Over the past six years Arsenal have often struggled for results at U18 level, and, while development certainly takes precedence over victories, it surely can’t be positive for a youngster to be losing every week.
Now, though, matters appear to have taken a turn for the better, with new coach Kwame Amapdu having got his tenure off to a stellar start.
With seven rounds of fixtures played, Arsenal U18s are top of their section, having won five, drawn one and lost one of their games. They have also scored more goals, 22, than any other major academy across the country, but why is it going so right for Ampadu’s side?
A glance at the team sheet for most games this season offers an insight into matters. Arsenal were previously renowned for fielding inexperienced sides at U18 level, but while some younger players, such as the outstanding Trae Coyle, have been involved this season, the side has often mainly been comprised of second-year scholars.
The likes of Edward Nketiah (who has continued to score with regularity this season), Josh DaSilva, Marcus McGuane, Donyell Malen, Vlad Dragomir, Tolaji Bola and Jordi Osei-Tutu are all vastly experienced at U18 level and have featured prominently for Ampadu’s side in the early weeks of this campaign.
DaSilva is still only 17 but he has been playing U18 football since the latter stages of the 2013/14 season and is a strong physical presence in midfield, while McGuane made several appearances for the second string last campaign but has been forced to drop back down to the U18s with the likes of Gedion Zelalem and Ainsley Maitland-Niles having returned from loan spells.
Nketiah’s prolific nature in front of goal (he has scored seven times in as many games) has been a huge help, but other players have also made significant contributions, and it is abundantly clear that Arsenal have a lot of talented wide players at their disposal.
The likes of Joe Willock (who is striving to earn his first professional contract at the club), Emile Smith-Rowe and Coyle have all impressed, while Nathan Tella marked his return from injury with a spectacular goal in the victory over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and Reiss Nelson has also been involved in several games for Ampadu’s side.
Arsenal have excellent squad depth at this level, which is set to increase further when Charlie Gilmour and Yassin Fortune return from injuries. In fact, the young Gunners have so many players available that some of the new first-year scholars- namely Dominic Thompson and Jay Beckford- haven’t played a single game for the U18s yet this season.
There are still some matters to improve upon. Despite the fact that they have only conceded seven goals this season, Arsenal remain vulnerable at the back, with the club again struggling to produce defensive talents with the same regularity with which they bring through flair players.
Full-backs Jordi Osei-Tutu and Tolaji Bola have done well enough for the U18s, but there is a concern that they could find matters difficult in the older age groups, with Bola having already had some disappointing performances for the U23s and U19s.
Overall, though, matters are going very well for Arsenal and for Ampadu, with the coach having managed to get his side playing as a cohesive unit. The signs suggest that Arsenal could make an impact in the FA Youth Cup this season, while they will also seek to challenge for the league title.
In addition, many members of the U18 squad have been involved in the UEFA Youth League this season, which will inevitably be hugely beneficial for their development. At the moment, however, it is difficult for players to break through to the U23s given that Steve Gatting has an established group to work with at that level.
For now, though, it could hardly be any better for Arsenal or Ampadu with regards to the U18s, and the coach will hope that his side will be able to continue their winning momentum after the international break.