent effect on one occasion, although the latter could only force a corner with his subsequent shot.

Reine-Adelaide was initially deployed as an attacking-midfielder but squandered possession on a couple of occasions in the early stages and appeared to be more suited to playing on the left flank when he switched there in the second-half.

Somehow, despite Arsenal’s dominance, the game remained goalless at the interval. Fulham made an audacious attempt to score direct from the second-half kick-off, but, having survived that scare, Arsenal soon began to click into gear and they appeared to play with more purpose and cohesion in the second period.

A slick multi-pass move culminated in Iwobi having a shot saved, then, after he received the ball from Moore, Reine-Adelaide spun quickly and forced Joronen to tip his effort over the crossbar.

Fulham posed an occasional threat to Matt Macey’s goal, but Joronen was by far the busier goalkeeper, as he was called into action again to deny Sheaf and Reine-Adelaide.

Arsenal introduced Fortune, who was so impressive in the U19s’ recent success in South Africa, and the forward dragged a shot wide of the far post shortly after being brought on.

Iwobi then forced another save from Joronen and, by that point, some of the supporters had headed for the exits with time running out for an Arsenal goal.

The goal would eventually come, however, and it was fitting that Zelalem was the scorer. The midfielder was hugely impressive in the first-half and, although he was slightly less influential in the second period, the United States U20 international was still the initiator of many of Arsenal’s attacking moves.

On this occasion he was involved in another sublime move as he made a darting run into the penalty area and finished expertly.

It was anticipated that this season will be the one in which Zelalem manages to demonstrate his undoubted talent on a consistent basis. He has made an excellent start on that front, with his performance tonight showing why it would be churlish to write off his chances of making the grade at Arsenal even when the considerable competition for places in Arsenal’s midfield is taken into account.

As far as the team as a whole is concerned, this will go down as a largely positive performance, supported by the fact that the young Gunners remained relatively untroubled defensively throughout. Arsenal made good use of full-backs Moore and Bola, who were both dangerous going forwards, although the service to Mavididi, who was later withdrawn, could have been of a higher standard.

This may be U21 football, but Arsenal’s oldest outfield player tonight was 19 years old, which is representative of the club’s policy of pushing youngsters into second-string football at an early age.

After excelling at Emirates, another home game awaits next week against Derby County, this time at Boreham Wood, as Gatting’s team continue their quest to earn promotion back to the top tier of U21 football.



  1. Jeorge, thanks for the report.
    A mate of mine, who saw the game thought that Iwobi was very impressive.
    Do you think, with the possible exception of Wellington Silva, that Martinez will be the last to be loaned out this side of January?

  2. Hi Jorge,

    Just wanted to say that I love your work and am genuinely excited by our youth teams this season. It seems that over the past few years we were a bit lethargic in getting the top young talents (with the exception of Ramsey, Bellerin, etc)

    However since Jonker joined we have signed Bielik, Malen, Adelaide (who Barca were after), and Fortune (who United were after), I wanted to know if it is Arsene Wenger who has the final word on these youth signings like he does with the first team?

  3. Another fine report Jorge, many thanks.
    It seems my earlier thoughts about Zelalem being able to show his game off better, in the absence of Crowley, is being borne out?
    This was not meant as a criticism of Crowley, btw, just an observation.
    I also think in future Under 21 games they may be boosted by the odd 1st teamer who needs some game time. An experience head like Arteta may help them use their efforts more wisely? But a first match, and the most experienced player only 19 year old Iwobi, I think it is a great start.
    Problems may appear when the COC matches come around as many of these will find their way on those team sheets. But all will help their development. Long may it continue.

    1. Arteta in the u21s hahahaha now that would be funny, he is almost old enough to be some of their fathers.

      I think that seeing as we are in the lower tier of u21 football, arsenal are doing right by playing younger players, pretty much every young player we have is good enough for u21 second tier football whilst a majority of them are still eligible for U18 league too. It will mean a good unity, hopefully bring some winning mentality back to youth level, but most importantly with a number of academy products either in the first team or temporarily in other first teams, will give the younger lads the belief that they will make it. Belief is so important during development and I believe we currently have a fantastic bunch of youngsters. Individually any one of them could step into our capital one cup team and do a job, not sure we could throw them in as a team, but certainly a splattering of the academy will be used in the early rounds depending on the draw. With a squad of our size it is enivitable.

      Incidentally, I see that wellington is still training alone in the gym, surely he is not that unfit that he couldn’t make the u21 squad. A rumour I heard last night is that there is some irregularities with his paperwork and that the home office are blocking his work permit, also arsenal are trying to claim him as a homegrown player, but the premier league are refuting that.

      Also there is some issues with the Ismael Bennacer transfer.

      1. Did they change the rules then. I always thought, that the Under 21’s being ‘the reserves’ league, that 3 over-aged players were allowed?
        I must have missed that change.

  4. Pls jorge I want u to add me with arsenal admin on whatsapp here’s my digit +2347032063783,pls anybody should add me I want to feel among$also be part of darling team success

  5. As per de youth developing its an impressive one to be candid.most of de is going2hit de groundrunning base on what av seen so far on their side of performance n de like of Sheaf,Zalelem,Iwobi,Adelaide,Mavidi,moore,Bielik,Kamara,M.bola,Prequetso
    .xpect best4rm dem.I know wat they’re capable of doing

  6. A very good performance from our young guns And a good work always from Sir Jeorge Bird. Now, let the winning continui…
    3 points tomorow for OxChamb0’s birthday gift. Luv u all

  7. Zelalem was under perform because of some of old and loaned team mate , what i realize of his game when he was played US u20 and Arsenal U19 he would like to take responsibility, he just want to be a play maker, now he got that opportunity and grabbed with his two hands , he is one of a senior player for U21 at the moment, his future is bright his future is Arsenal, I wish all the best U21 the rest of the season.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s