Author: Jeorge Bird

Which youngsters will feature for Arsenal in the Emirates Cup?

GettyImages AsiaPac

GettyImages AsiaPac

Arsenal’s pre-season trip to Singapore couldn’t have been much more successful, with the Gunners returning to London with the Barclays Asia Trophy in tow after two victories and a week of intense training sessions.

The preparations for the new campaign will step up yet another gear over the next few days as this weekend’s Emirates Cup creeps into view. The Gunners will face Lyon and Wolfsburg on Saturday and Sunday respectively as they look to win the tournament for the first time since 2010.

Four players from outside the first-team squad- Alex Iwobi, Jon Toral, Dan Crowley and Chris Willock- travelled with the team to Asia, along with fringe senior players Chuba Akpom and Gedion Zelalem, but which of them will remain in the set-up for the Emirates Cup?

Akpom, after his impressive hat-trick against a Singapore Select XI, seems a certainty for inclusion, with the England U20 international’s cause helped by the fact that fellow forward Danny Welbeck is still struggling with an injury which could rule him out of the weekend’s games.

Likewise, the continued absence of Tomas Rosicky is likely to open the door for a young midfielder to play some part in the Emirates Cup, but, at present, it seems as if Crowley, rather than Zelalem, is the prime candidate to feature, with the former Aston Villa player having enjoyed a more consistent 2014/15 campaign. Both players, though, remain excellent prospects for the future.

As far as the rest of the squad is concerned, Arsenal have at least two senior players available in most positions, as detailed below: (based on where players have tended to feature in pre-season)

Goalkeepers Cech, Szczesny, Martinez

Right-back Debuchy, Bellerin

Centre-backs Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gabriel, Chambers

Left-back Monreal, Gibbs

Defensive-midfield Coquelin, Flamini, Arteta

Central-midfield Cazorla, Ramsey

Right wing Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere

Central attacking-midfield Ozil

Left wing Walcott

Striker Giroud

This suggests that there may be an opening for a youngster on the left flank (such as Iwobi or Willock), although the situation is complicated a little as there is a possibility that either Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere could also be deployed in that position.

Another potential option is Serge Gnabry, who hasn’t featured for the first-team, competitively or otherwise, for well over a year. The young German was due to return to training this week after representing his country at the U21 European Championships and he will be hopeful of at least playing some part over the weekend after suffering terrible misfortune with injuries in recent times.

David Ospina, who has been strongly linked with a move away from the club this summer, is on holiday until Monday, meaning he won’t play any part this weekend, whilst Alexis Sanchez is not due back until August 3rd. Joel Campbell is another absentee following his involvement with Costa Rica this summer.

There is a slight possibility that some youngsters who weren’t selected to go to Asia could feature this weekend, with Julio Plegueuzuelo, for example, ready to provide cover at centre-back in the event of an injury to a senior player. Krystian Bielik, meanwhile, is unlikely to feature because of injury.

There is some uncertainty over Wellington’s participation. The Brazilian winger, who is now eligible to represent the club competitively, didn’t travel with the squad to Asia and instead remained at London Colney to undergo fitness training. Wenger is likely to assess the 22-year-old in training first before deciding whether to use him this weekend.

Those youngsters that aren’t used will probably feature for the U21s against Boreham Wood on Friday, whilst there is the possibility that some players, such as Toral, could be loaned out in the near future.

Arsenal’s Ben Sheaf hopeful of U21 progression

When Arsenal completed the signing of promising youngster Ben Sheaf from West Ham United a year ago there were some raised eyebrows, with some observers puzzled as to why the Gunners needed to recruit yet another central-midfielder.

Now, however, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles out on loan at Ipswich Town and Dan Crowley and Gedion Zelalem currently with the first-team squad, a void has opened up for a midfielder in Arsenal’s U21 squad and Sheaf, 17, appears the prime candidate to fill it.

It is wise not to read too much into pre-season, but the preparation fixtures can sometimes provide us with some clues regarding how the team will line up for the forthcoming campaign. Sheaf, for instance, has been heavily involved in Arsenal’s two U21 friendlies so far, with the England youth international featuring in the matches against Bournemouth and Bristol Rovers.

An excellent free-kick taker, Sheaf spent much of last season playing for Arsenal’s U18 team, with the youngster often deployed alongside Harry Donovan in central-midfield. Sheaf’s performance levels fluctuated throughout the campaign, but there were some surefire signs that the club regard him highly as he signed his first professional contract, featured in the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup and also made the bench for the U21s on several occasions.

Sheaf’s aim this season will, inevitably, be to establish himself as a regular for the second-string. It seems unlikely that Crowley and Zelalem will spend the entire campaign in the U21s, with first-team call-ups and potential loan deals set to have an impact on proceedings.

Sheaf, then, will be confident of featuring prominently for the U21s. In the opening two friendlies he has shown some promising signs and seems particularly comfortable when playing alongside a bonafide defensive-midfielder such as Glen Kamara. The difficulty for Sheaf, though, is that there aren’t too many players similar to Kamara in Arsenal’s system at present, which could prove problematic for the team as a whole if the Finland U21 international, as expected, heads out on loan at some point this campaign.

Sheaf’s key attribute is his passing, whilst he has also demonstrated that he is a good reader of the game who is becoming increasingly effective in a defensive sense as well. It was a major step for Sheaf to leave West Ham’s renowned academy, where he had played since the U13 age group, to join Arsenal.

His first year at the club wasn’t exactly plain sailing, with the U18s struggling for consistency throughout the campaign, but Sheaf will hope that his impending promotion to the U21s will provide him with a platform to express his talent.

Mavididi strikes and Reine-Adelaide debuts as Arsenal XI beat Bristol Rovers

Pre-season friendly

Bristol Rovers 0 Arsenal XI 1 (Mavididi)

Stephy Mavididi scored the only goal as a new-look Arsenal U21 team continued their pre-season preparations with a 1-0 victory away to a strong Bristol Rovers side this afternoon.

This fixture was arranged two years ago as part of the deal which brought goalkeeper Matt Macey to North London, and the 20-year-old, who was named on the bench for the Arsenal first-team last season, had to make several good stops to keep his former side at bay.

The headline team news saw summer arrival Jeff Reine-Adelaide, a late withdrawal from the first-team’s Asia trip, make his debut for the club on the right flank. The majority of the starting players were second years, with a smidgeon of experience provided by the inclusions of Glen Kamara and Julio Pleguezuelo.

Two of the new scholars, Vlad Dragomir and Kostas Pileas, were named amongst the substitutes, whilst Harry Donovan also received a call-up.

There were some notable omissions from the Arsenal squad. Wellington and Isaac Hayden remained at London Colney for fitness training, whilst Tafari Moore, Stefan O’Connor and Chiori Johnson also missed out. George Dobson, meanwhile, remains an Arsenal player for now with a move elsewhere having so far failed to materialise.


Eyoma-Da Graca-Pleguezuelo-M. Bola


Reine Adelaide-Hinds-Robinson


Subs: Iliev, Mourgos, Pileas, Donovan, Chatzitheodoridis, Dragomir. 

Rovers, who earned promotion to League Two for the forthcoming campaign, created the first chance of note, with Danny Greenslade shooting over, but Arsenal soon started to assert themselves on proceedings.

They were rewarded with a goal when the eager Mavididi, who recently signed his first professional contract, capitalised on a defensive mix-up and slotted the ball beyond the reach of goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall.

Arsenal, who drew 1-1 with Bournemouth in their opening friendly last week, came close to doubling their advantage shortly afterwards, but Bristol Rovers started to create chances of their own, with Ellis Harrison shooting wide before Macey had to be alert to deny Chris Lines.

Billy Bodin and Chris Gosling also failed to find the net when well placed, meaning that Arsenal went into the break in the ascendancy.

Macey was called into action again almost immediately after the restart as he made a good save to deny Ollie Clarke. Matty Taylor, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly influential for the hosts, but Arsenal managed to withstand the pressure.

There was a nice moment for Macey midway through the second-half as he received a standing ovation from the Bristol Rovers supporters when he was replaced by Deyan Iliev.

Iliev himself had to make a smart stop shortly after his introduction before at the other end Mavididi was unable to double both his and Arsenal’s tallies.

His first-half goal was sufficient, though, for the U21s to secure their first victory of pre-season.

Arsenal face Boreham Wood in their next friendly on Friday, after which they will travel to South Africa to participate in a tournament.

Meanwhile, Chuba Akpom was introduced as a late substitute as the Arsenal first-team beat Everton 3-1 in Sinagpore to win the Barclays Asia Trophy. Akpom, who scored a hat-trick against a Singapore Select XI in midweek, had a shot saved by Joel.

Alex Iwobi was an un-used substitute, whilst the other youngsters- Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley, Jon Toral and Chris Willock- were left out of the squad, but all received winners’ medals.

Hale End products Akpom and Iwobi are re-united on the senior stage

Chuba Akpom and Alex Iwobi were re-united on the pitch yesterday, with both players achieving notable feats in their young careers as Arsenal swatted aside a Singapore Select XI in their opening pre-season fixture.

Akpom and Iwobi, two Hale End products, rose through the ranks together at Arsenal but their respective paths have deviated a little in recent years, with Akpom having been sent out on loan on several occasions and Iwobi instead spending much of his time developing in the U21s.

Yesterday, though, they were back in the same team, with both players involved from the offset in the Premier League Asia Trophy. Iwobi, operating on the left flank, made his first-team debut, whilst Akpom, as has been well documented, hit an impressive hat-trick.

Both players have developed tremendously well of late. For a time it seemed that Akpom was well ahead of his close friend, with the striker having already been officially promoted to the Arsenal first-team squad in addition to spending time out on loan.

Iwobi, though, enjoyed a superb end to the 2014/15 season at U21 level, helped, incidentally, by the fact that he was deployed more often as a central-striker as he filled the void that had been vacated by Akpom’s temporary departure to Nottingham Forest.

The new campaign is set to bring fresh challenges for both players. Iwobi seems set for a loan spell at some stage as he seeks to prove that he is capable of competing in senior football. For Akpom, the situation is a little less clear, although manager Arsene Wenger suggested yesterday that his intention, as things stand at least, it to keep the forward at Arsenal for the new campaign rather than send him out on loan again.

Quite how much game time Akpom would receive in such a scenario is open to debate. Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell may well leave on loan and permanently respectively, but even then Akpom would still be competing with Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and, potentially, Theo Walcott, for a striking berth. Would the 19-year-old, even given his immense promise, which was demonstrated again yesterday, be able to feature prominently in such circumstances?

It is set to be a big season for Akpom on the international stage, too, with the youngster poised to move up to the England U21 squad having previously represented the Three Lions at various other age groups. This is another instance in which his and Iwobi’s career paths have differed slightly, with the latter having seemingly opted to represent Nigeria instead, which is perhaps an unsurprising choice given that he is the nephew of Jay-Jay Okocha.

Despite the differences in Akpom and Iwobi’s careers so far, they both remain Arsenal players and, however difficult the circumstances may be, they are both still hopeful of one day making the grade at the club.

New PUMA Arsenal home shirt

The new Arsenal home shirt for the 2015/16 season was unveiled at Emirates Stadium last month and the club’s players are set to wear the new kit for the first time in the upcoming pre-season fixtures.

The smart design, which features a collar and gold trim, is presented in a fan-powered display box provided by PUMA.

The new kit, which will be worn by players throughout the club from the youth teams to the first-team, is available to purchase now. 

Akpom hits hat-trick and Crowley features as Arsenal beat Singapore Select XI



Arsenal dispatched of a Singapore Select XI with a comprehensive 4-0 victory in their opening pre-season fixture today, with a hat-trick from Chuba Akpom helping Arsene Wenger’s side to secure their place in the final of the Premier League Asia Trophy, where they’ll face Everton.

The other Arsenal goalscorer was another academy graduate, with Jack Wilshere scoring a penalty, whilst by the end of proceedings there was a very youthful Gunners line-up on show and at one stage eight of the outfield players were individuals who had previously represented the club at U18 level.

Wenger named a strong starting line-up, but there were still spaces for a couple of youngsters, with Akpom and Alex Iwobi both involved from the offset. As the game progressed, Dan Crowley, Chris Willock, Gedion Zelalem and, eventually, Jon Toral, were all introduced as Arsenal enjoyed a comfortable success in Asia.

Akpom will get the majority of the headlines, and deservedly so. The 2014/15 campaign ended in frustrating fashion for the forward as he struggled to impose himself during a loan spell with Nottingham Forest, but he was on top form here and, despite receiving limited service for most of the first-half, he opened the scoring on the half hour mark with a neat finish following good work from wingers Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Iwobi.

Iwobi squandered a couple of goalscoring opportunities himself later in the game, but, overall, the Hale End product’s maiden first-team outing was a successful one as he displayed several good touches and was involved in some intricate build-up play.

Arsenal initially struggled to create many chances, perhaps as a consequence of them fielding two defensive-midfielders in Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin, but once Akpom put them ahead the outcome was never in doubt.

Wilshere doubled Arsenal’s advantage from the penalty spot after Mathieu Debuchy, playing his first game since the FA Cup Semi-Final, was brought down in the area. Arsenal’s third was also a penalty, with Akpom this time converting after a foul on Toral.

The fourth and final goal came after Zelalem did well to find the marauding Hector Bellerin, who delivered a precise cross for Akpom to head home and complete his hat-trick. Arsenal don’t have too many senior bonafide centre-forwards on their books at the moment and the 19-year-old will be hoping that this performance will preclude further first-team involvement this campaign.

As for the other youngsters, Crowley seemed immediately at home in a first-team environment and, as is his wont, played some effective passes. Willock, stationed on the right flank, showed maturity, whilst Zelalem and Toral also played an important part in the victory.

Given the standard of today’s opposition it is important not to make too many significant conclusions from the game, but there were numerous positives to take from proceedings, not least the showing of Akpom.

Arsenal will play Everton in the Final of the competition at the weekend, with Wenger likely to call upon several of the established internationals who were left out today. It will be up to the youngsters who featured to continue to impress in training over the coming days as they seek to remain with the squad for the Emirates Cup at the end of this month.

Arsenal: Martinez (Szczesny, 46); Debuchy (Bellerin, 72), Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal; Flamini (C. Willock, 64), Coquelin; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Zelalem, 64), Wilshere (Crowley, 64), Iwobi (Toral, 72); Akpom.

Can Zelalem turn up the heat again in Asia?

Gedion Zelalem is back in the continent where, two years ago, he first provided a global audience with some tantalising glimpses of his ability in an Arsenal shirt.

The hype surrounding Zelalem during the club’s 2013 Asia Tour was considerable and the young midfielder, who was just 16 at the time, didn’t disappoint as he played some neat passes (one particular through ball to Theo Walcott remains vivid in the memory), which earned him a promotion to the first-team squad at the end of that summer.

Since then Zelalem has had to be rather patient for further first-team outings. He has featured twice competitively for the senior team and was also involved in several friendly matches last summer, but he will be looking to use this pre-season to assert his credentials ahead of the new campaign.

Much has changed since those heady days of 2013. Zelalem, although he still has some improvements to make in that regard, has developed a little physically, whilst he now represents the United States at youth level as opposed to Germany. He is no longer the youngest member of the group, with Chris Willock, just 17, having made the trip to Asia. Zelalem has also been utilised in different positions, having operated on the right wing and as a deep-lying midfielder on some occasions.

The core elements of his game remain very much the same, though, with passing undoubtedly his strongest suit. Zelalem’s ability to unlock defences is scarily good and, intriguingly, he often appears to perform better when surrounded by more senior players rather than those who are of a similar age.

With the majority of the club’s international players not set to be involved until the second game of the Premier League Asia Trophy at the weekend, Zelalem could well feature when the Gunners take on a Singapore Select XI tomorrow. If he does play, the 18-year-old will be hopeful of replicating his exploits from the 2013 tour as he seeks to become increasingly involved with the first-team squad.

Quite what the season has in store for Zelalem remains to be seen. He has been linked with a loan move in recent weeks and such a spell would enable him to make those aforementioned physical improvements. An intelligent player, albeit one who sometimes appears to operate on the periphery of matches, Zelalem will now be looking to demonstrate that he can perform at a high level on a consistent basis.

Arsene Wenger remarked upon arriving in Asia that the performances of some of the club’s young players in pre-season could impact upon his plans in the transfer market. Zelalem will be hopeful of giving the Frenchman something to think about, even if Arsenal are awash with creative midfielders at present.