Author: Jeorge Bird

Report – Arsenal U23s win Premier League 2 title as Nelson and Nketiah help see off West Ham

Premier League 2

West Ham 1 (Quina 82) Arsenal 3 (Nelson 20, Nketiah 27, 70)

By Jeorge Bird @London Stadium

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After a season of hard graft, Arsenal U23s won the Premier League 2 title at London Stadium tonight and it seemed only fitting that Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah played major parts in proceedings.

The pair have progressed extremely well this season to the extent that they are now on the cusp of the first-team squad, but they dropped back down to the U23s tonight to help Arsenal secure the title at this level for the first time since 1990.

Arsenal knew a win would be enough for them to finish top and they managed to prevail comfortably in the end, with Nelson on the scoresheet and the prolific Nketiah hitting a brace.

The young Gunners could have had more goals but, although West Ham reduced the deficit through a fine Domingos Quina goal late on, Arsenal always looked likely to see out the win and so it proved, with the final whistle sparking jubilant celebrations amongst the players, even though they weren’t presented with the trophy on this occasion.

Arsenal were able to call upon Joe Willock in addition to Nelson and Nketiah, but Konstantinos Mavropanos remained absent due to injury, while goalkeeper Deyan Iliev was still sidelined as a consequence of receiving a kick in the face against Swansea City.

Virginia

Osei Tutu-Olowu-Medley-T.Bola

Dasilva-Willock

Dragomir-Nelson-Smith Rowe

Nketiah

Subs: Gilmour (for Dragomir, 60), John-Jules (for Nelson, 86), Amaechi (for Smith Rowe, 86). Not used: Keto, Ballard. 

In front of a small crowd in East London, Arsenal were determined to open the scoring as quickly as possible and Nketiah was typically lively as he demonstrated his excellent close control before his subsequent effort was saved by Nathan Trott.

Jordi Osei-Tutu, who has played a pivotal part in Arsenal’s title success, had to make an important block, but most of the action was occurring at the other end of the pitch, where Nelson was beginning to wreak havoc.

The playmaker, operating in his preferred number ten position, managed to burst past the West Ham defence but his shot surprisingly lacked conviction and went wide.

West Ham briefly responded with a spell of possession but Arsenal remained in control and they soon took the lead with Tolaji Bola bursting down the left flank and crossing for Nelson, who finished well.

Seven minutes later Nketiah made it 2-0 with a neat finish and that appeared to be that as far as both the game and title were concerned.

Nketiah and the impressive Emile Smith Rowe both had efforts saved before Joao Virginia, in for Iliev, made an excellent stop to preserve his clean sheet for Arsenal.

Arsenal should have added a third before the break when Nelson dribbled past Trott but, instead of going for goal himself, the youngster instead cut the ball back for Nketiah, who somehow managed to hit the crossbar from close range.

In the second half Arsenal continued to push forwards, with Willock doing well to create space for himself prior to having an effort saved.

Charlie Gilmour, whose goal against Swansea was vital in Arsenal’s title quest, replaced Vlad Dragomir, while West Ham substitute Anthony Scully lasted just ten minutes before succumbing to injury.

Arsenal then put the game beyond doubt and it was Nketiah who applied the finishing touch again following further good work from Nelson, with Josh Dasilva also involved in the build-up.

West Ham did reduce the deficit when the talented Quina finished emphatically past Virginia following a well-worked move, but it did little to alter the overall outcome of the game.

Arsenal sent on Xavier Amaechi and Tyreece John-Jules in the closing stages and the young Gunners had a goal ruled out for offside but it mattered little as shortly afterwards the final whistle blew and their dominance of the division was confirmed.

Just two years ago Arsenal were promoted from Division 2 and now they are champions of the top tier.

It is a fantastic achievement and, in addition to the players, the coaching staff, including Steve Gatting and Carl Laraman deserve immense credit, especially given that there was some skepticism surrounding their credentials when they took charge.

This is undoubtedly a very talented group of Arsenal players – Nelson, Nketiah and Willock are close to the first-team, while Dasilva, Osei-Tutu, Dragomir and Gilmour have also been involved with the senior squad in some capacity this season.

Then there is the next generation, with the likes of Smith Rowe, John-Jules and Amaechi all very exciting talents.

Many members of this squad have developed very well this campaign and it is now hoped that they will receive opportunities to impress in the first-team in due course.

It is rather inevitable that this group will be broken up next season, with some players hopefully involved with the first-team and others going on loan, but this is a time to be very excited about the Arsenal youth system, especially with there being the possibility of further trophies this season in the form of the Premier League International Cup and the FA Youth Cup.

Academies will ultimately be judged on getting players into the first-team but for now we should simply enjoy what has been a remarkable season at youth level, and one that isn’t quite finished just yet.

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Arsenal U23s eager to win the title at West Ham tonight

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It is already a significant day for Arsenal Football Club but it could also prove to be notable for another reason, with the Gunners’ U23 side having the opportunity to clinch the league title tonight.

Arsenal have not won the U23 league or equivalent since 1990 and a victory away to West Ham United at London Stadium will end that wait, although there is still a strong possibility that they could be crowned champions afterwards if other results go their way.

Steve Gatting’s side have played some excellent, free-flowing football at times this season and will certainly be worthy champions if indeed they do manage to win the title.

Goalkeeper Deyan Iliev should be fit to face West Ham despite being kicked in the head against Swansea last week, although Konstantinos Mavropanos is doubtful due to injury.

Arsenal may also have to cope without some or all of Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson or Joe Willock, who could be needed for the first-team against the same opponents this weekend, but Gatting should still be able to field a strong side.

There are further trophies up for grabs for Arsenal at youth level this season, with the club through to the finals of both the Premier League International Cup and the FA Youth Cup.

Winning the league would certainly be special, however, and it would be testament to the development that many of these players have undergone throughout the course of the season.

Right-back Jordi Osei-Tutu, for instance, has gone from a rookie to a regular, while Josh Dasilva has been a powerhouse in midifeld and Vlad Dragomir has also improved immensely.

Matters took a slight turn for the worse following an exodus of players on loan in January, but Arsenal have managed to recover, with the likes of Xavier Amaechi, Tyreece John-Jules and Folarin Balogun all adapting to this level with ease.

Now it is time to complete the job, and, based on how they have performed to this point, you would expect Arsenal to prevail.

Arsenal winger Jay Beckford on trial with Bolton Wanderers

Arsenal winger Jay Beckford is on trial at Bolton Wanderers as he looks to earn a permanent deal.

Beckford featured for Bolton’s U23 side today in their 3-0 defeat to Birmingham City and will hope that he impressed sufficiently to be offered a professional contract.

The 18-year-old, who can also play as a central-midfielder or a striker if required, will be released by Arsenal when his scholarship deal expires at the end of the season.

Beckford joined Arsenal from Leyton Orient as a schoolboy three years ago but he has often struggled to command a regular starting berth at U18 level and has been unable to break into the U23 squad.

This season Beckford has made six appearances for the U18s without scoring or providing an assist.

Fellow second-year scholar Josh Benson is also set to be let go, while defender Tobi Omole could be released.

It seems likely that Danny Ballard, Robbie Burton and Dominic Thompson, who have helped Arsenal reach the final of the FA Youth Cup, will all get professional deals.

Matt Smith scores penalty and six schoolboys feature as depleted Arsenal U18s beat Southampton

U18 Premier League

Southampton 0 Arsenal 1 (M. Smith 61 (pen))

An Arsenal U18 team deprived of many of their standout players managed to secure an impressive 1-0 victory away to Southampton in a rearranged league fixture today, with Matt Smith scoring a penalty.

None of the players who started the emphatic FA Youth Cup victory over Blackpool on Monday were involved on this occasion, but some of the substitutes from that game, including Smith and Trae Coyle, were called upon.

Schoolboys Matthew Dennis, Miguel Azeez, Ben Cottrell and Armstrong Okoflex all started but second years Josh Benson and Jay Beckford, who are set to be released this summer, weren’t involved.

Barden

Matthews-Clarke-Spencer Adams-Omole

M. Smith-Azeez

Cottrell-McEneff-Okoflex

Coyle

Subs: Flaherty (for Cottrell, 69), Martin (for Okoflex, 77). Not used: T. Smith, Matthews.

Southampton named a strong side, including Michael Obafemi, who featured in the Premier League earlier in the season.

The hosts had an opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half but Arsenal goalkeeper Daniel Barden reacted well to keep out Jonathan Afolabi’s effort.

Arsenal were impressive in the second period and they eventually went ahead through a penalty of their own, with Smith scoring from the spot.

Schoolboys Stan Flaherty and Josh Martin received run-outs and it turned out to be a good afernoon for Arsenal, who are now five points ahead of Southampton in second.

Chelsea may have been crowned champions but Arsenal have an opportunity for glory against the Blues in the FA Youth Cup, while they are also determined to finish strongly in the league.

Report – Smith Rowe superb as five-star Arsenal U18s thrash Blackpool to reach FA Youth Cup final

FA Youth Cup semi-final, second leg

Arsenal 5 (Balogun 18, Ballard 20, Burton 23, Smith Rowe 34 (pen), M. Smith 90) Blackpool 0 (Arsenal win 7-2 on aggregate)

By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium

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Arsenal U18s made it through to the FA Youth Cup final for the first time in nine years with a 5-0 demolition of Blackpool at Emirates Stadium tonight as Emile Smith Rowe produced a midfield masterclass.

With the first leg having finished 2-2, Arsenal knew they had much work to do in the second leg in order to get to the final but they managed to do that, with Smith Rowe very influential.

The extremely talented youngster, deployed in the number ten position, found the net himself from the penalty spot following a superb burst forwards, whilst Folarin Balogun, Danny Ballard, Robbie Burton and substitute Matt Smith also managed to get on the scoresheet as the resilience that Blackpool demonstrated in the initial tie evaporated.

Arsenal will now face Chelsea, who have won each of the last four editions of this competition, in a two-legged final, but for now Kwame Ampadu’s side can reflect on a dominant display which, especially in the first half, was a joy to watch.

Reiss Nelson, as expected, wasn’t involved, whilst Trae Coyle was surprisingly omitted from the starting lineup, with James Olayinka deployed in central midfield. Dominic Thompson, meanwhile, started at left-back with Tobi Omole not involved.

Virginia

Daley Campbell-Ballard-Medley-Thompson

Olayinka-Burton

Balogun-Smith Rowe-Amaechi

John Jules

Subs: Saka (for Amaechi), Coyle (for Smith Rowe), M. Smith (for Balogun). Not used: Okonkwo, Olowu.

Blackpool had put up a terrific fight in the first leg but it soon became apparent that Arsenal, with home advantage, were going to be too strong for them on this occasion.

Arsenal were dominant in the early stages, with the lively Burton hitting an effort over the crossbar.

Xavier Amaechi, who enjoyed an excellent game, then started to cause all manner of problems for the Blackpool defence with his searing speed and the winger swung in a cross which picked out Folarin Balogun, who shot wide.

Balogun, who frequently sought to drift inside from the right flank, then rattled the woodwork after he was located by powerful full-back Vontae Daley-Campbell, and it seemed only a matter of time before Arsenal took the lead.

Balogun and Tyreece John-Jules both had shots saved in quick succession but then Arsenal did make it 1-0 as Smith Rowe initiated the move, finding Amaechi, who played in Balogun again.

On this occasion the attacker made no mistake as he headed home in the 18th minute to put Arsenal ahead both on the night and in the tie.

Daley-Campbell shot wide and then it was 2-0, with Amaechi the architect again as his corner was headed home emphatically by captain Ballard.

Blackpool were crumbling and Arsenal took full advantage as Burton made it 3-0 with a neat finish following further good work from the influential Smith Rowe.

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That appeared to be the tie over, but Arsenal were eager to continue to dominate and Balogun almost scored again following an intricate team move but his effort lacked conviction on this occasion.

Arsenal’s quick movement and passing saw them continue to thrive and Dominic Thompson, up from left-back, hit the side-netting after Amaechi played the ball into his path.

Then came the most memorable moment of the match as Smith Rowe embarked on a tremendous run past several Blackpool players.

Had Smith Rowe not been hauled down it could have resulted in a spectacular goal, but as it transpired a penalty was awarded and the starlet stepped up to take it himself, making no mistake as Arsenal went 4-0 ahead.

Blackpool threatened intermittently in the second half, with Joao Virginia having to claim a cross, but Arsenal were still firmly in control of proceedings.

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Smith Rowe, so elegant in possession, played a delightful ball to Amaechi, but the latter’s effort was saved.

Burton then found John-Jules but the striker, who is usually impressive in front of goal, was unable to score.

Arsenal brought on Bukayo Saka and later Trae Coyle in place of Amaechi and Smith Rowe and they continued to threaten even without the services of two of their standout players.

Blackpool’s chances of securing a shock win had long since diminished and their misery was compounded when Jack Newton was given a second yellow card for hauling back Balogun.

Smith came on for Balogun and the midfielder, who has trained with the first-team recently, managed to add further gloss to the scoreline in the closing stages from close range, with fellow substitute Coyle playing a clever no-look pass in the build up.

It is important to take the standard of opposition into account, but this was still an excellent display from Arsenal, with Smith Rowe and Amaechi especially standing out.

The likes of Burton, Balogun and James Olayinka can also be pleased with their displays and the overall team performance deserves much credit.

Defeating a highly regarded Chelsea team will be no easy task, but Arsenal will be in determined mood and if Smith Rowe can replicate this performance then the Youth Cup could be heading back to north London.

Loan report – Lucas Perez assists; Reine-Adelaide goes off injured

Lucas Perez got an assist and played the whole game as Deportivo La Coruna beat Athletic Bilbao 3-2.

Chuba Akpom played the whole game as Sint-Truiden drew 2-2 with Oostende.

Kelechi Nwakali played the whole game and was booked as MVV Maastricht lost 3-1 to AZ II.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide went off injured after 14 minutes as Angers drew 1-1 with Nice.

Stephy Mavididi came on in the 76th minute of Charlton Athletic’s 1-0 defeat to Scunthorpe United.

Joel Campbell was brought on in the 83rd minute as Real Betis beat Girona 1-0.

Emiliano Martinez was an unused substitute as Getafe beat Espanyol 1-0.

Marc Bola was an unused substitute as Bristol Rovers drew 1-1 with Blackburn Rovers.

Ben Sheaf was an unused substitute as Stevenage lost 2-0 to Cambridge United.

Carl Jenkinson and Cohen Bramall weren’t involved as Birmingham City lost 2-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Tafari Moore missed out through injury as Wycombe Wanderers beat Yeovil Town 1-0.

Krystian Bielik didn’t feature due to injury as Walsall lost 3-2 to AFC Wimbledon.

Takuma Asano wasn’t involved at Stuttgart drew 1-1 with Hannover.

Julio Pleguezuelo wasnt involved as Gimnastic de Tarragona lost 1-0 to Real Oviedo.

Report – Gilmour strike sees off Swansea as Arsenal U23s boost title hopes

Premier League 2

Arsenal 1 (Gilmour) Swansea City 0

By Jeorge Bird @Emirates Stadium

The title dream is still very much alive for Arsenal U23s, with Charlie Gilmour’s strike early in the second half seeing off Swansea City at Emirates Stadium tonight and, temporarily at least, sending the young Gunners top of Premier League 2.

There is still much work to be done if Arsenal are to be crowned champions – they are three points ahead of Leicester City, their closest challengers, but the Foxes have a game in hand as well as a superior goal difference, while Liverpool are also still in the hunt for the title.

Arsenal are doing all they can, however, to finish top and they managed to prevail tonight despite being without some important players.

Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah were again unavailable due to first-team commitments, while Konstantinos Mavropanos missed out through injury and Joe Willock also didn’t feature as he is likely to train with the senior side tomorrow.

Tyreece John-Jules wasn’t involved but there was some positive news as Emile Smith Rowe made an unexpectedly early return from injury to start. Joe Olowu and Folarin Balogun were also brought into the starting lineup.

Iliev

Osei Tutu-Olowu-Medley-T. Bola

Gilmour

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Dragomir

Subs: Keto (for Iliev, 22), Burton (for Smith Rowe, 60), Fortune (for Balogun, 81). Not used: Daley-Campbell, Coyle.

Despite both sides going into the game with a chance of winning the title, there was a lack of intensity in the opening stages.

Arsenal could be forgiven for being rather lethargic, with many of these players having featured in the epic Premier League International Cup semi-final win over Villarreal on Tuesday, which went to penalties.

Vlad Dragomir was deployed up front with Balogun out wide but on one occasion they swapped positions, with the Hale End product locating the Romanian with a precise cross, but the latter’s effort was blocked.

Smith Rowe was eager to impress after his injury layoff and he certainly succeeded in that regard as he posed a significant threat to the Swansea goal, seeing a low free-kick well saved on one occasion by Eriwn Mulder.

Josh Dasilva then had an effort saved as Arsenal upped the intensity but Swansea’s threat couldn’t be discounted, with Aaron Lewis rampaging forwards from right-back and finding the side netting.

The game was temporarily halted when Iliev was kicked in the face and, following lengthy treatment, the Arsenal goalkeeper had to be replaced by Hugo Keto.

Iliev needed several stitches but should be fit for Arsenal’s final league game away to West Ham United next week.

Dasilva had been rather subdued against Villarreal but the midfielder was more influential here and bamboozled the Swansea defence with a clever turn before his subsequent effort was saved by Mulder.

Swansea improved in the closing stages of the first half and Botti Biabi was dangerous, but a rather uneventful half ended goalless.

Arsenal knew that much improvement was needed in the second period if they were to secure what would be a potentially important victory.

There was an additional sense of purpose about Arsenal’s play in the early stages of the second period and in the 47th minute the decisive moment of the match occurred as Xavier Amaechi’s corner fell to Gilmour, who finished emphatically to open the scoring.

Gilmour has spent much of the season on the periphery of proceedings but he is now starting to demonstrate just what he is capable of at a crucial period in the season.

Arsenal could have doubled their advantage very quickly, with Amaechi again the provider, but this time Balogun’s effort was saved.

Amaechi, who was having a real influence on the game in the second half, then shot wide himself after Zech Medley unexpectedly burst into midfield.

Swansea, knowing their own title ambitions were fading, tried their utmost to level, with George Byers and Jack Evans both coming close, but Arsenal stood firm.

Smith Rowe was replaced by Robbie Burton in a pre-planned change, but Arsenal were fortunate not to concede when Jordi Osei-Tutu, who otherwise had an excellent game, gave the ball straight to Adnan Maric, with the Swansea number ten lashing his attempt wide.

Amaechi was full of confidence and forced a save from Mulder following an excellent run.

Swansea, though, still had hope of levelling and on one occasion Keto had to make an impressive reaction stop to preserve Arsenal’s lead.

Gilmour and Amaechi had further chances for Arsenal but the Swansea pressure continued, with Joe Olowu having to hack the ball away before Keto made another good stop.

After four minutes of added time, the whistle finally blew and Arsenal had secured three potentially vital points.

Leicester face Sunderland on Sunday and Arsenal will be intrigued to see what occurs in that game.

Liverpool can also still win the title but Arsenal have at least put themselves in a very good position to secure the second-string title.

Gilmour impressed again tonight, while Osei-Tutu pushed forwards well from right-back and Amaechi caught the eye.

The return of Smith Rowe, who was excellent, is another major boost as Arsenal look to secure three trophies at youth level, with the Premier League International Cup and the FA Youth Cup also up for grabs.