U18 Premier League
Fulham 4 Arsenal 1 (Balogun)
Arsenal U18s commenced the new season in frustrating fashion as they were beaten 4-1 away by Fulham at Motspur Park today.
The young Gunners finished in second place in the U18 Premier League last season but on this evidence it is difficult to envisage Kwame Ampadu’s side having a successful campaign this time around.
After a goalless first half Arsenal took the lead through striker Folarin Balogun but Fulham assumed control thereafter and ran out comfortable winners even though they squandered an opportunity to add to their lead from the penalty spot.
Ampadu named a starting line-up that consisted of nine second-years and one first-year, with new scholar Harry Clarke being given his debut at this level at right-back.
On the bench there were call-ups for some of the other members of the new intake in addition to schoolboy defender Bukayo Saka, who came on for his first appearance for the U18s.
Arsenal were without the services of several of their major talents, with Trae Coyle, Xavier Amaechi, Tyreece John-Jules and Jordan McEneff amongst those missing.
In addition, Alex Crean, Jay Beckford, Daniel Barden, Mark McGuinness, Bayli Spencer-Adams and Zak Swanson weren’t involved, while it shouldn’t be forgotten that Reiss Nelson, who is on the cusp of the first-team squad, is still eligible to play for the U18s.
Subs: Saka (for Thompson, 46), Olayinka (for Ballard, 57), Smith (for Benson, 76). Not used: Okonkwo, Daley-Campbell.
Fulham caused some difficulties for Arsenal in the early exchanges, but Ampadu’s team managed to create some openings, with Balogun and Emile Smith Rowe both having chances to score.
The hosts started to dominate as the first half wore on and Arsenal had to be grateful to goalkeeper Joao Virginia for making some impressive stops to keep Fulham at bay.
It was Arsenal, though, who took the lead shortly after the interval, with Balogun heading in following impressive work from Smith Rowe.
The lead didn’t last very long at all, however, with Fulham levelling just a minute later courtesy of Sonny Hilton, who was found by Nicolas Santos-Clase.
After coming close to making it 2-1, Fulham eventually lead for the first time in the game when Cameron Thompson sent the ball beyond the reach of Virginia and into the net.
From then on Fulham were utterly dominant, with Thompson proceeding to score a hat-trick.
One of the Fulham striker’s goals was a penalty, while he also missed another spot-kick but it mattered little, with the scoreline emphatic enough already.
This was a difficult encounter for Arsenal but it is hoped that matters will improve in an attacking sense once the likes of Coyle, Amaechi and John-Jules are back in the side. Defensively, however, you could certainly be forgiven for having concerns.