Prior to Francis Coquelin establishing himself in that position, much had been made of Arsenal’s lack of a bonafide defensive-midfield player, and the same malaise is currently afflicting the Gunners’ U18 side, with coach Frans De Kat forced to field attack-minded midfielders in deep-lying positions.
Osei-Tutu-Da Graca-T. Bola-Robinson
Subs: Perrin, Chatzitheodoridis, Fortune, Da Silva.
For the game away to Reading on Saturday, which Arsenal lost 4-1 despite taking the lead through Edward Nketiah, De Kat deployed Ismael Bennacer, making his debut at this level, in the pivot alongside Savvas Mourgos, who has shown previously that he is far more suited to operating in advanced positions.
The result was that Arsenal often struggled to cope with Reading’s attacks, not helped by the fact that full-backs Jordi Osei-Tutu and Tyrell Robinson frequently pushed too far forwards (the latter, admittedly, is more of a winger and was one of the side’s best players in an attacking sense).
Arsenal also showed a vulnerability with dealing with set-pieces, whilst an unfortunate slip from Osei-Tutu against his former club allowed Reading to score their fourth goal.
Question marks will again be raised about the defence, with Kristopher Da Graca once more enduring a disappointing match, whilst Tolaji Bola has some qualities but isn’t yet a consistent performer.
Further forwards there were some more positive elements to Arsenal’s display, with Nketiah working hard and putting Arsenal in front after Aaron Eyoma’s shot deflected off him.
Reiss Nelson, deployed in the number ten position, had a shot saved, whilst Joshua Da Silva was bright following his introduction as a substitute and Robinson came close to scoring late on.
Arsenal delivered an improved showing in the second-half, but, after taking four points from their first two games, this was a result, if not a performance, that called to mind the myriad of disappointments that occurred last season.
Arsenal will seek to bounce back when they take on Brighton & Hove Albion this weekend.