Arsenal U18s suffered their third league defeat in succession on Saturday as they were beaten 4-1 by West Ham United.
Results are not always the most important aspect of youth football, with development taking precedence, but there have been some concerning signs so far this campaign, especially defensively.
Firstly, it is worth looking at the positives. There is a lot of creativity in this side, especially when schoolboys Myles Lewis-Skelly and Ethan Nwaneri are involved. The likes of Seb Ferdinand and Osman Kamara provide a threat out wide and when he has been available Omari Benjamin has acquitted himself well up front.
In midfield there are a host of options for Jack Wilshere to call upon, and that was summed up on Saturday, with substitutes Jimi Gower and Harrison Dudziak combining before Mathaeus Roberts found the net. Ismail Oulad M’Hand, meanwhile, has made significant strides forward in his development this season.
The U18s have looked vulnerable defensively, as evidenced by the fact that they have yet to keep a clean sheet this season. They have been without full-backs Reuell Walters and Lino Sousa, who have impressed for the U21s, while Maldini Kacurri and Elian Quesada-Thorn have also been involved with the older age group at times.
The absence of right-back Josh Nichols was also key against West Ham, with the visitors causing Arsenal numerous problems. Coby Small and Josh Robinson were deployed at right-back and centre-back respectively when it perhaps should have been the other way around.
In goal Alex Kovacevic kept his place but was at fault for several goals. Although he is capable of making impressive stops, Kovacevic often palms the ball out directly into the path of opposition players. Alexei Rojas will hope that he is soon recalled to the side.
Arsenal have three games remaining at U18 level before the Winter break – league fixtures against Leicester City and Crystal Palace and a home game against Millwall in the FA Youth Cup, which should be especially interesting.
There have been some encouraging signs from the U18s this season, especially in a creative sense, and at times they have caused problems for opponents with their dynamism and flair. It is clear though that there is still a lot of developing to do defensively.