U21 Premier League
Arsenal 5 (Hinds 14, Mavididi 15, 49, Kamara 58, Sheaf 89 (pen) West Ham United 0
By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium
Arsenal U21s maintained their immaculate start to the new season as they trounced their West Ham United counterparts at Emirates Stadium this evening, with the young Gunners’ attacking quartet continuing to thrive.
Stephy Mavididi scored a brace, whilst Kaylen Hinds was also on the scoresheet and wingers Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Alex Iwobi caused several problems for the opposition defence. There were two more unlikely scorers for Arsenal as well, with Glen Kamara capping off an excellent individual display with a goal before Ben Sheaf scored a penalty against his former side in the closing stages.
There were several other positives to take away from proceedings, with Matt Macey looking assured in goal, Krystian Bielik faring well at centre-back and Hinds continuing to provide a threat in the number ten position. There was also a debut for summer signing Ismael Bennacer, who impressed with some neat passes.
It is still very early days, with 19 matches remaining this season, but so far Arsenal have made the best possible start in their quest to gain promotion back to the top tier of U21 football. This was easily their most convincing performance yet, so it may come as a surprise to some that West Ham actually started the brighter of the two sides. Quick-fire goals from Hinds and Mavididi, however, shifted the momentum in Arsenal’s favour and the visitors, who contained two Hale End products in their line-up in George Dobson and Jordan Brown, never recovered.
Coach Steve Gatting made a solitary change to the side that beat Derby County 3-2 last week, with Matt Macey replacing Ryan Huddart in goal. Bennacer, meanwhile, made the bench at the expense of Tyrell Robinson.
Subs: Bennacer (for Mavididi, 79), C. Willock (for Hinds, 79). Not used: Eyoma, O’Connor, Huddart.
West Ham started well and they could have taken the lead early on, but Macey was quick off his line to thwart the on-rushing Brown.
Dobson, who left Arsenal this summer to join his boyhood club, was impressive early on as he played some quick, snappy passes, but the youngster was at fault for the opening goal as it was his mis-timed ball that was seized upon by Reine-Adelaide and, after the French youngster’s cross was blocked, Hinds was on hand to score his third goal of the season and put Arsenal ahead.
West Ham looked dishevelled and they still hadn’t recovered by the time the game re-started. Arsenal raced downfield and quickly doubled their advantage, with Reine-Adelaide very much at the forefront of proceedings once more. His cross this time found Mavididi, who headed past Sam Howes to make it 2-0.
The visitors sought to respond thereafter, but Macey remained calm under pressure. It was a first-half of few clear-cut chances, but Arsenal gradually started to assert themselves and squandered an excellent opportunity to put the game beyond doubt when Reine-Adelaide shot wide after he was found by Hinds.
The second-half showcased all of Arsenal’s best qualities as they attacked relentlessly, causing havoc for the distressed West Ham defence.
It was 3-0 shortly after the restart when Mavididi, who was called up to the England U18 squad this week, seized upon a weak pass and finished cleverly.
Arsenal then started to create a plethora of chances, with Hinds seeing an effort deflected wide after he was found by Iwobi, before Reine-Adelaide had a header saved by Howes.
Dobson was enduring a difficult evening and the youngster then found himself dispossessed by Mavididi, who in turn found Hinds. On this occasion the striker’s effort was parried, but the Gunners continued to charge forwards with Bielik coming close to scoring following a well-worked corner.
Kamara was then on hand to make it 4-0, with the Finland youth international applying the finishing touch to a neat move. Even without the considerable creative talents of Dan Crowley and Gedion Zelalem, there is much to admire about the link-up play in this Arsenal side.
Arsenal looked to punish West Ham as much as possible, with Mavididi seeing another shot saved before Gatting saw fit to introduce Bennacer for his debut alongside Chris Willock.
It is a measure of the strength of this Arsenal U21 side that Bennacer and Willock, in addition to Stefan O’Connor, were amongst the substitutes this evening.
Indeed, Willock provided a measure of his undoubted quality as he made an instant impact, being fouled in the area and winning a penalty.
Sheaf stepped up to take it and got the better of Howes. It was a rather emotional moment for the midfielder, who progressed through West Ham’s academy before joining Arsenal last year.
In all, this was a hugely impressive display from the young Gunners. They end August with three victories from three games and will be confident of tackling the numerous challenges that lie ahead. It is worth noting that all three of Arsenal’s fixtures so far have been at home, whilst the squad will inevitably become depleted as the season progresses and loans, injuries and first-team call-ups take their toll.
For now, though, there is much to be positive about with regards to Arsenal’s U21 side, something we haven’t been able to say for quite some time.