Author: Jeorge Bird

Nelson and Willock train with Arsenal first-team ahead of Red Star Belgrade trip

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Youngsters Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock trained with the Arsenal first-team squad today ahead of tomorrow night’s Europa League game away to Red Star Belgrade.

Jordi Osei-Tutu, Eddie Nketiah, Marcus McGuane, Ben Sheaf and Josh Dasilva were selected to train with the squad.

Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy and Francis Coquelin were all in full training.

Danny Welbeck wasn’t involved. Jeff Reine-Adelaide missed out through injury, with Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers and Santi Cazorla all still sidelined.

U23 goalkeepers Matt Macey and Hugo Keto both trained with the squad.

 

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Reine-Adelaide injured and Dragomir scores stunner as Arsenal U23s beat Sunderland

Premier League 2 

Arsenal 2 (Dragomir 48, Akpom 77) Sunderland 0

By Jeorge Bird @ Emirates Stadium

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Two players at very different stages in their development were on the scoresheet as Arsenal U23s eventually managed to break down a determined Sunderland side to prevail with a 2-0 victory at Emirates Stadium tonight.

After 45 minutes in which very little happened, the game sprung into life early in the second period when Vlad Dragomir scored his first ever goal at this level with a fine strike.

Chuba Akpom, who had provided the assist for Dragomir’s goal, later went on to find the net himself, with the 22-year-old getting his second strike of the campaign for the U23s.

Despite Sunderland showing a little more attacking intent in the closing stages Arsenal managed to hold on as they bounced back from the defeat that they suffered to Everton last time out, although the win was slightly besmirched by the injury suffered by Jeff Reine-Adelaide in the first half, with the Frenchman enduring yet another setback in his development.

Reine-Adelaide, rather unexpectedly, was deployed at left wing-back, with three other first-team players also involved in Mathieu Debuchy, Francis Coquelin and Akpom.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Matt Macey weren’t in the squad, perhaps with Thursday’s Europa League game against Red Star Belgrade in mind, although Ben Sheaf was named amongst the substitutes for the first time this season after recovering from a fractured vertebrae and goalkeeper Deyan Iliev made his first competitive appearance for the U23s since the 2014/15 season.

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Subs: Sheaf (for Reine-Adelaide, 20), T. Bola (for Coquelin, 46), Medley (for Debuchy, 46). Not used: Virginia, Balogun.

Reine-Adelaide, having been out for several weeks through injury, seemed eager to impress early on and the Frenchman embarked on several dangerous runs down the left flank.

At the other end Iliev had to be alert to make a save from a header but it was Arsenal who created the majority of the chances in the opening period.

Marcus McGuane, who was very lively throughout, did well to find Akpom, who came close to scoring and then Debuchy had a goal disallowed.

Arsenal’s momentum was disrupted a little by the injury to Reine-Adelaide, but there was at least a positive to take from proceedings as he was replaced by Sheaf, who went on to produce an assured performance on his return to action.

Coquelin’s experience and energy helped Arsenal to dominate in midfield, while Debuchy, playing on the right side of the back three, was impressive.

Osei-Tutu, meanwhile, provided a frequent attacking threat as he galloped forwards from right wing-back and he had an effort saved in the closing stages of the first half.

Arsenal made a pre-planned double change at the start of the second half as Zech Medley and Tolaji Bola replaced Coquelin and Debuchy.

As a consequence, Josh Dasilva, who had started at centre-back and then moved to left wing-back, took up his third position of the game as he pushed forwards into central midfield.

Arsenal took the lead shortly after the restart when Dragomir found the top corner of the net with an unstoppable effort. The much-hyped Romanian youth international needs to gain more experience at this level and must perform with greater consistency in order to reach the top but this was a reminder of the undoubted quality that he possesses.

The young Gunners immediately grew in confidence and they had another chance to score when Bola darted down the left and his cross eventually found Dasilva, but the versatile starlet’s effort was deflected wide.

Sunderland threatened sporadically as Arsenal were repeatedly reminded that their lead was a slender one.

However, Arsenal squandered an excellent opportunity to double their advantage when Eddie Nketiah, who is usually so prolific, shot wide from close range following a mazy run by Sheaf.

Iliev then made an important stop to prevent Sunderland from equalising before Arsenal finally gained greater control of the game when Akpom finished well after a neat move.

Sunderland refused to give in and tested Iliev once more but the goalkeeper, not showing any signs of rustiness after so long out, was equal to everything that was asked of him.

Arsenal took all three points and now face intriguing fixtures away to Tottenham Hotspur and at home to Chelsea.

Sunderland may be the worst team in Premier League 2 according to the table but they made matters difficult for Arsenal at times tonight and coach Steve Gatting will be pleased that a defence that was altered on several occasions throughout the evening managed to keep a clean sheet, with Joseph Olowu and Medley both impressive.

Akpom, meanwhile, will hope that his contribution tonight won’t have gone unnoticed by Arsene Wenger.

 

Talented James Olayinka ready to step up for Arsenal U23s

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James Olayinka started the season on the bench for Arsenal U18s but there is a chance that the versatile Hale End graduate could make his U23 debut against Sunderland at Emirates Stadium tonight.

Olayinka has impressed Arsenal U18s coach Kwame Ampadu with his workrate and his adaptability, with the youngster, who recently turned 17, having featured as a central midfielder and on either flank so far this season.

Like many of Arsenal’s standout prospects, Olayinka is excellent technically. He also possesses an impressive tactical understanding of the game and, despite being an attack minded player, is usually switched on defensively.

Olayinka was an unused substitute as Arsenal U23s lost to Everton last month and he could be involved in some capacity tonight with Charlie Gilmour suspended and several players likely to be rested due to the first-team’s Europa League commitments.

Sunderland have named a strong side in recent U23 games, with the likes of Jack Rodwell, Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair featuring and it would certainly be a beneficial experience for Olayinka to face players who have played in the Premier League.

If Olayinka is involved then it will also be interesting to see how he fares in a 3-4-2-1 system, with the prospect having only played in a 4-2-3-1 formation for the U18s. His versatility means he could be comfortable in several positions in a 3-4-2-1, but he would most likely be deployed as one of the two players behind the striker.

So far this campaign Olayinka has scored twice for the U18s and he will now be aiming to take that form onto a bigger stage in a game where Arsene Wenger could well be in attendance.

Olayinka has been at Arsenal since the age of seven and, having progressed steadily through the ranks at the club, he could soon be about to make the next step up. Given how he has developed so far, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was to seize his opportunity.

Loan report – Joel Campbell scores and assists on Real Betis return

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Joel Campbell made a major impact on his first appearance of the season for Real Betis as he scored, assisted and was involved in the build up to another goal in his side’s 6-3 defeat at home to Valencia.

Campbell has been recovering from injury in the early stages of the season but he was named amongst the substitutes for today’s game and was brought on in the 77th minute.

Just two minutes later, Campbell scored the first goal of his second loan spell at Betis and the Costa Rica international then proceeded to set up former Arsenal target Antonio Sanabria. Campbell was also involved in the move leading up to Cristian Tello’s goal, but despite his heroics he was unable to prevent Betis from suffering a defeat.

Marc Bola played the whole game as Bristol Rovers lost 1-0 to Oxford United.

Kelechi Nwakali came on in the 74th minute as VVV-Venlo lost 5-2 to PSV.

Lucas Perez, back from injury, came on as a substitute in the 87th minute as Deportivo La Coruna drew 0-0 with Eibar.

Emiliano Martinez was an unused substitute as Getafe lost 2-1 to Real Madrid.

Takuma Asano was an unused substitute as Stuttgart beat Cologne 2-1.

Stephy Mavididi was an unused substitute as Preston North End drew 2-2 with Fulham.

Cohen Bramall wasn’t involved and Carl Jenkinson missed out through injury as Birmignham City beat Cardiff City 1-0.

 

John-Jules hits brace as Arsenal U18s thrash Southampton

U18 Premier League

Arsenal 5 (John-Jules 42, 83 (pen), Swanson, Ballard, Saka) Southampton 1 (Obafemi pen. 67)

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Tyreece John-Jules hit a brace as Arsenal U18s extended their unbeaten sequence to three games with a 5-1 thrashing of Southampton at London Colney today.

Arsenal were without Emile Smith Rowe, who scored for England against Iraq at the U17 World Cup today, while Zech Medley, Joseph Olowu and James Olayinka also weren’t involved, suggesting that they could feature for the U23s against Sunderland on Monday.

Coach Kwame Ampadu made two changes to the team that drew with Brighton & Hove Albion last time out, with Daniel Ballard returning from injury to replace Josh Benson and Zak Swanson coming in for Olayinka.

Ballard went into defence with Tobi Omole being pushed into midfield.

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Subs: Benson (for M. Smith, 56), Okoflex (for Swanson, 73), Spencer-Adams (for Daley-Campbell, 84). Not used: Okonkwo

After an evenly contested start to the game it was Arsenal who took the lead in the 42nd minute when John-Jules finished calmly.

The young Gunners added to their lead shortly after the interval with Swanson scoring his first goal at this level after being found by Folarin Balogun.

Southampton threatened to claw their way back into the game and they reduced the deficit when Michael Obafemi scored from the penalty spot.

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Arsenal, though, finished the game very strongly and went 3-1 ahead through captain Ballard before John-Jules scored his second of the game with a penalty.

Schoolboy Bukayo Saka completed the rout late on after being teed up by Harry Clarke.

Arsenal have played some impressive attacking football of late and have now scored eleven goals in their last three games. They are currently in second place in the table, albeit seven points adrift of leaders Chelsea.

 

Which young centre-backs could step up for Arsenal in cup competitions?

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Marcus McGuane. Image: Tribuna

The injury to Shkodran Mustafi has sparked debate regarding Arsenal’s centre-back options and, while the club possess sufficient resources to cover their Premier League games without the Germany international, there is a possibility that some youngsters could receive game time in defence in cup competitions in upcoming fixtures.

With Arsenal facing a hectic schedule including games in the Europa League and the Carabao Cup and further injuries surely likely to occur at some point, it could well be the case that members of the U23 squad are drafted in as cover.

Here’s an assessment of which young prospects are most ready to fill in in defence for the first-team.

Were he not injured Krystian Bielik, who already possesses a considerable amount of experience of senior football, would be a surefire candidate for involvement in some capacity.

However, the Polish youth international is set to miss another one or two months with a shoulder injury.

Like Bielik, Ben Sheaf underwent the successful transformation from defensive-midfielder to centre-back, but, like his team-mate, he is also currently sidelined with a serious injury as a fractured vertebrae has prevented the ex-West Ham United prospect from playing any games this season.

Sheaf was on the bench for the Arsenal first-team in the League Cup last season and surely would have featured this campaign were he not sidelined.

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Julio Pleguezuelo

Another young centre-back who has endured misfortune with injury is Julio Pleguezuelo, with the Spaniard having hobbled off during the U23 game against Leicester City last month.

It isn’t currently clear when he will return but if he does manage to quickly regain full fitness then the 20-year-old will be one of the main options for Arsene Wenger to consider if he needs a young centre-back.

Josh Dasilva, meanwhile, made his senior debut as a centre-back when featuring as a substitute against Doncaster Rovers in the third round of the Carabao Cup. The Hale End product seems more assured as a left wing-back but he certainly possesses the physical attributes required to play at the heart of the defence and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was to receive further game time there.

Marcus McGuane has featured heavily at centre-back this season despite naturally being a midfielder. He too has had some teething problems in his new position but Arsenal appear to trust his defensive qualities and the youngster made his senior debut against BATE Borisov recently.

Charlie Gilmour is a midfielder yet was mentioned by Wenger as a possible option in defence. Another Hale End graduate, he was on the bench against BATE Borisov, although he possesses limited experience at U23 level.

Chiori Johnson has played several games at centre-back even though he progressed through the system as a right-back, although he is another player who has yet to play this campaign because of injury.

Two other players who are more commonly used as full-backs or wing-backs – Jordi Osei-Tutu and Tolaji Bola – are also capable of playing at centre-back, although it appears that the pair need to gain more experience for the U23s first before they can be considered for senior action.

Joseph Olowu and Zech Medley have also been involved for Arsenal U23s this season and of all the players listed Olowu seems to be the most natural centre-back having been developed specifically in that position. However, these two players are still eligible for the U18s and aren’t yet ready to make the step up to senior football, while neither of them are registered to play in the Europa League.

Tafari Moore, back from injury, could possibly fill in at centre-back but the former England youth international, who had a loan spell at Utrecht last campaign, seems more suited to playing as a wing-back.

Overall, then, Arsenal’s options with regards to young centre-backs who could provide cover for the first-team have, somewhat ironically, been limited owing to injuries, with Bielik, Sheaf and Pleguezuelo not currently available.

Of those who are able to feature Dasilva would appear closest to being involved at centre-back for the first-team, with McGuane and Gilmour the main alternatives.

With lots of games to come, though, there could well be chances for some of the other young defenders listed above to make the matchday squad in the Europa League and the Carabao Cup.

 

Bukayo Saka – Arsenal’s talented schoolboy winger

In recent seasons fewer schoolboys than usual have featured for Arsenal at U18 level but this campaign has seen a return to the policy of giving several U16 players opportunities to impress for the older age group.

One player who has certainly taken his chance is Bukayo Saka, with the England youth international having been a regular in the starting line-up for the young Gunners in recent weeks

Although he is capable of playing as a defender – he has often been deployed at right-back or left-back for England – Saka’s chance in the Arsenal U18 side has come as a winger, with the prospect demonstrating that he is capable of making an impact when played on either flank.

As you would expect from a Hale End player, he is excellent technically but he also appears to possess an impressive tactical understanding of the game and is capable of playing killer passes with regularity.

Saka has combined well with several of Arsenal’s U18 players, especially Emile Smith Rowe, and with the latter now away at the U17 World Cup in India there may well be further opportunities for Saka to catch the eye over the next month or so.

When Arsenal’s injury list at U18 level starts to dwindle and the likes of Trae Coyle and Xavier Amaechi are back available, Saka may no longer be a regular in the starting line-up but if he continues to impress then there is a good chance that he will stay involved with the squad.

At present it looks a near certainty that Saka will be offered scholarship terms by Arsenal for next season and he will hope to continue to impress in the remainder of this campaign as he aims to gain as much experience of U18 football as possible.