Author: Jeorge Bird

Arsenal’s Stefan O’Connor set to receive much-needed game time with York City loan

Young Arsenal defender Stefan O’Connor has joined League Two side York City on loan, with the deal set to run until January 6th, 2016.

The commanding centre-back made his first-team debut for Arsenal against Galatasaray in the Champions League last season but has been deprived of game time even at youth level this campaign, largely as a consequence of the club’s decision to move Krystian Bielik to centre-back.

O’Connor, who is confident on the ball, broke into the Arsenal U21 side as a first-year scholar and struck up an impressive partnership with Julio Pleguezuelo, with the youngster having now made over 30 appearances for the second-string.

York have the worst defensive record in League Two this season- they have conceded 37 goals- so there could be much work for O’Connor to attend to with his temporary side.

The decision to loan out the 18-year-old makes sense given that he is no longer eligible for the FA Youth Cup and he wouldn’t have received much playing time for the older age groups.



Emile Smith-Rowe exclusive interview: I’m more confident on the ball


Last season Emile Smith-Rowe had the honour of becoming the first player to represent Arsenal at U18 level who was born in the 21st century.

The youngster, who doesn’t turn 16 until July, is one of the latest players to come off the club’s Hale End production line, with the skilful left winger poised to be offered scholarship terms with the Gunners prior to the start of next season.

In an exclusive interview with Arsenal Youth, Smith-Rowe discussed playing for the U18s, his exploits with England at youth level and the Arsenal first-team players that he is most similar to in style.

Like many of his team-mates at Arsenal, Smith-Rowe has been part of the Hale End academy for several years, as he explains: “I started playing Sunday league at five and a half, I had a trial at Chelsea at nine years old before signing at Arsenal aged nine and a quarter.”


The youngster usually operates on the left flank, which he confirms is his preferred position. Blessed with excellent technical qualities, Smith-Rowe believes that his current form at U16 level, which has seen him find the net with regularity this season, is perhaps the best he has played for the club.

He says: “Yes, probably. I’m more confident on the ball and taking more chances.”
While many of his colleagues at U16 level face an anxious wait to see whether they will be offered scholarship contracts for next season, Smith-Rowe, such is his stellar reputation, seems very likely to be offered a deal to extend his stay at Arsenal.

The hard-working youngster gained some valuable experience of playing at U18 level last season as he featured in defeats against Newcastle United and Fulham towards the end of the campaign.

The step up in quality was considerable, but Smith-Rowe believes that he has benefitted from the experience. “(It was) a big step, it’s harder as the pace of the game was much faster. However I felt like I got more of the ball.”

An exciting player to watch, Smith-Rowe describes his best qualities as: “dribbling, crossing, passing, assists and being a team player.”

Smith-Rowe will soon link up with England at U16 level for the Nike Cup in Florida, as part of which the young Lions will face their counterparts from the United States, Brazil and the Netherlands early next month.

The 15-year-old is eagerly anticipating the experience and believes that playing against different sides will help to improve his game even further.

“For sure, the different styles of play and different formations help me identify the different jobs required.”

After the competition in Florida is over, Smith-Rowe will return to Arsenal and will hopefully feature again for the U18s before the season’s denouement.

The youngster, who identifies Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as the first-team players he is most similar to in style, has made some significant strides of late, but there is much more to come from a player who had the privilege of heralding a new era for Arsenal U18s.

Arsenal offer Aaron Eyoma professional contract

Screen shot 2015-11-24 at 22.00.44

Arsenal have offered young winger Aaron Eyoma a professional deal at the club.

The 18-year-old, who can also play at right-back, is in the final year of his scholarship contract and the club are keen to retain his services.

A product of Arsenal’s Hale End academy who was highly regarded as a schoolboy, Eyoma, a quick and powerful player, has mainly featured for the U18s this season, but has also been involved with the U21 and UEFA Youth League squads.

Marc Bola, who has established himself as the club’s first-choice left-back at U21 level, is also expected to be offered a professional contract.

Meanwhile, midfielder Savvas Mourgos faces a battle to prolong his Arsenal career, whilst left-back Ilias Chatzitheodoridis is in danger of being released when his contract expires at the end of June.

Report: Willock impresses again as Arsenal U19s are beaten in UEFA Youth League

UEFA Youth League

Arsenal 1 (Mavididi) Dinamo Zagreb 2

By Jeorge Bird at Meadow Park

Screen shot 2015-11-24 at 17.38.46

Arsenal U19s fell to their first defeat in the UEFA Youth League this season as they were beaten 2-1 by their Dinamo Zagreb counterparts at Meadow Park this afternoon.

Andries Jonker’s side were impressive in the opening period but were made to pay for some sluggish defending in the second half and finished the game empty handed despite substitute Stephy Mavididi reducing the deficit after he converted from Chris Willock’s cross.

There was further bad news for the young Gunners as Kaylen Hinds suffered an injury in the first-half which led to him leaving the ground on crutches.

However, Jonker’s team are still on course to qualify for the Last 16 stage of the competition going into their final group game away to Olympiacos.

Jonker shuffled his pack for this game. Deprived of the services of Jeff Reine-Adelaide (who is likely to be with the first-team again tonight) and Dan Crowley, the Dutchman named a much-changed line-up, with Ben Sheaf, Mavididi, Ismael Bennacer and Krystian Bielik all left on the bench.

First-years Marcus Agyei-Tabi and Donyell Malen were both given starts, whilst Alex Iwobi, rather strangely, was again deployed in a deep-lying midfield position.


Eyoma-O’Connor-Pleguezuelo-M. Bola

Agyei Tabi-Iwobi

Hinds-Nelson-C. Willock


Subs: Robinson (for Hinds, 19), Bennacer (for Agyei-Tabi, 66), Mavididi (for Nelson, 73). Not used: Huddart, Bielik, Sheaf, Fortune.

Arsenal, who went into this fixture having taken ten points from their first four group games, started slowly, with Iwobi squandering possession, enabling Zagreb to have the first effort of the game, which saw a shot sail over Hugo Keto’s crossbar.

Arsenal responded with Willock, who was a threat all afternoon, shooting over himself, but it wasn’t long before Zagreb carved out another opportunity, with the young Gunners being caught out down their left flank, leading to the opposition sending a header over.

Eventually Arsenal started to assert themselves on proceedings and they really should have opened the scoring when a precise lofted through-ball from Agyei-Tabi found Malen, who shot wide when well placed.

Arsenal then lost Hinds to injury, with Tyrell Robinson entering the fray, but their attacking momentum remained very much intact.

Iwobi came close to scoring on three occasions in quick succession, but at the other end there was a nervous moment when Stefan O’Connor, on a rare start, mis-kicked the ball, although thankfully Keto was on hand to gather.

Reiss Nelson, the youngest player in the Arsenal side, was starting to become increasingly influential, with the England youth international finding Agyei-Tabi, who shot just wide from distance.

Robinson then sent an effort wide of the target, but it was Zagreb who ended the half in the ascendancy, with Josip Brekalo coming close to scoring.

Malen had Arsenal’s first opportunity of the second half as the Dutch forward did well to create space for himself before seeing his shot saved.

However, Zagreb had threatened on the counter-attack on several occasions earlier in the game and they finally got their reward when a neat move culminated in Brekalo sending the ball beyond the reach of Keto.

O’Connor then made an important block to prevent the visitors from inflicting further damage, but Zagreb continued to threaten, with Arsenal right-back Aaron Eyoma struggling to cope.

Further inept defending from Arsenal enabled Amer Gojak to double Zagreb’s advantage with a neat finish.

The introduction of Bennacer improved the tempo of Arsenal’s game, but it was another substitute, Mavididi, who would make a more telling contribution.

The striker showed impressive awareness to finish well after he was located in the penalty area by the ever-dangerous Willock.

Willock, who trained with the first-team yesterday, continued to threaten in the latter stages as Arsenal sought an equaliser that would have rubber-stamped their progression to the Last 16.

However, despite there being five minutes of added time and goalkeeper Keto joining the attacking movement, Arsenal were unable to find a second goal.

Arsenal’s place in the Last 16 is almost secure, and, given their superior goal difference, it would take something remarkable for them to fail to progress.

Today’s performance wasn’t entirely convincing, particularly in a defensive sense, but, as was the case in the U21 game against Stoke City on Friday, the performance of Willock stood out in adversity.

Five youngsters train with Arsenal first-team + Youth League preview

Screen shot 2015-11-23 at 12.55.20

Getty Images

Arsenal held their final first-team training session this morning ahead of tomorrow’s crucial Champions League game at home to Dinamo Zagreb.

Aaron Ramsey played a full part in the session and should be fit to feature, whilst youngsters Alex Iwobi, Chris Willock, Julio Pleguezuelo, Donyell Malen and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde trained with the first-team. The latter could make the bench for tomorrow’s fixture.

The Gunners, who must win to stand any chance of progressing to the Last 16, are without seven players due to injury.

Francis Coquelin (knee) and Mikel Arteta (muscular) both suffered injuries in the defeat to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

It was anticipated that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is struggling with a hamstring problem, would be back for this fixture, but instead the England winger may have to wait for Sunday’s game away to Norwich City to make his return to action.

Theo Walcott is set to be out for a little while longer with a calf injury, whilst Jack Wilshere, who is yet to play this season because of a calf problem, should return at some point in December.

Tomáš Rosický and Danny Welbeck, who are both sidelined with knee injuries, aren’t scheduled to return until January.

Possible team:






Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Campbell, Ramsey, Reine-Adélaïde. 

Injured: Coquelin, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Wilshere, Rosický, Welbeck, Moore, Johnson, Iliev.

Other eligible players: Huddart, Macey, O’Connor, Pleguezuelo, Kamara, Robinson, C. Willock, Hinds, Iwobi, Mavididi.

Arsenal U19s, meanwhile, also take on their Dinamo Zagreb counterparts tomorrow, but are in a much more favourable position in their group and can secure their place in the Last 16 with a draw.

Marcus Agyei-Tabi and Reiss Nelson are available again after international duty, but Chiori Johnson and Charlie Gilmour are still out through injury, whilst Tafari Moore is doubtful, meaning that Ben Sheaf may have to cover at right-back.

Possible team:


Sheaf-Pleguezuelo-Bielik-M. Bola

Mourgos-C. Willock



Subs: Huddart, Eyoma, O’Connor, Agyei-Tabi, Malen, Nelson, Bennacer.

Injured: Moore, Johnson, Gilmour.

Other eligible players: Perrin, Virginia, Da Graca, T. Bola, Chatzitheodoridis, Osei-Tutu, Pileas, Howard, Reine-Adélaïde, Robinson, Dragomir, Tella, Benson, Smith-Rowe, Fortune, Nketiah, J. Willock.

Loan report- Rangers hopeful of extending Zelalem deal

Screen shot 2015-11-22 at 12.33.55

Chuba Akpom played 82 minutes and sent a header wide as Hull City drew 1-1 with Bristol City. Isaac Hayden was an un-used substitute.

Jon Toral played the whole game and had a shot saved as Birmingham City lost 1-0 to Charlton Athletic.

Gedion Zelalem played the entirety of Rangers’ 1-1 draw with Livingston. Rangers manager Mark Warburton suggested this week that the midfielder will remain with the Scottish side for the rest of the season.

Zelalem’s loan deal is set to expire early in the New Year. However, Warburton said: “The current deal is until January, but, as long as everyone is happy, we will extend that.

“I have been delighted with his contribution and the last game he played for Rangers was his best so far.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles was introduced as a substitute in the 69th minute, and came close to scoring with a header as Ipswich Town drew 2-2 with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Emiliano Martinez didn’t feature for Wolves because of injury.

Wojciech Szczesny featured as Roma drew 2-2 with Bologna.

Yaya Sanogo returned to the Ajax squad, but the striker was an un-used substitute as his temporary side thrashed Cambuur 5-1.

Carl Jenkinson is expected to feature for West Ham United away to Tottenham Hotspur later today.

Wellington missed Bolton Wanderers’ 2-1 defeat to Reading because of injury.

Serge Gnabry wasn’t involved for West Bromwich Albion again this weekend, but at least there was a genuine reason for his absence on this occasion as the winger wasn’t permitted to feature against his parent club Arsenal.


Report: Chris Willock impresses as Arsenal U21s suffer frustrating defeat to Stoke

Screen shot 2015-11-20 at 21.47.07

By Jeorge Bird at Meadow Park. 

Arsenal U21s fell to their first defeat of the season as they were beaten 1-0 by a well-organised Stoke City side at Meadow Park this evening.

The young Gunners, who were in action at this level for the first time in almost two months, continued to probe throughout, with wide players Chris Willock and Dan Crowley providing the most significant threats to the Stoke goal.

In the end, however, it was a Stoke side containing an Arsenal youth graduate of their own in 32-year-old Steve Sidwell who prevailed on a bitterly cold evening. The goal came after Stoke capitalised on a rare error from Arsenal captain Julio Pleguezuelo, with the highly regarded Oliver Shenton providing the finishing touch.

One of the most notable aspects of the game was the teamsheet. Firstly it contained the name of Alex Iwobi, who has been heavily involved with the first-team in recent weeks, whilst fellow winger Jeff Reine-Adelaide wasn’t involved, suggesting he may be on the bench for Arsene Wenger’s side against West Bromwich Albion tomorrow.

Coach Steve Gatting made some rather strange selection decisions. With Tafari Moore out injured, Ben Sheaf was deployed at right-back, whilst Iwobi started in a deep-lying midfield position with Crowley out wide.

It hardly helped the cohesiveness of the side, although there was a positive moment in the second-half when promising striker Donyell Malen was introduced for his U21 debut.


Sheaf-Pleguezuelo-Bielik-M. Bola


C. Willock-Hinds-Crowley


Subs: Bennacer (for Iwobi, 46), Malen (for Hinds, 73). Not used: Huddart, O’Connor, Eyoma.  

Stoke winger Mohamed El Ouiraichi was immediately identified as the away side’s biggest threat, with the former Barcelona player regularly attempting to get the better of Sheaf.

Arsenal were reliant on resilient defending from Pleguezuelo and Krystian Bielik in the early stages, whilst Macey had to be alert to gather a free-kick as Stoke started the game in impressive fashion.

Arsenal were rampant in the corresponding fixture last season, with Iwobi striking a hat-trick in a memorable victory at Emirates Stadium.

On this occasion Arsenal looked to Willock and Crowley as their primary sources of inspiration, with the England youth internationals providing a reminder of their undoubted quality.

Crowley, for instance, cut inside and had an effort saved after Glen Kamara did well to win the ball back, with Willock then teeing up a chance for Stephy Mavididi, who shot wide.

Willock and Crowley then both came close to scoring with efforts of their own, with Stoke left-back Joel Taylor then making an immaculately timed challenge to prevent Arsenal from edging closer to goal.

Despite Arsenal’s attacking threat, however, it was Stoke who would score what would prove to be the game’s only goal. Pleguezuelo, who was otherwise excellent, misplaced an attempted pass and Stoke were quick to seize upon the error, with the ball eventually being worked to Shenton, whose effort was beyond the reach of Macey.

Arsenal attempted to stage an immediate response, with Mavididi having an effort saved after he was found by Iwobi and Willock subsequently shooting over, but the young Gunners went into the break a goal down.

Arsenal made an alteration at the start of the second period, with Ismael Bennacer replacing Iwobi.

Arsenal continued to carve out chances with regularity, with Pleguezuelo seeking to make amends with a header only for his effort to go just over the target.

Willock and Crowley were both denied once more as Arsenal struggled to make a breakthrough, with Stoke soon resorting to physical challenges in an attempt to stop Gatting’s side from mustering any sort of momentum.

Malen was brought on in place of Hinds, with the young Dutchman taking up a position on the right flank, enabling Crowley and Willock to alternate in the attacking midfield position. El Ouiraichi, meanwhile, continued to provide a threat for Stoke.

Sheaf, perhaps understandably, struggled at right-back, but he still provided a set from set-pieces, with his free-kick finding Mavididi, whose header went wide.

Macey had to make a good stop at the other end, but Arsenal were running out of time to preserve their immaculate start to the season.

Malen saw a couple of crosses gathered, then Crowley attempted to go for individual glory with a lofted effort, but Stoke goalkeeper Daniel Gyollai claimed the ball.

It was a night of frustration for Arsenal, with several players struggling to perform at their usual level. The situation wasn’t helped, however, by Gatting’s bizarre selection.

Jordi Osei-Tutu, the regular right-back for the U18s, surely could have filled in there tonight, whilst Iwobi would have been more effective out wide and Crowley should have been used centrally.

The performance of Willock, though, was rather encouraging, as he showcased his uncanny ability to find space in difficult situations, whilst Macey, perhaps provided with a confidence boost following his first-team exertions, was impressive in goal. Crowley, meanwhile, was impressive at times but also squandered possession too easily on occasion.

Other than that there weren’t too many positives to take from the game from an Arsenal perspective, and it is hoped that the young Gunners will fare rather better in their next fixture away to Brighton & Hove Albion later this month.