Youth Cup provides hope but defensive failures haunt Arsenal youngsters again

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Andries Jonker has done much to improve the Arsenal’s academy set-up this season, but, as the club’s youngsters crashed out of the UEFA Youth League in disappointing fashion against Anderlecht last night the Dutchman must have been left wondering whether the young Gunners will ever reign supreme on the European stage.

Despite being able to call upon a myriad of creative talents- Dan Crowley, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Chris Willock from the outset, Reiss Nelson and Donyell Malen from the bench- Arsenal failed to cause many problems for the Anderlecht defence and didn’t deserve to progress from the single-legged tie.

This wasn’t heroic failure, it was just failure, with Anderlecht outmuscling and outclassing Arsenal in several departments. There is something of a silver lining, however, as the majority of these players still have a chance to lift a trophy this season in the form of the FA Youth Cup.

Anderlecht, who beat Arsenal twice in the group stages last season, have an excellent youth set-up, with Youri Tielemans one of their star recent graduates. Arsenal have lots of talents of their own, but they struggled to play as a cohesive unit last night in a display that was far inferior to what they produced earlier in the competition.

There have been some success stories this season, with Alex Iwobi becoming heavily involved in the first-team squad. Even last night there was a positive to take from proceedings, with goalkeeper Hugo Keto helping to keep the score down by producing some impressive saves.

There were, though, also a significant amount of negatives to reflect upon. Jeff Reine-Adelaide is one of Arsenal’s finest talents but the Frenchman didn’t make a substantial impact on his first appearance in this competition.

The main problem, however, as is so often the case with Arsenal at youth level, was in defence. It is clear to all and sundry, except the youth coaching staff, that Krystian Bielik is not a centre-back. The Pole has been routinely punished for several errors of judgement whilst playing in that position this season and it would certainly be to the prospect’s benefit if he was restored to his favoured defensive-midfield position.

Julio Pleguezuelo’s form has also wavered of late, but the Spaniard is still a major talent.

Those that are eligible for the Youth Cup will have to regroup quickly, with Arsenal taking on Coventry City in the prestigious competition on Monday night. After what transpired against Anderlecht, Arsenal’s youngsters will be fully aware that much improvement is needed.




  1. I wonder if Julio Pleguezuelo and Krystian Bielik would be considered for loan deals – would damage hopes of promotion and Youth Cup glory but could be beneficial in the long term.

    Any news on Serge Gnabry going back on loan – was hoping he would be at Charlton.
    Any others set to go on loan – maybe Crowley or even Jeff?

  2. very measured and objective observations.
    I enjoy this site, but what is the relationship with AFC? How do you get the info, do you have a direct link?
    Are games at Hale End open to the public? If so when and at what time?
    Thanks, CH

  3. This defence issue has been a problem at the senior level for a long time.Imho,its Wenger’s obssession with passing and ball retention.This starts with Wenger.
    The teams below the senior level play like the former and take it from me the gunners will never win the epl until Wenger balances his attack with defence.
    Arsenal are suckers for the counter attacking teams. They are very vulnerable to the through ball when Kane scored with the defenders awol.Dont be surprised if the foxes win especially with the gunners having the lion’s share of possession.

    1. You do realise that we have the 2nd best defensive record in the premier league? So much doom and gloom amongst arsenal fans. It’s almost the middle of February we are still in with a shout of the 3 major trophies, just 5 points behind Leicester with them to play this weekend. We are down to just 3 injured players with 2 of those possibly back for the 2nd leg in Barcelona. The next 3 home matches are pivotal win all 3, keeping a clean sheet against barca at home in doing so and we will have a very realistic chance of the treble.

      I think we will see Gabriel keep his place, le coq return to the starting x1 and possibly with elneny alongside him. Ramsey might then takeover from chamberlain and walcott from giroud in the 4321 set up that wenger seems to be leaning towards at the moment.

  4. I think it hasn’t been best way at all to prepare for these european games when we’re playing our U21 football with second tier. U21-football got that reputation being too soft level to prepare young players for premier league. They have to make these loanspells to get somewhere near the first team football and considering we’re not even regurarly playing against 12 best british U21 teams, but with next 12. Ok, that’s not Jonkers fault at all, we got there before he came, but it’s clear we need tougher games, if we’d like to be nowhere near the european level. And if we need tougher games, we sure need our defence to be in that level too. It’s looking better this season, with U21-team in good position in league and in fair change to get promotion. So next season it might be as it should be. I think we can’t be ready for europe with playing our league games with Brightons and Wolverhamptons.

  5. the strange thing is with the youth teams is that they never have been the same since bould and banfield left to join wenger at the first team, they should be put back to manage the under 21’s again and try to steady the ship at that level so there is cohesion at that level, and the first team level, also the players have a better chance of making the first team easier.
    it is a crying shame that the club let vieira go to city and mange there under 21’s he would have been a fine manager at this level but that is the one that got away, i wonder if we might see more dutch coaches in the summer coming in.
    maybe to give better coaching at the lower levels, but we do need balance and put some ex players in there as well for continuity, like arteta and henry and freddie lungberg. to take up a post as assistant for now, with a view to take on the main role at youth level. and maybe get a specialist defense coach in at youth level. to teach all levels.

  6. A great site and I hope really valued by AFC. (im guessing probably not)Iwobi has really blown me away with vision and awareness in first team. His development has been amazing, you can really see the work he’s put in. I think he Would be all over MOD and papers if he picked England. Has been a pleasure to follow him and all the rest at games and on your site. So cheers

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