Author: Jeorge Bird

Report – John-Jules hits brace and Matt Smith impresses as Arsenal U23s draw with Boreham Wood

Pre-season friendly

Boreham Wood 3 Arsenal 3 (M. Smith, John-Jules (2))

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park

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Much has changed for Arsenal U23s this summer – they have a new coach in Steve Bould, several players have moved on and others have moved up from the U18s, and there is also a new North Stand in place at Meadow Park.

One thing remains the same, however, with Tyreece John-Jules commencing pre-season in the same prolific form that he concluded the previous campaign.

John-Jules, who entered the fray as a second-half substitute, scored a brace, with one of his goals coming from the penalty spot, as Arsenal U23s came from behind to draw 3-3 against Boreham Wood.

Matt Smith, who caught the eye during his time on the field, also got on the scoresheet, but Arsenal were lacklustre in the first half before improving significantly in the second period.

Bould, somewhat surprisingly, named John-Jules and Xavier Amaechi on the bench, but still named a strong side, with Zech Medley and Trae Coyle amongst the players involved from the offset.

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M. Smith-Burton

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Balogun

Subs (all used): Hillson, Dennis, Azeez, Olowu, Clarke, Amaechi, Cottrell, John-Jules, Greenwood, Alebiosu, Ogungbo, Matthews. 

It was evident very early on that Arsenal would look to play the ball back to goalkeeper Karl Hein, who was making his return from injury, as frequently as possible, with Smith often dropping deep to receive possession.

Arsenal struggled to get into their rhythm in the early stages and they were punished by a lively Boreham Wood team, who took the lead with just three minutes gone.

Nathan Tormey sent an effort over the crossbar at the other end, but Boreham Wood were very much in the ascendancy in the opening stages and made it 2-0 with 15 minutes gone as they capitalised upon some slack defending.

Arsenal were woeful at the back with Mark McGuinness and Medley struggling to build up much of an understanding.

The young Gunners briefly threatened, with Folarin Balogun shooting over and Coyle later having a weak effort saved by former Arsenal goalkeeper Ryan Huddart.

However, Hein had to be alert at the other end to tip an effort over the crossbar as the hosts continued to put Arsenal under intense pressure.

The likes of Balogun and Coyle weren’t at their sharpest, but, despite a very disappointing first half performance, Arsenal still managed to find the net as Smith scored from close range.

It wasn’t long until Boreham Wood made it 3-1, though, as they took advantage of further careless play from Arsenal.

Arsenal’s first half display left much to be desired but they improved significantly after the break, helped by a host of substitutes, including John-Jules and Amaechi.

Alfie Matthews was also brought on for his U23s debut and showed some impressive touches on the right wing, while James Hillson, who has joined permanently from Reading, entered the fray in goal.

Arsenal were suddenly much more of a threat, with Ben Cottrell using the ball intelligently.

John-Jules, who is always a threat in the penalty area, came close to scoring on one occasion after Boreham Wood had managed to scramble an earlier effort off the line.

Dominic Thompson then hit the post with a fierce strike before John-Jules dragged an effort wide.

Arsenal eventually got their second goal of the game, and it was John-Jules who got it as he finished neatly following an impressive passage of play.

There were further changes throughout the second half, with Matthew Dennis, Ryan Alebiosu, Sam Greenwood and Mazeed Ogungbo making their first U23 appearances. The unfortunate Matthews, meanwhile, went off injured.

After McGuinness was fouled in the penalty area the referee pointed to the spot and there seemed little doubt that John-Jules would score as he converted calmly.

Joseph Olowu, who has endured a hugely frustrating time with injuries, made his return to action, and helped Arsenal to defend well in the closing stages as they secured a draw in a game that, for long periods, they had looked losing.

It is difficult to analyse a game played unusually early in pre-season and one that included so many substitutions, but there were some very positive signs for Bould’s side in the second half, not least the performance of John-Jules.

Azeez also showed some good touches, while Smith looks as if he will have no problems adapting to playing for the U23s on a regular basis.

The defence is a huge concern, with the leadership qualities of Daniel Ballard, who has joined Swindon Town on loan, hugely missed.

Zak Swanson was caught out on several occasions at right-back, while Hein wasn’t especially impressive in goal either.

There is much work for Bould to do in terms of helping these players to improve, and the next assignment sees Arsenal take on Barnet on July 24th.

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Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe amongst seven youngsters involved with first-team as pre-season starts

Some members of the Arsenal first-team squad have returned for pre-season, with seven youngsters joining them.

New signing Gabriel Martinelli was involved with Unai Emery’s squad, but his short-term future hasn’t been decided yet.

Meanwhile, winger Bukayo Saka, who was withdrawn from the U23 squad to face Boreham Wood, was also involved.

Goalkeeper Matt Macey also formed part of the group despite struggling on loan at Plymouth Argyle last season. Fellow shot-stopper Deyan Iliev also trained.

Emile Smith Rowe, Ben Sheaf and Kelechi Nwakali also trained with the first-team.

Regarding first-team players, Mesut Ozil, Emiliano Martinez, Skhodran Mustafi, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Laurent Koscielny, Bernd Leno, Carl Jenkinson, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal were all present. Rob Holding, who is recovering from injury, also trained.

Saka set for Arsenal first-team involvement after being left out of squad to face Boreham Wood

Bukayo Saka is set to be involved with the Arsenal first-team in pre-season after being left out of the U23 squad to face Boreham Wood.

The winger, who featured for the senior side last season, is still eligible for the U18s this campaign but is rated so highly that he will get the chance to train with Unai Emery’s squad frequently.

Ben Sheaf is another notable absentee from the provisional squad to face Boreham Wood, but it isn’t clear whether he will be involved with the first-team or instead go out on loan.

Attacker Sam Greenwood has received his first call-up to the U23 squad along with Matthew Dennis, who can play at right-back or as a right winger.

First-year scholar Mazeed Ogungbo, a centre-back, has also been called up for the first time.

Krystian Bielik and Reiss Nelson have been given extra time off after their involvement in the U21 European Championship.

Emile Smith Rowe, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah are all expected to be involved with the first-team in pre-season.

However, winger Xavier Amaechi has instead been named in the U23 squad for this game, as has Zech Medley.

Ben Cottrell, who recently signed professional terms, will also face Boreham Wood.

Goalkeepers Deyan Iliev and Matt Macey won’t be involved in the game at Meadow Park and midfielder Kelechi Nwakali is another absentee.

Karl Hein and Joseph Olowu return from injury, but Tolaji Bola isn’t fit enough to feature despite being back in training and Jordan McEneff is still out.

Tobi Omole and James Hillson are also not in the squad.

Squad to face Boreham Wood:
Arthur Okonkwo
Karl Hein
Dominic Thompson
Zech Medley
Mark McGuinness
Zak Swanson
Harrison Clarke
Joseph Olowu
Mazeed Ogungbo
Matthew Smith
Sam Greenwood
Ben Cottrell
Nathan Tormey
Xavier Amaechi
Folarin Balogun
Tyreepce John-Jules
James Olayinka
Trae Coyle
Robbie Burton
Matthew Dennis

England youth international Levi Laing signs scholarship deal with Arsenal

Defender Levi Laing has signed a scholarship contract with Arsenal.

The Hale End product made his debut for the U18s against Chelsea in May 2018 when he was an U15 player.

England youth international Laing, who has been allocated the squad number 84, joins Miguel Azeez, Mazeed Ogungbo, Hubert Graczyk, Daniel Oyegoke, Alex Kirk and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji in having signed scholarship terms with Arsenal.

However, it is looking increasingly likely that the highly rated Yunus Musah, who has been linked with Valencia, will leave the Gunners.

Musah has been undertaking private training sessions over the past couple of weeks as opposed to training at London Colney.

Arsenal defender Ballard set to gain valuable experience on loan at Swindon

Arsenal defender Daniel Ballard has joined League Two side Swindon Town on a season-long loan.

The centre-back has yet to make his senior debut for Arsenal but has produced some excellent performances at U23 level.

Previously released twice by Arsenal, Ballard has shown excellent determination to get to this stage and will be eager to gain valuable experience of first-team football this season.

The 19-year-old has been called up Northern Ireland at senior level on two occasions.

Ballard’s temporary departure should make it easier for the likes of Mark McGuinness and Harry Clarke to get game time for the Gunners at U23 level this season.

Arsenal sign Hillson while Lopez and Cottrell turn professional

Arsenal have completed the signing of goalkeeper James Hillson.

The 18-year-old joined the Gunners on loan from Reading last season and was named on the bench for the U23s and the U18s in addition to featuring in the Dallas Cup.

Arsenal have also announced that Joel Lopez and Ben Cottrell have signed their first professional contracts with the club.

Left-back Lopez joined from Barcelona last year, and, while he struggled for consistency, showed some encouraging signs towards the end of the season.

Midfielder Cottrell, meanwhile, enjoyed a superb season, with the Hale End product producing some excellent performances for the U18s before making his debut for the U23s late in the campaign.

Sam Greenwood, Ryan Alebiosu, Matthew Dennis, Alfie Matthews, Stan Flaherty and Tom Smith are the remaining second year scholars.

Arsenal complete signing of Gabriel Martinelli

Arsenal have signed Brazilian youngster Gabriel Martinelli.

The 18-year-old forward has been heavily linked with the club and joins from Ituano on a long-term contract.

Martinelli mainly plays as a winger and was called up to a training camp with the Brazil senior squad ahead of the Copa America.

It is unclear at this stage whether Martinelli will be part of the first-team squad or the U23 setup, but it is expected that he will at least be involved with the senior side in some capacity.

Having previously played for Corinthians, Martinelli made the switch to Ituano four years ago. He scored ten goals in 34 senior appearances for Ituano.

Nwakali could finally get a chance to impress for Arsenal

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It is almost three years since Kelechi Nwakali joined Arsenal, and the midfielder is still waiting to make his first appearance for the club at any level.

Problems obtaining a work permit have been the main factor behind that, but Nwakali has also struggled to perform consistently while out on loan, especially while with Porto’s B side last season, for whom he failed to score or provide an assist.

However, despite his recent struggles, it appears that the 21-year-old could finally get the opportunity to impress for Arsenal, at least at youth level.

Nwakali has been training with Arsenal’s U23 squad at London Colney this week and is in contention to feature in Saturday’s opening pre-season friendly against Boreham Wood.

The prospect doesn’t require a work permit to be involved in that fixture and if he does play it would be interesting to see how he fits in to Arsenal’s style.

Should he catch the eye at youth level it is possible that he could then step up to be part of Unai Emery’s first-team squad.

If he was to remain at Arsenal this season Nwakali would still be eligible for the under-21 player list in the Premier League, although it remains to be seen what the club’s plans are for him.

At his best the Nigeria youth international is capable of playing fine passes and using his excellent technique to bamboozle opponents but there are also times when he drifts out of games.

Nwakali previously impressed during two loan spells wit MVV Maastricht, but a stint with VVV-Venlo didn’t go to plan.

With two years remaining on his Arsenal contract, Nwakali is entering a pivotal period as far as his Gunners’ career is concerned, and there is a feeling that he could offer something different to the first-team as a squad option.

There is still a chance that Nwakali could go on loan yet again, although firstly he will be intent on making an impact for the U23s and at least showing why Arsenal signed him in the first place.