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Report – Frustration as Arsenal U23s are thrashed 4-0 by Blackburn

Premier League 2

Arsenal 0 Blackburn Rovers 4 (Lyons 1, 47, Nuttall (pen) 72, 89)

By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park, Borehamwood

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Arsenal U23s saw their woeful recent form continue as they were thrashed 4-0 by Blackburn Rovers at Meadow Park, with Freddie Ljungberg’s side having now gone six league games without a victory.

The bare facts don’t make for good reading for the young Gunners – last season’s champions are languishing in eighth place in the Premier League 2 table having conceded 30 goals already this campaign.

Tonight they never really got going and mustered just one meaningful effort when Tyreece John-Jules, who was starved of service up front for much of the evening, came close to scoring.

Ljungberg’s team were woeful at the back and conceded in the first minute when Bradley Lyons found the net, with the same player also scoring in the early stages o fthe second half.

Joe Nuttall also hit a brace for an impressive Blackburn side, with this game suggesting that the possibility of Arsenal being relegated to the second tier of second string football cannot be discounted.

There were some mitigating factors, not least the absence of three key players in Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka, who are likely to train with the first-team tomorrow ahead of the Carabao Cup clash against Tottenham Hotspur.

Zech Medley and Charlie Gilmour, who featured in the Europa League last week, both started, as did Ben Sheaf, who continued his recovery from injury. James Olayinka filled in at right-back in the absence of the suspended Jordi Osei-Tutu and Xavier Amaechi made the bench after returning from a spell on the sidelines.

Iliev

Olayinka-Sheaf-Medley-Bola

Gilmour-Omole

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John Jules

Subs: Amaechi (for Zelalem, 64), M. Smith (for Sheaf, 72), Thompson (for Olayinka, 83). Not used: Hein, Olowu. 

Arsenal got off to the worst possible start as Blackburn robbed them of possession and proceeded to open the scoring in the first minute, with Lyons sending the ball beyond the reach of Deyan Iliev.

Ljungberg’s team were incredibly frustrated and they almost conceded a second shortly afterwards following a teasing cross.

Blackburn were adopting a physical approach, which some Arsenal players took exception to, but it quickly became apparent that the visitors were the stronger side in every sense.

Arsenal managed a rare attempt on goal when John-Jules had a shot saved following a neat turn.

Sheaf then shot over from a free-kick and John-Jules should have done better after a slick team move involving Gilmour.

However, despite that brief spell of improvement, Arsenal ended the half on the back foot and Iliev had to be alert to make two excellent stops to prevent Blackburn from adding to their lead.

Blackburn did make it 2-0 just after the break and Lyons was the scorer again with a brilliant finish after capitalising on a mistake from Olayinka, who struggled as he filled in at right-back.

It could have got even worse for Arsenal following a mistake from Medley but Blackburn shot over.

Amaechi, making his first appearance since August, then entered the fray in place of Gedion Zelalem, who is still working his way back to full sharpness after injury.

Arsenal had hoped that the introduction of Amaechi would help them get back into the game, but Blackburn had other ideas and Nuttall made it 3-0 from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute.

Ljungberg made two more changes as Matt Smith and Dominic Thompson came on but Arsenal would concede another as Nuttall struck again following a precise cross.

Arsenal did have a chance to get a consolation goal in the closing stages but Gilmour headed over, rather summing up a hugely frustrating night for Ljungberg’s team.

The first half of the season certainly hasn’t gone to plan for Arsenal but the important aspect, of course, is that players, such as Emile Smith Rowe, Willock, Saka and Medley have been involved with the first-team.

Concerningly, however, the group of players beyond them doesn’t seem especially promising. Iliev is error prone, while Cohen Bramall will surely now not make the grade and Tolaji Bola still looks out of place defensively.

Amaechi’s return should give Arsenal hope that matters will improve and the introduction of some of the members of the U18 squad, like Sam Greenwood and Folarin Balogun, could make the team more effective.

It could, though, be something of a struggle for the U23s in the remainder of the campaign.

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Loan report – Bielik assists; Ospina keeps clean sheet; Nelson features

David Ospina played the whole game and kept a clean sheet as Napoli beat Cagliari 1-0.

Calum Chambers played the full game as Fulham lost 3-1 to West Ham United.

Krystian Bielik played 90 minutes, set up a goal and was booked as Charlton Athletic beat AFC Wimbledon.

Matt Macey played the whole game as Plymouth Argyle won 2-1 against Rochdale.

Reiss Nelson started and played 71 minutes as Hoffenheim drew 0-0 with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Takuma Asano played 62 minutes as Hannover lost 4-0 to Bayern Munich.

Kelechi Nwakali was an unused substitute as Porto B lost 1-0 to Pacos de Ferreira.

Saka, Medley and Nketiah travel with Arsenal first-team for Southampton clash

Talented youngsters Bukayo Saka, Zech Medley and Eddie Nketiah have all travelled with the Arsenal first-team for today’s game against Southampton.

Nketiah has previously been involved in the Premier League, while Medley made the bench against Leicester City earlier in the campaign.

If Saka, who impressed against Qarabag in the Europa League, was to be included in the squad then it would represent his first Premier League call-up, although it seems likely that one of the youngsters could be left out having travelled as the 19th man.

Saka impresses and Medley features as Arsenal beat Qarabag

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Arsenal rounded off their Europa League group stage fixtures with a rather uneventful 1-0 victory at home to Qarabag, which was secured courtesy of Alexandre Lacazette’s first-half goal.

With Arsenal already through as group winners, the game gave head coach Unai Emery the opportunity to assess some of the club’s talented youngsters and he gave starts to Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and, most intriguingly, Bukayo Saka.

Nketiah, who was deployed on the right wing for much of the game, worked hard throughout and had a goal ruled out for offside.

Willock, meanwhile, showed some encouraging signs in the first half but was less influential in the second period.

As far as Saka is concerned, the 17-year-old, who has enjoyed an excellent season so far at youth level, really should have scored when presented with an inviting opportunity to find the net late on.

However, that shouldn’t detract from Saka’s overall performance, which was rather encouraging as the ever-lively winger got into some dangerous attacking areas.

In the second half two more youngsters entered the fray, with Zech Medley and Charlie Gilmour making their home debuts for the first-team.

Medley, despite normally being a centre-back, was deployed at left-back and will hope to receive further opportunities in the near future.

Deyan Iliev and Tyreece John-Jules were unused substitutes, while Emile Smith Rowe and Julio Pleguezuelo missed out due to injury.

Report – Balogun and Swanson strike as Arsenal beat Northampton to progress in FA Youth Cup

FA Youth Cup third round

Arsenal 2 (Balogun, Swanson) Northampton Town 0 

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park

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Despite being deprived of the services of three of their standout players, Arsenal U18s still managed to make it through to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Northampton Town tonight.

Folarin Balogun and Zak Swanson were on the scoresheet for Ken Gillard’s side, but Arsenal will know that they will face even tougher tests as the competition goes on, especially in the next round, when, intriguingly, they will take on either Millwall or Tottenham Hotspur.

There were some impressive performances for Arsenal, with Matt Smith and Ben Cottrell amongst those to make a major impact.

Gillard was without Tyreece John-Jules and Bukayo Saka, who are likely to be involved with the first-team against Qarabag tomorrow, while winger Xavier Amaechi remains injured.

The Arsenal coach made some notable selection decisions, with Karl Hein starting ahead of Arthur Okonkwo in goal and Zak Swanson being preferred to Joel Lopez at left-back.

Both of those choices were vindicated, with Hein and Swanson both performing admirably, suggesting that they are likely to retain their places for the next round.

Three schoolboys – Yunus Musah, Mazeed Ogungbo and Miguel Azeez – were named on the bench, with the first two proceeding to enter the fray in the second half.

Hein

Daley Campbell-McGuinness-Spencer Adams-Swanson

M. Smith-Olayinka

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Balogun

Subs: Ogungbo (for Spencer-Adams), Musah (for Greenwood), Lopez (for Swanson) Not used: Okonkwo, Azeez.

Arsenal started brightly with Trae Coyle’s cross finding defender Mark McGuinness, who was up from the back, but his header was off target.

It quickly became apparent that this game wouldn’t be a walkover, with Northampton demonstrating excellent determination to cause numerous problems for Arsenal.

Arsenal still managed to create the majority of the chances in the first half, with the lively Sam Greenwood having a shot saved by Bradley Lashley.

The young Gunners twice had to be alert to cut out the danger at the back, with Vontae Daley-Campbell and Bayli Spencer-Adams making important interventions, but eventually Gillard’s team managed to take the lead.

It came as little surprise that Balogun was the scorer, with the striker having been in prolific form for the U18s this season.

Following a well-worked move, Balogun was on hand to slot home comfortably past Lashley.

Northampton sought to get back into the game immediately and put Arsenal under intense pressure in the closing stages of the first-half, but they were unable to pull level, with Hein making an impressive save in the process.

In the second half Cottrell, who has been impressive in the league this season, was starting to become increasingly influential, and the winger did well to find Balogun, who shot over on this occasion.

Northampton had a couple of efforts as they looked to equalise, and Arsenal were then dealt a further blow as Spencer-Adams suffered an injury that caused him to be replaced by Ogungbo.

Greenwood had a free-kick saved but that proved to be the former Sunderland attacker’s final meaningful involvement before he was replaced by the highly-rated Musah.

Eventually, Arsenal effectively made sure of the victory as Swanson found the net and, although there was an element of fortune about the goal, the versatile youngster deserved to cap off an impressive display by scoring.

Swanson seemingly attempted to cross the ball but it ended up looping over Lashley before going into the net.

Summer signing Joel Lopez was then sent on in place of Swanson and Arsenal managed to see the game out with their two-goal lead intact despite Northampton missing an inviting opportunity to score.

Overall, it wasn’t a vintage performance from Arsenal but there were plenty of encouraging signs as they look to go one better than last season, when they were thrashed in the final by Chelsea.

Full-backs Daley-Campbell and Swanson were largely impressive, while the excellent Smith dictated the pattern of play with some superb passes.

Greenwood, meanwhile, caught the eye in the first half before fading, and Balogun was a constant nuisance to the Northampton defence.

Musah made one barnstorming run that demonstrated just why he is so highly regarded, Lopez also looked assured when he came on and Hein will be pleased to have kept a clean sheet in his first involvement in this prestigious competition.

On the negative side, Trae Coyle failed to make much of an impact and there is some concern about the lack of progress made by a player who was so impressive as a schoolboy.

Midfielder James Olayinka was also not at his best and is often guilty of taking too many risks in midfield.

When it is considered, though, that Amaechi, Saka and John-Jules could feature later in the competition, Arsenal may well be able to enjoy a lengthy run.

 

Saka and John-Jules amongst Arsenal youngsters to train with first-team ahead of Qarabag clash

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Arsenal held their final training session ahead of tomorrow night’s Europa League game against Qarabag, and, as expected, a host of youngsters were in attendance.

Amongst them were Bukayo Saka and Tyreece John-Jules and if the young attackers make the matchday squad against Qarabag it seems likely that they won’t be involved in tonight’s FA Youth Cup clash against Northampton Town.

Eddie Nketiah also trained with the first-team, as did Zech Medley, Charlie Gilmour and Dominic Thompson.

 

Arsenal U18s face important decision between Okonkwo and Hein for FA Youth Cup clash against Northampton

 

Arsenal U18s commence their FA Youth Cup campaign tonight with a home game against Northampton Town and there will be one aspect of Ken Gillard’s team selection that will be especially interesting.

Unless players are required for first-team involvement, it is often the case that Arsenal name their strongest possible side in this competition as they seek to go all the way.

Players such as James Olayinka and Trae Coyle, who have featured heavily for the U23s this season, are likely to drop back down to the U18s for this competition.

It remains to be seen, though, who Gillard will select in goal as he has two stand-out options to choose from.

Both Arthur Okonkwo and Karl Hein have made the bench for Arsenal U23s this season, and they have also received a considerable amount of playing time at U18 level.

Okonkwo certainly seems to be the outstanding candidate out of the pair, as, although he has a tendency to make mistakes at times, the Hale End product possesses outstanding reflexes and he also has prior experience of featuring in the Youth Cup from last season.

Hein, meanwhile, hasn’t been especially convincing for the U18s so far, not least with his footwork, but the Estonian is highly regarded by the Arsenal coaching staff and is already fluent in English, allowing him to communicate with his defenders effectively.

The decision between Okonkwo and Hein may not have too much bearing on tonight’s game, but it could prove rather important if Arsenal enjoy a run in this competition, and selecting Okonkwo could give Gillard’s side a greater chance of going all the way.