Over the last seven years Arsenal have endured a catalogue of frustrating results at U18 level, with the young Gunners often struggling defensively.
While they still can’t be described as being resolute at the back, Arsenal U18s have performed significantly better overall this campaign and are just two victories away from being crowned league champions.
What has been the reason for this change in fortunes? The main factor is certainly the club’s decision to field very strong lineups at this level.
Whereas previously Arsenal U18s often included many first-years and schoolboys in their team, this campaign coach Kwame Ampadu has frequently called upon several second-years, many of whom boast a considerable amount of experience of playing at U23 and U19 levels.
There have also been some stunning individual contributions this campaign. Eddie Nketiah’s prolific nature in front of goal has been well documented, and the striker has certainly caught the eye, scoring 14 times
Joe Willock, meanwhile, has really stepped up this season, with the creative starlet dominating games and playing some exquisite passes.
Midfielder Charlie Gilmour also deserves credit for performing consistently since his return from injury, while full-backs Jordi Osei-Tutu and Tolaji Bola have contributed to the attacking cause.
With the title up for grabs, Ampadu has drafted in some U23 regulars in recent weeks, including Reiss Nelson, who scored a hat-trick in the thrashing of Blackburn Rovers.
Players such as Donyell Malen, Marcus McGuane and Josh Dasilva have also impressed, while Arsenal’s squad has been so strong recently that Yassin Fortune and Vlad Dragomir, two very highly regarded talents, were only on the bench against Manchester United yesterday.
As a consequence of this selection policy, many first-years have missed out on game time. Goalkeeper Joao Virginia, defenders Joseph Olowu, Zech Medley and Daniel Ballard and winger Emile Smith-Rowe have been heavily involved but a whole host of players – Tobi Omole, Josh Benson, Robbie Burton, Dominic Thompson, Jay Beckford and the injured Nathan Tormey – haven’t been key figures this season, although that should change next season when they will form part of a new look U18 side.
For now, though, the focus is on the current crop and victories against Chelsea and West Ham United would seal the title and cap off an impressive season for Ampadu’s team.