U21 Premier League International Cup
Arsenal 0 Sparta Prague 1 (Schanelec 55)
By Jeorge Bird @ LV Bet Stadium Meadow Park
The most intriguing aspect of youth football is that the production line is never ending and that was very much in evidence tonight as Arsenal took on Sparta Prague in the Premier League International Cup.
Arsenal suffered a 1-0 defeat and produced a rather disjointed display, but in the second half coach Mehmet Ali gave debuts at this level to four players from the U18 squad, with Mathaeus Roberts, Osman Kamara, Seb Ferdinand and Ismail Oulad M’Hand all coming on.
It was a much-changed team overall as a host of players were missing. James Hillson, Reuell Walters, Taylor Foran, Lino Sousa, Charles Sagoe Jr, Catalin Cirjan, Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, Myles Lewis-Skelly, Matt Smith, Amario Cozier-Duberry and Ethan Nwaneri were all absent and it is anticipated that at least some of them will be with the first-team this week.
Jack Henry-Francis captained the team and there were starts for Josh Robinson, Elian Quesada-Thorn, Kido Taylor-Hart and Billy Vigar.
Subs: Roberts (for Monlouis, 63), Lewis (for Vigar, 77), Ferdinand (for Robinson, 77), Kamara (for Taylor-Hart, 89). Not used: Rojas, Brown.
Former Arsenal midfielder and current Sparta Prague sporting director Tomas Rosicky was in attendance at the game.
Arsenal found themselves under a little bit of pressure early on, with Robinson having to cut out the danger.
It was a rather uneventful start to proceedings, with the first chance not coming until the 18th minute, when Graczyk made a save.
Robinson then did well to find Taylor-Hart, who saw his effort deflected for a corner.
Graczyk had to make another stop and then a Sparta Prague free-kick went over.
Arsenal struggled to muster much rhythm in the opening period but the same could also be said of their opponents.
European youth fixtures tend to be a clash of styles and as a consequence games aren’t quite as open as league fixtures.
Ten minutes into the second half Sparta Prague managed to break the deadlock as Tomas Schanelec sent the ball beyond the reach of Graczyk after the goalkeeper had made an initial save.
Arsenal looked to equalise immediately and Ideho had a shot saved before Robinson’s claim for a penalty was turned down.
Mauro Bandeira sent a free-kick narrowly wide and then came the first of the four debuts as Roberts came on for Zane Monlouis and Bradley Ibrahim moved into defence.
An effort from Sparta Prague went wide and then the visiting goalkeeper Jakub Tuma escaped punishment despite rushing out of his goal and making a challenge.
A double change followed, with George Lewis coming on for Vigar and debutant Ferdinand replacing Robinson. Ferdinand is mainly a winger but does have experience of playing at right-back and filled in in the latter position on this occasion.
Ideho, who was becoming increasingly influential, embarked on a good run and then shot wide.
Quesada-Thorn then sent in a dangerous cross from the left but, agonisingly, there wasn’t anyone there to meet it.
A free-kick from Bandeira then just eluded Awe at the far post.
Further changes were made as Kamara and Ismail Oulad M’Hand came on for Taylor-Hart and Henry-Francis.
Kamara, deployed on the left wing, looked lively and Lewis shot wide late on.
However, despite their best efforts, Arsenal were unable to get an equaliser and now face a battle to progress in this competition.
As expected given the significant amount of changes, there was a lack of cohesion in the team, although there were still some standout performers, with Robinson and Taylor-Hart acquitting themselves well, while Ideho stepped up in the second half.
Taylor-Hart showed some glimpses of us ability and the debutants certainly didn’t look out of place at this level.
This may not go down as a memorable performance but it was certainly a memorable occasion for the players who came on.