Chelmsford City academy 0 Arsenal U18s 4 (Edwards (pen.), Green, Gower (2)
Arsenal U18s commenced their pre-season preparations and the Dan Micciche era in impressive style as they secured a 4-0 victory away to Chelmsford City’s academy today.
Jimi Gower, one of ten players brought on at the start of the second half, scored a brace after a penalty from Khayon Edwards and a strike from Kaleel Green had put Arsenal in the ascendancy in the opening period.
It is difficult to draw too many conclusions from this game given the opposition and the fact that we are still in the very early stages of pre-season but Micciche, who has stepped up from being U16s coach to take charge of the U18s, will have been very encouraged by much of what he saw and will acknowledge that he may have some difficult selection dilemmas to contend with when the real action gets underway.
Arsenal were without Charlie Patino, Omari Hutchinson, Marcelo Flores, Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Zane Monlouis, Luigi Gaspar and Jack Henry-Francis, who are still eligible to play at this level but have instead been training with the U23s.
Micciche included the rest of the U18 players in his matchday squad with the exception of forward Billy Vigar, who has returned to training but still isn’t fully fit after missing the end of last season through injury.
Although Arsenal have traditionally deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation at U18 level for many years, occasionally switching to a back three, Micciche opted for a slightly different approach for his first game in charge as he used a diamond system.
There were runouts for first-year scholars Josh Robinson, Tino Quamina, Bradley Ibrahim, Elian Quesada-Thorn, Mathaeus Roberts and Green from the outset, with the likes of Remy Mitchell, Taylor Foran, James Sweet, Khayon Edwards and Charles Sagoe Jr providing a little more experience.
Robinson-Foran (C)-Quamina-Quesada Thorn
Understandably, it took the Arsenal players a little while to adapt to the new system, but there were still some impressive moments early on.
Sweet, who was determined to make an impact on his return from injury, did well to win a corner in the early stages before Quamina had to be alert to cut out the danger at the other end.
Although the pace of the game was rather slow to begin with, most of the attacking threat came from Arsenal, with Robinson pushing forward from right-back to excellent effect.
Edwards, who has already demonstrated that he can find the net at U18 level, saw a shot pushed wide following a slick move, and, as the half wore on, Arsenal began to assert more control on proceedings.
Eventually Chelmsford were caught out, with the lively Green being fouled in the penalty area after a defence-splitting pass from Roberts. Edwards stepped up to take the spot-kick and converted it with aplomb.
Remy Mitchell had to make a save shortly afterwards but Arsenal’s dominance was starting to tell and it was 2-0 before half-time, with Green scoring with an emphatic finish after the ball was played upfield.
It was far from a perfect first half from Arsenal but it ended very well indeed.
As anticipated, given that the players only commenced training just over a week ago, there were a significant amount of alterations at the break, with Quesada-Thorn the only player to retain his place in the side.
Among the ten players brought on were Ismail Oulad M’Hand and Henry Timi Davies, both of whom were making their U18 debuts for the club.
Ismail, a central midfielder who is both combative and classy, is the brother of Salah-Eddine, while Davies is a tall and athletic forward signed from Manchester City. Both helped Arsenal to produce a more coherent performance in the second half.
Goalkeeper Alex Kovacevic also came on, as did defenders Reuell Walters, Henry Jeffcott and Zach Awe. Mauro Bandeira wore the captain’s armband on his return from injury, with Gower, Amani Richards and Amario Cozier-Duberry entering the fray as well.
Richards, who has already played for the U23s, started the half well and produced an impressive piece of skill, although he wasn’t able to locate a team-mate with his subsequent cross.
Chelmsford briefly threatened as Kovacevic was called into action, but Arsenal’s quality eventually shone through and the hard-working Gower made it 3-0 as he closed down the Chelmsford goalkeeper and the ball defelcted into the net.
Foran was brought back on in place of Quesada-Thorn, with Jeffcott moving across to left-back.
Arsenal sought another goal in the closing stages, with Walters frequently getting forwards from right-back.
Bandeira did well to create space for himself but his shot lacked conviction, then Davies showed off his pace as he burst forward and found Richards, but the latter’s effort was closed down.
Eventually Arsenal did make it 4-0, with Gower getting his second of the game with a neat finish following good work from Bandeira.
The U18s are set to head to Devon next week for a training camp, which will include a friendly against Tavistock AFC. They will also be facing Hendon later this month as the countdown towards the new season continues.
In terms of the star performers today, Gower certainly deserves a lot of credit, with the midfielder having now scored three goals in two games at this level.
It is also clear that Micciche has attacking options in abundance, with Edwards, Green, Richards and Davis all posing very different yet significant threats.
The system that Micciche deployed today also allows the right-back to get forward, as Robinson and Walters both did superbly today.
Ismail also gave a good account of himself on his debut and Sagoe Jr showed that he is determined to impress in a crucial season for his development as he looks to earn a professional contract.
It is the start of a long road, but Micciche will hope that Arsenal U18s will be able to head in the right direction under his guidance.