Around this time last year Arsenal U23s were shrouded in uncertainty.
Steve Bould had just been sacked and there was a delay in announcing his successor, with England youth coach Kevin Betsy eventually being appointed.
After the U23s had flirted with relegation in their final season under Bould, it was clear that change was needed with regards to a more modern coach being appointed.
Betsy certainly managed to fit the bill in that regard but there were some initial teething problems as the players adapted to his methods.
That was certainly the case in his first match in charge, a 6-1 defeat away to West Ham United in which Arsenal were woeful.
Under Betsy Arsenal play a rather complicated style of football which involves building from the back, full-backs drifting inside and lots of positional rotation. The coach has also often flitted between a back three and a back four.
Using such methods at U23 level, where the squad is constantly changing due to first-team call-ups, loans and injuries, is a brave move, but in the main it has paid off, with Arsenal playing some impressive attacking football at times.
On some occasions it would perhaps be beneficial to deviate slightly from this style, especially when playing more physical teams, while like a lot of Arsenal youth coaches Betsy often leaves it late to make substitutions.
It was confirmed this week that Arsenal will finish in third place in Premier League 2, which represents a significant improvement on last season.
The season petered out somewhat with five successive draws but there were some real highlights earlier in the campaign, most notably a 6-1 thrashing of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and a win over Manchester United.
In terms of standout performers, Folarin Balogun was excellent before his loan move to Middlesbrough and scored 13 goals in 11 games but the star of the season surely has to be Omari Hutchinson.
The winger adapted seamlessly to U23s football and frequently impressed with his flair, weighing in with six goals and six assists.
Marcelo Flores only came into the team in the second half of the season but he too stepped up with ease, with the Mexico international catching the eye.
Mika Biereth’s maiden season at Arsenal following his switch from Fulham was a success as he got 11 goals in the league, while Charlie Patino and Miguel Azeez developed their all-round game with the latter also having a loan spell at Portsmouth.
Defender Mazeed Ogungbo was one of the team’s most consistent performers and Zach Awe also impressed in a campaign that was disrupted by injuries.
Kido Taylor-Hart, meanwhile, started the season well before an injury stopped him in his tracks.
Zak Swanson deserves a lot of credit for his adaptability as he played in numerous positions and he has ended the campaign by frequently being called up to the first-team squad.
Jack Henry-Francis still has some developing to do but the midfielder gained plenty of experience with the U23s this season having previously been on the periphery of the team.
Salah-Eddine really stepped up and produced some moments of magic as he gave glimpses of the ability he possesses. Tim Akinola, Ryan Alebiosu and Brooke Norton-Cuffy also performed well before going out on loan.
With regards to goalkeepers, Hubert Graczyk often impressed when called upon and looks to have edged ahead of Ovie Ejeheri.
Perhaps the most progress was made by Reuell Walters, who racked up 16 appearances for the U23s despite being a first year.
Later in the season Lino Sousa and Bradley Ibrahim also got into the squad. They should be more heavily involved next season along with the likes of Khayon Edwards, Taylor Foran, Charles Sagoe Jr, Amario Cozier-Duberry and Mathaeus Roberts.
One criticism of the academy setup this season is that perhaps some players weren’t promoted quickly enough. Cozier-Duberry, for instance, seems ready to play more for the U23s.
There was disappointment for some prospects – Catalin Cirjan didn’t play at all due to injury while Ben Cottrell also spent much of the campaign on the sidelines.
Nathan Butler-Oyedeji and Joel Ideho perhaps didn’t start as often as they would have hoped, but they should get more opportunities next season. George Lewis could depart having barely been involved.
As is always the case with U23s football, there will be plenty of changes in the summer but with Betsy having had a year in charge there will be more clarity about the setup as a whole as Arsenal look to produce players who are capable of stepping up to the first-team.
Arsenal U23s appearances 2021/22
Mika Biereth – 21
Mazeed Ogungbo – 20
Joel Lopez – 18
Omari Hutchinson – 17
Salah-Eddine, Reuell Walters – 16
Charlie Patino, Jack Henry-Francis – 15
Joel Ideho, Omar Rekik – 14
James Olayinka – 13
Zak Swanson, Zane Monlouis, Tim Akinola – 12
Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, Folarin Balogun – 11
Kido Taylor-Hart, Marcelo Flores, Miguel Azeez, Ryan Alebiosu – 10
Alex Kirk – 9
Ovie Ejeheri – 8
Brooke Norton-Cuffy – 7
Hubert Graczyk, Karl Hein, Arthur Okonkwo, Zach Awe – 6
Lino Sousa, Jonathan Dinzeyi – 4
Bradely Ibrahim, Amario Cozier-Duberry – 3
Ben Cottrell, George Lewis, Taylor Foran, Khayon Edwards – 2
Mauro Bandeira, Charles Sagoe Jr, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel, Jordan McEneff, Henry Jeffcott – 1
Catalin Cirjan, Tom Smith, Luigi Gaspar – 0
Others called up: James Hillson, Remy Mitchell, Mathaeus Roberts, Elian Quesada-Thorn, Henry Timi Davies, Kaleel Green.
Arsenal U23s goalscorers
Folarin Balogun – 13
Mika Biereth – 11
Omari Hutchinson – 6
Salah-Eddine – 5
Marcelo Flores – 4
Joel Lopez, Kido Taylor-Hart, Zak Swanson, Miguel Azeez, Lino Sousa – 2
Charlie Patino, Tim Akinola, Ryan Alebiosu, Zach Awe, Ben Cottrell, Khayon Edwards – 1
Thanks for that Jeorge, Swanson seems to be a regular on the subs bench recently and whilst a lot of the youngsters have filled those spots Swanson seems to be there most often, is that just coincidence or do you think that Arteta sees some potential in him?
I think it’s just his versatility. He will probably go on loan next season.