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.
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.