Author: Jeorge Bird

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.

 

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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.

Loan report – Perez scores; five players fail to start

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Lucas Perez played the full game up front and scored his first goal of his latest spell at Deportivo La Coruna in the 2-1 victory against Getafe, for whom Emiliano Martinez was an un-used substitute.

Kelechi Nwakali started and played 61 minutes as VVV-Venlo beat Excelsior 2-0.

Stephy Mavididi was brought on in the 77th minute as Preston North End drew 2-2 with Sunderland.

Takuma Asano was an un-used substitute as Stuttgart lost 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Marc Bola was an un-used substitute as Bristol Rovers beat Plymouth Argyle 2-1.

Joel Campbell wasn’t involved as Real Betis drew 4-4 with Real Sociedad.

Cohen Bramall wasn’t involved and Carl Jenkinson missed out through injury as Birmingham City lost 6-1 to Hull City.

 

Olayinka scores as Arsenal U18s draw with Brighton in dramatic encounter

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U18 Premier League 

Brighton 2 (Cashman 84, Ljubicic 90) Arsenal 2 (Olayinka 85, Ljubicic o.g. 90)

James Olayinka was amongst the scorers as Arsenal U18s drew 2-2 away to Brighton & Hove Albion today in a game that had a dramatic conclusion.

With a host of players still unavailable, Arsenal coach Kwame Ampadu named the same side that started in the victory over Reading, with the only changes to the squad being the inclusions of Zech Medley and Armstrong Okoflex on the bench.

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Subs: Okoflex (for John-Jules, 61), Medley (for Thompson, 82). Subs not used: Swanson, Spencer-Adams, T. Smith.

After a rather uneventful first half the game sprung into life in the second period, with Danny Cashman putting Brighton ahead in the 84th minute after he was teed up by substitute Stefan Ljubicic.

Arsenal responded by scoring just a minute later as the impressive Olayinka finished well following good work from Josh Benson.

There was more drama to come. Firstly Ljubicic looked to have won the game for Brighton when he scored in the third minute of stoppage time but, in a cruel twist of fate, the Icelandic youngster scored an own goal just two minutes later as Arsenal took a point from the game.

 

McGuane and Nketiah make debuts as Arsenal beat BATE Borisov

Marcus McGuane and Eddie Nketiah came on to make their competitive first-team debuts as Arsenal beat BATE Borisov 4-2 in the Europa League tonight. 
In an eventful game Arsenal established a three-goal lead courtesy of a brace from Theo Walcott and Rob Holding’s first goal for the club. 

However, BATE managed to reduce the deficit through Mirko Ivanic. 

Arsenal went 4-1 ahead when Olivier Giroud scored a penalty – his 100th goal for the Gunners. 

BATE, though, continued to cause Arsenal problems and scored again through Mikhail Gordeychuk. 

As far as young players are concerned Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock both started the game and produced encouraging displays, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles featured at left wing-back.  

Meanwhile, Vlad Dragomir and Charlie Gilmour received their first call-ups to the squad and were unused substitutes. 

Gilmour, McGuane and Dragomir travel with Arsenal squad for BATE game

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Arsenal midfielders Charlie Gilmour, Marcus McGuane and Vlad Dragomir have been selected to travel with the first-team squad for the first time as they boarded the plane for Belarus ahead of tomorrow night’s Europa League game against BATE Borisov.

The prospects, who are all 18 years old, have received their first call-ups to the senior squad and will hope to make their debuts tomorrow night.

Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Josh Dasilva are also included in the squad.

Chuba Akpom, Rob Holding, Jack Wilshere, Mohamed Elneny, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, David Ospina, Shkodran Mustafi and Matt Macey have also travelled with the squad.

Dragomir and Gilmour amongst eleven youngsters to train with Arsenal first-team pre-BATE Borisov

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Arsenal held their final first-team training session today ahead of tomorrow night’s Europa League game away to BATE Borisov, with eleven youngsters in attendance.

Midfielders Vlad Dragomir, Charlie Gilmour and Marcus McGuane, who featured for the U23s against Everton on Monday night, were amongst those involved in addition to goalkeeper Deyan Iliev.

In addition, the expected quintet of Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Matt Macey and Josh Dasilva all trained along with first-team squad members Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Chuba Akpom.

With regards to senior players, Per Mertesacker, Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka, Jack Wilshere, Shkodran Mustafi, Alexandre Lacazette, Theo Walcott, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, David Ospina and Petr Cech trained.

Laurent Koscielny, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil were rested from the session, with Alex Iwobi joining an injury list that also contains Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck and Santi Cazorla.