Okonkwo set to feature for Arsenal U23s with Iliev ruled out for two weeks

Arsenal goalkeeper Deyan Iliev has been ruled out for two weeks with a shoulder injury.

The 24-year-old will be absent for tomorrow’s U23 clash at home to Derby County and is also expected to miss the game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next week.

With Iliev unavailable, it seems likely that Arthur Okonkwo will receive another opportunity to impress against Derby having kept a clean sheet on his debut for the second-string against West Ham United.

The 17-year-old has trained with the first-team this week and also recently travelled with the squad to Dubai.

Okonkwo was left out of the squad for the U18s’ win against Reading on Saturday, indicating that he is set to face Derby.

Ordinarily, the Hale End product would also start against Chelsea but the situation is complicated somewhat by the fact that Arsenal are involved in the Dallas Cup, a competition that Okonkwo would usually be called up for.

If Iliev is still out then it is possible that Arsenal could elect to keep Okonkwo in England so that he can face Chelsea.

Arsenal are still without Karl Hein due to injury, but can call upon Tom Smith, James Hillson and schoolboy Hubert Graczyk.


Report – Balogun scores four as Arsenal U18s hit eight against Reading to edge closer to title

U18 Premier League

Reading 0 Arsenal 8 (Balogun 28, 34, 40, 57, Azeez 74, Greenwood 82, Musah 85, M. Smith 90)

The Southern section title is in sight for Arsenal U18s after another sensational performance that saw them thrash Reading 8-0 away, with Folarin Balogun scoring four goals.

Coach Ken Gillard made one alteration from the side that staged a superb comeback against Tottenham Hotspur, with Miguel Azeez replacing Tyreece John-Jules.

Arsenal: T. Smith; Daley-Campbell, McGuinness, Clarke, Swanson; M. Smith, Azeez; Greenwood, Cottrell (Flaherty 67), Coyle (Musah 59); Balogun (Matthews 71). Subs not used: Graczyk, Ogungbo.

Arsenal didn’t have Bukayo Saka and Xavier Amaechi on the bench on this occasion, but they didn’t need them, with Balogun taking centre stage.

The prolific forward opened the scoring in the 28th minute and proceeded to score two further goals before half-time to complete his hat-trick as Arsenal seized control of the game.

Balogun wasn’t finished there, however, as he added another goal shortly after the break after good work from Matt Smith.

Arsenal could even afford to take off Trae Coyle, Ben Cottrell and Balogun and they still remained in control of the game.

There was further misery for Reading to endure, with Azeez getting on the scoresheet, while Sam Greenwood, Musah and Matt Smith also scored.

It was another outstanding display from Arsenal, who have now won their last eleven league games in succession, scoring a staggering 51 goals in the process. This was also their second 8-0 win in a week after their thrashing of Swansea City.

In addition to the attacking qualities of the team, the defence, and goalkeeper Tom Smith, also deserve much credit, as does coach Gillard.

The title isn’t secured yet but it should be soon and if that eventuality does transpire then Arsenal will certainly be worthy winners.

Versatile Zak Swanson signs first professional contract with Arsenal

Zak Swanson has become the latest Arsenal youngster to sign his first professional contract with the club, following on from Mark McGuinness.

The Hale End product has featured regularly for Arsenal U18s this season, with his versatility having been extremely important for Ken Gillard’s side.

Capable of playing as a winger or a central-midfielder, Swanson has frequently been deployed at left-back this season and has also featured at right-back and centre-back.

Last season Swanson made the bench for the U23s against Tottenham Hotspur and next campaign he will be a fully-fledged member of the second-string squad.

Arsenal have two remaining second-year scholars – Vontae Daley-Campbell and Bayli Spencer-Adams.

McGuinness and Clarke – the unsung heroes behind Arsenal U18s’ superb form

With Arsenal U18s having won their last ten matches in a row, including an enthralling 3-2 success against Tottenham Hotspur yesterday, it is no surprise that Ken Gillard’s side are receiving much praise.

Inevitably, it is the attackers and midfielders that have received the most recognition, with Folarin Balogun, Trae Coyle, Sam Greenwood, Matt Smith and Ben Cottrell amongst those who have hit the headlines.

It is worth reflecting, though, on the performances of two other members of the title-chasing team, with Mark McGuinness and Harry Clarke having forged an impressive partnership at the heart of the defence.

For over a decade, with numerous players, Arsenal had struggled defensively at U18 level, but they have been rather more resolute this campaign.

Bayli Spencer-Adams showed some significant signs of improvement this season but his absence has enabled Clarke, who is also capable of playing in midfield, to excel at centre-back.

Both McGuinness and Clarke are composed in possession and can play slick passes, while McGuinness has also provided a significant goal threat from set-pieces in recent weeks.

Most importantly, the duo are both dependable defenders and they complement each other perfectly, with Clarke often rushing forward to make interceptions, while McGuinness, in the style of how academy manager Per Mertesacker used to play, often waits in position and uses his excellent tactical understanding on the game to outsmart opponents.

Both McGuinness and Clarke have endured frustration with injuries over the past couple of seasons but they are now both fully fit and flying.

If Arsenal U18s are to win the title this season then it is unlikely that this pair will be amongst the most discussed individuals, but they have both made an immense contribution in recent weeks.

Next season they will both be aiming to establish themselves in the U23 side, which will represent a major step up for both of them.

Clarke, who joined Arsenal as a schoolboy from Ipswich Town, has already signed professional terms, while McGuinness, who was recently capped by the Republic of Ireland at U19 level, has also committed his future to the club.

For now, though, McGuinness and Clarke will be fully focused as Arsenal look to end their lengthy wait for the U18 league title.



Report – Cottrell hits late winner as Arsenal U18s secure comeback win against Tottenham to boost title hopes

U18 Premier League

Arsenal 3 (Saka 86, Lyons-Foster (o.g.) 87, Cottrell 90) Tottenham Hotspur 2 (Maghoma 6, White 34 (pen))

Arsenal U18s went into this crucial clash against their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur knowing that they had to win to realistically remain in with a chance of securing the southern division title.

The young Gunners managed to do that in incredible circumstances as they came from 2-0 down to prevail with a 3-2 victory, Ben Cottrell scoring the decisive goal.

Arsenal’s fate is now in their own hands – win against Reading and Fulham and they will claim the regional title for the first time in nine years.

As a measure of the importance of this game, coach Ken Gillard started Tyreece John-Jules, while Bukayo Saka and Xavier Amaechi were on the bench, with the latter, a mainstay for the U23s, receiving his first call-up for a league game at this level this season.

T. Smith
Daley Campbell-McGuinness-Clarke-Swanson

M. Smith-Cottrell

Greenwood-John Jules-Coyle


Subs: Saka (for Coyle, 59), Amaechi (for Greenwood, 59), Azeez (for Swanson, 75). Not used: Okonkwo, Ogungbo.

Both teams had been in excellent form going into this game, but something had to give in this titanic top of the table tussle.

For much of the game it looked as if Tottenham would prevail.

The visitors played some impressive football and took the lead after just six minutes courtesy of Paris Maghoma.

It was then 2-0 before the break, with Harvey White scoring from the penalty spot.

Crucially, however, Tottenham were reduced to ten men just before the break when Luis Binks was dismisssed, and that provided Arsenal with a platform to get back into the game.

Just before the hour mark Gillard threw on Saka and Amaechi, and later introduced talented schoolboy Miguel Azeez as Arsenal adopted a mindset that was fully focused on attacking.

It seemed as if Tottenham would stand firm but eventually they crumbled, with Saka finding the net in the 86th minute.

There was a further boost for Arsenal in the closing stages when Brooklyn Lyons-Foster inadvertently turned the ball into his own net, making it 2-2.

Amazingly, there was further drama to come and Cottrell, who has enjoyed a superb first season as a scholar, was the hero as he scored in stoppage time.

The celebrations were wild, Tottenham were dejected and Arsenal edged closer to the title.

Gillard’s hugely impressive team are now four points clear of Tottenham.

Although their rivals have a game in hand, all Arsenal must do is focus on themselves. Win their last two games and the regional title is theirs, which would set up an in intriguing clash with the northern winners in the final.

Report – Coyle scores hat-trick as Arsenal U18s hit eight against Swansea

U18 Premier League

Arsenal 8 (Greenwood 9, Balogun 11, Cottrell 29, 83, McGuinness 37, Coyle 69, 87, 89) Swansea City 0


Arsenal U18s continued their superb recent form with an 8-0 thrashing of Swansea City today, with Trae Coyle scoring a hat-trick.

The result saw Ken Gillard’s side extend their winning run in the league to seven games, with the young Gunners, who have played some dynamic, free-flowing football, having scored 30 goals across that period.

Despite this victory, however, Arsenal remain just one point ahead of their closest challengers for the title, rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who have a game in hand. Arsenal and Tottenham face each other on Tuesday in a crucial clash.

Arsenal were without Joel Lopez for this game but still named a very strong side, with Sam Greenwood back from international duty.

T. Smith

Daley Campbell-McGuinness-Clarke-Swanson

M. Smith-Musah



Subs: Azeez (for Balogun, 46), Ogungbo (for Swanson, 56), Matthews (for Greenwood, 68). Not used: Graczyk, Dennis. 

It was Greenwood who opened the scoring in the ninth minute following good work from Ben Cottrell, and the prolific Folarin Balogun then scored his 20th league goal of the season two minutes later.

Swansea have struggled all season and it quickly became apparent that Arsenal’s quality would be too much for them to cope with.

Cottrell and Mark McGuinness both managed to get on the scoresheet to effectively secure victory before half-time.

Miguel Azeez then entered the fray in place of Balogun, who featured as a substitute for the U23s last night, while Mazeed Ogungbo later came on for Zak Swanson.

Arsenal continued to dominate and it was 5-0 when Coyle found the net in the 63rd minute.

Swansea tried their utmost to avoid further frustration, but Arsenal were unrelenting in their approach, with Cottrell getting his second goal of the game to make it 6-0.

Coyle then added a quickfire brace in the closing stages as Arsenal completed an emphatic victory.

The attention now turns to Tottenham, with both teams having been in excellent form in recent weeks.

Report – John-Jules hits winner and Sheaf excels as Arsenal U23s beat West Ham

Premier League 2

Arsenal 1 (John-Jules 42) West Ham United 0 

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood


The importance of momentum when it comes to young players cannot be understated, and Tyreece John-Jules is certainly full of confidence right now.

Having marked his first senior appearance with the decisive goal against Al-Nasr in Dubai, John-Jules was back in the considerably colder climes of Borehamwood tonight but he impressed once again, scoring the only goal as Arsenal U23s beat their West Ham United counterparts 1-0 in a fixture that was replayed after the original game last month was abandoned due to fog.

This was a tough test for Arsenal but they managed to come through it, with the defence, particularly Ben Sheaf and Jordi Osei-Tutu, deserving much praise.

Goalkeeper Arthur Okonwko made his debut for the U23s, while many of the other players who travelled to Dubai were involved.

Zech Medley, however, was absent, as was Eddie Nketiah. Goalkeeper James Hillson, on loan, from Reading, received his first call-up to this level as he made the bench.


Osei Tutu-Ballard-Sheaf-Pleguezuelo



Amaechi-John Jules-Saka

Subs: Burton (for Olayinka, 66), Tormey (for Saka, 66), Balogun (for Willock, 83). Not used: Hillson, Thompson. 

The game was slow to get going but it quickly became clear that John-Jules would be a major threat to the West Ham goal, with the striker sending a header wide in an early warning sign.

A heavy back-pass from Julio Pleguezuelo then put Okonkwo under pressure, but the young goalkeeper was calm in possession as he dealt with the situation.

West Ham were trying their utmost to limit Arsenal’s threat but they struggled to contain Bukayo Saka, who delivered a teasing cross into the area only for his team-mates to be unable to turn it home.

Xavier Amaechi, deployed on the opposite flank, then sent an effort into the side-netting before a West Ham header went wide at the other end.

It was Arsenal who would go into the break in the ascendancy, however, with John-Jules capitalising upon a West Ham mistake before sending a fierce effort into the back of the net.

The second half was a real battle as West Ham searched for an equaliser, and Okonkwo had to be alert on one occasion to rush off his line and make a save.

Arsenal then made a double substitution, with Nathan Tormey and Robbie Burton entering the fray in place of Saka and James Olayinka.

Tormey immediately made Arsenal more of an attacking threat with his driving runs and impressive short passes, although the West Ham defence were impressive in preventing the young Gunners from having many opportunities to extend their lead.

Joe Willock did have an effort saved from close range following a precise cross by Osei-Tutu, but much of the action in the closing stages came down the other end.

Arsenal managed to secure the victory, though, with Okonkwo keeping his clean sheet intact on his debut.

Sheaf, who has frequently flitted between playing in midfield and defence recently, also deserves much credit for his display as he made some timely interceptions, as did his central-defensive partner Daniel Ballard.

This wasn’t a classic encounter and many of the Arsenal players, understandably given the trip to Dubai, weren’t at their sharpest physically.

They still managed to prevail, although not by the 3-0 scoreline that they had mustered by half-time in the original game.

The biggest plus point for the academy this week has certainly been the impact made by John-Jules, who is making fantastic strides in his development.

Should Nketiah either be promoted to the first-team or go out on loan next season then it seems likely that John-Jules will be Arsenal’s first-choice striker at U23 level, which would certainly enable him to push on further.