Arsenal Youth season review- Part 3- The Under-18s

Picture: Tottenham Hotspur

Picture: Tottenham Hotspur

In most cases you would save the best until last, but the final instalment of this season’s Arsenal Youth review, which focuses on the U18s, won’t make for happy reading.

For the past few seasons Arsenal have struggled for results at this level, often as a consequence of deploying extremely young and inexperienced sides, but this year some of the performances were woefully abject, to the extent that the young Gunners ended up finishing bottom of the Third Tier, meaning that they had the worst league placing out of all the sides in the U18 Premier League.

The FA Youth Cup campaign wasn’t much better, either, with Frans De Kat’s team avoiding a shock exit at the hands of non-league Royston Town only to crash out at home to Crewe Alexandra in the Fifth Round.

Firstly, it is worth looking at the positives, however scarce they may be in nature. Going into the season, the vast majority of the 2013 scholars (with the exception of Renny Smith and Elliot Wright) were already a major part of the U21 squad. This meant that the likes of Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Stefan O’Connor, Julio Pleguezuelo (when fit) and Tafari Moore primarily featured for the second-string rather than for the U18s.

In addition, many of the first-years progressed into the U21 team as the campaign wore on, with Stephy Mavididi, George Dobson, Kaylen Hinds, Marc Bola and Tyrell Robinson all making the step up. This meant that, particularly in the second half of the season, Arsenal’s U18 squad was composed of a smattering of first-year scholars and several promising schoolboys, some of whom were U15 players.

All that said, the season started so well for the players and De Kat, who was brought in by the new Academy Manager Andries Jonker. A 4-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion was encouraging, but the fact that it was followed by a 5-1 thrashing of Chelsea’s esteemed academy suggested that the U18s may have finally turned a corner in terms of results.

The good feeling didn’t last very long, however, as, after a victory over Norwich City in September, De Kat’s team failed to chalk up another league success until February, when they dispatched of Leicester City.

Not every aspect of their play made for grim reading. Mavididi started the season in imperious form and ended up scoring 15 goals in 16 league games, whilst Chris Willock, Hinds and Robinson also impressed in the early months of the season.

The hugely disappointing results meant that the youngsters ended the campaign in Play-off Tier Three, where they picked up just four points from seven fixtures, which is a rather paltry return considering that they were facing other sides who had struggled throughout the season.

That sequence included a 6-0 defeat away to Newcastle United and the now infamous 5-1 loss at Fulham on the last day of the season, which confirmed Arsenal’s place at the bottom of the table.

The main problem was that many of the first-years who were left in the U18s failed to perform on a consistent basis. Jonatas Centeno was allowed to leave as he failed to make much of an impression, whilst midfielders Harry Donovan and Savvas Mourgos showed some glimpses of their talent but couldn’t replicate it on a weekly basis. Left-back Ilias Chatzitheodoridis, another Greek recruit, also struggled and centre-back Kristopher Da Graca looked out of his depth at times.

The hope for next season will be that the new scholars, having already gained considerable experience of U18 football, will be able to hit the ground running, but again it is difficult to envisage Arsenal’s U18 side suddenly returning to the days when they used to swat aside the opposition on the way to challenge for the league title.

Development, of course, takes precedence over results at youth level, but the most concerning aspect of this season was that many players, particularly those brought in from elsewhere, didn’t appear to be up to standard and those that did progress were quickly promoted to the U21s, leaving the U18s in an even more dire situation.

It is hoped that any players brought in from abroad this summer will be of a higher quality than some of the youngsters who have arrived at the club in recent seasons. In terms of homegrown talent, the likes of Marcus Tabi, Josh Da Silva and Edward Nketiah should be frequently involved with the U18s from the offset, whilst England youth international Reiss Nelson will also be a major player for De Kat’s side in 2015/16.

Zelalem’s USA exploits offer encouragement for his Arsenal future

Zimbio.com/ Phil Walter

Zimbio.com/ Phil Walter

The fact that Gedion Zelalem only has two competitive appearances to his name for the Arsenal first-team at the end of his second full season with the club just serves to emphasise the feats achieved by fellow midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, who managed to break into the senior set-up at such a young age.

There have been concerns in some quarters, at numerous points over the past couple of campaigns, that Zelalem, a player tipped to emulate Fabregas and Wilshere’s spectacular breakthroughs, hasn’t quite been performing up to standard.

It is true that on some occasions games do tend to pass him by, whilst his tactical understanding of the game needs working on, as does his tendency to squander possession in dangerous areas.

There is, though, still much to be positive about with regards to Zelalem’s development. At just 18 years of age he has already made 34 appearances for the Arsenal U21 team and is still eligible to represent the club at that level for several more years.

Recently, Zelalem has been making something of an impact on the international stage as well. There had been a lengthy debate about which country the hugely promising youngster would represent at senior level, after he featured for both Ethiopia and Germany in youth fixtures. The almighty tussle looks to have been won by the United States, however, and Zelalem is currently representing the US at the U20 World Cup.

Zelalem hit the headlines this morning after he claimed an assist and performed some wonderful skills in a 4-0 victory over New Zealand. The skills were breathtaking, but his neat pass to set up a goal was a mirror image of some of the excellent through balls he has played for Arsenal in pre-season fixtures over the past couple of years.

Once he concludes his exertions with the national team, Zelalem will be given a period of rest, but, after that, the focus will return to his club career as he hopes to become increasingly involved in the first-team set-up at Emirates Stadium.

The youngster is officially part of Arsene Wenger’s squad, but, with a clutch of high-profile central-midfielders ahead of him in the first-team, he will inevitably have to be very patient for opportunities. The Capital One Cup, albeit a little later than may originally have been anticipated, could well be Zelalem’s chance to showcase what he can do in an Arsenal shirt. If he can replicate his displays at the U20 World Cup, then he may not have to wait too long before he is called upon again by Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal Youth season review- Part 2- UEFA Youth League

Zimbio.com Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Zimbio.com
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

As was the case in the inaugural version of the competition the previous season, Arsenal saw their UEFA Youth League campaign come to an abrupt end in Spain. However, this year it was Atletico Madrid who inflicted the damage as opposed to Barcelona and Arsenal’s exit came at the Last 16 stage rather than the Quarter Finals.

In the end it was a rather disappointing exit for Arsenal, who conceded a goal in the first minute against Atletico and were subsequently unable to recover. However, some of the performances and results that preceded that defeat were hugely impressive and provided some hope for the future.

Zimbio.com Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Zimbio.com
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

This season’s Youth League team was a rather exciting one, particularly in an attacking sense, as it contained the likes of Alex Iwobi (the oldest player in the squad), Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem, Chris Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Kaylen Hinds and Stephy Mavididi.

Hopes of a successful run in the competition were boosted by an excellent start to the group stages, with Frans De Kat’s side emerging victorious away to Borussia Dortmund courtesy of a brace from Hinds.

Hinds was on the scoresheet again in the next fixture, a 5-1 demolition of Galatasaray that was memorable particularly for a stunning goal by Zelalem, his first for the club. Crowley also impressed in that game, with Willock and Iwobi joining him on the scoresheet.

Then, suddenly, things began to take a turn for the worse. Despite a superb hat-trick from Crowley, Arsenal lost 4-3 away to Anderlecht in their next group game, with De Kat’s side guilty of some desperate defending. They weren’t helped, either, by the absence of goalkeeper Ryan Huddart, who was with the first-team, meaning that inexperienced schoolboy Brad House had to play.

Anderlecht proceeded to beat Arsenal again in the reverse fixture at Meadow Park, with the Belgian side prevailing with a 2-1 victory despite Crowley’s goal.

A strike from Mavididi, though, put Arsenal back on track with a 1-0 victory over Dortmund in their next game before an inexperienced side containing several first-years rounded off the group stages with a win away to Galatasaray.

Then came that aberration in Spain, but the fact that the first-team have again qualified for the Champions League means that the young Gunners will have another chance to test themselves against Europe’s elite next season.

What’s more, the majority of this season’s squad will still be eligible to feature in the competition, with the notable exception of Iwobi. The prospect of more difficult opponents for the first-team (owing to changes in the structure of the group stage draw) could see the youngsters face a stronger side at an earlier stage.

Krystian Bielik will be eligible to feature in this competition next season, whilst the new scholars will also seek to be involved in some capacity. Arsenal will be looking to progress further, though, than they have done in each of the last two campaigns.

Regardless of results, the UEFA Youth League can be seen to have had a positive impact on the development of the players involved as testing themselves against opponents with different styles of play will surely be beneficial for their future progress. The process of travelling abroad and staying in hotels prior to matches also prepares the youngsters for first-team life.

The hope is that next season Arsenal’s U19s will be able to use their experience gained in this season’s tournament and progress onto bigger and better things.

George Dobson set to leave Arsenal

Zimbio.com Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Zimbio.com
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Youngster George Dobson is set to leave Arsenal, despite signing professional terms with the club as recently as last November.

The 17-year-old, who progressed through the club’s Hale End system, broke into the Arsenal U18 team whilst he was still a schoolboy and this season made nine appearances for the U21s in the first year of his scholarship.

It was expected that Dobson, who can play at centre-back or as a defensive-midfielder, would go on to establish himself as an important player for the second-string next season.

However, his team-mate Tyrell Robinson has revealed on Instagram that Dobson, in a surprise move, will be leaving the club this summer. His destination is currently unknown, but it comes as a shock that the youngster, who also featured in the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup this season, will be moving on.

Thanks to Andy’s Arsenal U16s for spotting this.

Arsenal youth season review- Part 1- The Under 21s

GettyImagesEurope

GettyImagesEurope

Although some of Arsenal’s youngsters are still representing the club at youth tournaments abroad, the domestic season came to an end last week, providing us with an opportunity to reflect on another hugely eventful campaign at youth level.

This season review will be in three parts, with the first instalment focusing on Arsenal’s U21 side.

A disappointing set of results in the previous campaign saw Arsenal demoted to the newly constructed second division of U21 football.

PremierLeague.com

PremierLeague.com

Hopes were initially high that Steve Gatting’s side would be able to immediately gain promotion at the first attempt, but that ultimately didn’t transpire as the young Gunners struggled for consistency despite enjoying some impressive victories.

There were notable wins at home to West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers as well as some commendable victories away to Aston Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion and Bolton Wanderers. Arsenal missed out on promotion by four points, however, as they were made to pay for a fallow period between January and March.

There were still some positives to take from the campaign, though. 13 members of the first-team squad (an unusually high amount) represented the U21s at some point this season, including Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and club captain Mikel Arteta. Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin also featured for the second-string early in the campaign before ending the season as regular starters for the first-team.

In terms of the core U21 group, several players also earned first-team call-ups. Chuba Akpom featured in the Premier League before later going out on loan, whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Gedion Zelalem, Stefan O’Connor, Alex Iwobi, Glen Kamara, Matt Macey and Semi Ajayi all found themselves in and around the senior squad at various points of the season.

O’Connor established himself as a mainstay in the U21s, featuring in all but one of their fixtures, whilst Dan Crowley was also heavily involved, with the England youth international turning in some excellent displays.

The second half of the season, as is usually the case, saw some younger players bedded into the U21 set-up, with George Dobson and Stephy Mavididi both making several starts, whilst Tyrell Robinson and Marc Bola also featured.

A total of 43 players were called up to the U21 squad for their 22 fixtures, perhaps going some way to explain why Arsenal found it difficult to string together a consistent set of results.

With regards to the standout performer, there are several candidates. Crowley, as alluded to, showed some tantalising glimpses of his ability, whilst Akpom hit nine goals, including an impressive hat-trick away to Brighton. In terms of progression, though, the accolade should be bestowed upon Iwobi, a player who started the season as a fringe member of the U21 squad but who ended it as the side’s top scorer with ten goals after adapting seamlessly to playing as a central striker.

Iwobi, whose personal highlight was a hat-trick at Emirates Stadium against Stoke, has improved significantly over the past nine months. He was already a promising player going into the campaign but, at the start of the season, he had yet to score for the U21s. For him to reach double figures is superb, especially given that his first goal didn’t come until late October.

Next season Iwobi, along with the likes of Kamara and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, is set to head out on loan as the development cycle continues. Players such as Dobson, Mavididi, Bola, Johnson, Kaylen Hinds and Chris Willock should establish themselves as important members of the U21 team next campaign.Poll Maker

Loan report- Jenkinson, Wellington, Campbell and Sanogo conclude loan spells

London24

London24

Carl Jenkinson played the whole game as West Ham United lost 2-0 to Newcastle United. The right-back made 36 appearances for The Hammers and his immediate future is currently unclear.

Wellington was introduced as a substitute in the 54th minute of Almeria’s 3-2 defeat to Valencia, with the Brazilian picking up a yellow card. He failed to score in 35 appearances for Almeria, but he did provide seven assists and delivered several impressive performances.

Joel Campbell started up front in a 4-4-2 formation as Villarreal were thrashed 4-0 away to Athletic Bilbao.

Yaya Sanogo again wasn’t part of the Crystal Palace squad as they ended their season with a 1-0 win over Swansea City.

Lukas Podolski missed out through injury as Inter Milan lost 3-2 to Genoa. It isn’t currently clear whether the German will be available for the final game of the season against Sassuolo next week.

House finds a new home as Arsenal’s next scholarship intake takes shape

It was a hugely disappointing season for Arsenal U18s in terms of results, but one of the positives to emerge from the campaign was that several schoolboys gained valuable experience of playing at that level, albeit in difficult circumstances.

The majority of those U16 players will form the bulk of Arsenal’s new scholarship intake for next season. One player who won’t be joining them is goalkeeper Brad House, who has joined West Bromwich Albion having been told earlier in the season that he would be let go.

As well as being named on the bench four times for the U18s this season and a further four times for the U19s, House also played in the league defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur as well as the UEFA Youth League loss away to Anderlecht.

However, with Hugo Keto progressing well and George Phillips and Jordan Perrin set to provide cover next season, Arsenal are well stocked in the goalkeeping department at youth level.

House joins Owen Moore, Rugare Musendo, Tyler Hayles, Mich’el Parker, Kwai Marsh-Brown and Brooklyn Beckham in leaving the club. Moore and Musendo have already secured deals with Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton respectively, whilst Parker has joined Liverpool.

Where does that leave Arsenal’s scholarship intake? At present there will be seven Hale End products who will become full-time from July 1st, although it is worth bearing in mind that any of them could still leave before that date.

Arsenal’s new scholars:

Front row- (l-r) – Marcus Tabi, Nathan Tella, Charlie Gilmour

Back row- (l-r)- Tolaji Bola, Joe Willock, Edward Nketiah, Josh Da Silva

This is an intriguing group, but it must be said that, whilst it contains an abundance of attacking talents, Bola is the only defensive player included.

All seven players have been involved with the U18s this season and you can read more about each player below:

TOLAJI BOLA- Defender- Born: 4.1.99

A youngster who plays at centre-back or left-back, Bola, who is of no relation to fellow Arsenal defender Marc, already possesses experience of U18 football.

Good on the ball although occasionally a little rash in his decision making, Bola has been capped by England at U16 level.

JOSH DA SILVA – Striker- Born: 23.10.98

Capable of playing as a central striker or as an attacking midfielder, Da Silva has been a mainstay for the U18s this season and also made his UEFA Youth League debut as a substitute against Galatasaray.

A frequent goalscorer for the club at U16 level, he has found goals harder to come by for the U18s but he did find the net against Norwich City and will be hoping to score with more regularity next campaign. He is strong physically and possesses good link-up play.

CHARLIE GILMOUR- Midfielder- Born: 11.2.99

Once described by Liam Brady as one of the club’s most promising schoolboys, Gilmour has represented both Scotland at England at youth level.

A central-midfielder who is tidy in possession, he still has much to learn tactically, but he has been slowly bedded in to the U18 team this season and will hope to become a regular during 2015/16.

EDWARD NKETIAH- Striker- Born: 30.5.99

A diminutive but hard-working striker who has impressed for the U16s this season, Nketiah broke into the Arsenal U18 team midway through the season and has often been used on the left wing by coach Frans De Kat.

Very good technically, Nketiah scored whilst representing the club at the AlKass International Cup.

MARCUS TABI- Midfielder- Born: 2.2.99

Arguably the best performing Arsenal schoolboy this season, Tabi, who can play in central-midfield or out wide, has recently returned for the UEFA U17 European Championships, where he started all of the Republic of Ireland’s group stage matches.

He has also impressed for Arsenal U18s, notably scoring a good goal against Blackburn Rovers. Next season he is set to receive further game time at that level and may even push into the U21s as the campaign progresses.

NATHAN TELLA- Winger- Born: 5.7.99

A right-winger who fended off competition from Brooklyn Beckham to earn a scholarship deal, Tella turned in some commendable displays for the U18s in the second half of the season.

Quick and an intelligent decision maker, Tella was hugely impressive at the AlKass International Cup in Qatar.

JOE WILLOCK- Winger/central-midfielder- Born: 20.8.99

The younger brother of young professional Chris, Joe Willock will be hoping to show that he is an excellent talent in his own right.

A winger or central-midfielder, he scored for England U16s earlier in the campaign but has had to be patient for opportunities to represent Arsenal at U18 level. That should change next season, however, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to playing at a higher level.

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These seven players will be a major part of next season’s U18 squad. They will be joined in that regard by some of the current first-years- Keto, Ilias Chatzitheodoridis, Kristopher Da Graca, Ben Sheaf, Harry Donovan, Savvas Mourgos and Aaron Eyoma.

The likes of Stephy Mavididi, George Dobson, Chiori Johnson, Kaylen Hinds, Marc Bola, Tyrell Robinson and Chris Willock will still be eligible for the U18s but should be more heavily involved with the U21s. Ryan Huddart will still be eligible to feature for the U18s in league matches as an overage goalkeeper.

Then there is a group of players- Reiss Nelson, Robbie Burton, Tobi Omole, Josh Benson, Perrin, George Phillips, Rob Howard and Emile Smith-Rowe- who will still be schoolboys next season but will hope to play at least some games for the U18s (Nelson should be heavily involved).

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That could still leave Arsenal’s U18 squad looking a little light in some areas, though, which is where the potential new signings come in. Kostas Pileas, a Cypriot youth international centre-back who has impressed on trial at the club, is likely to join, whilst this week there were (as yet unconfirmed) reports that French attackers Yassin Fortune and Jeff Reine-Adelaide will also sign.

There still hasn’t been any word whether Martin Graiciar, a highly regarded striker from the Czech Republic, will indeed be joining the club, despite a deal appearing close to conclusion earlier this year. Arsenal have also included two further trialists from their Elite academy in Greece in their squad for the Geneva Cup, an U16 tournament which gets underway today.

Konstantinos Balagiannis and Marko Divkovic have linked up with the team for the tournament.

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With the above information in mind, Arsenal’s U18 squad for next season could look something like this:

KETO

Phillips

Perrin

   Huddart*

JOHNSON – DOBSON – DA GRACA- M. BOLA

     Eyoma – Omole-T. Bola-Chatzitheodoridis

                                                                     Howard

      DONOVAN – SHEAF

Gilmour

Benson

 HINDS- C. WILLOCK- ROBINSON

 Tabi-Mourgos- Nketiah

 Tella-Nelson- J. Willock

                 Burton- Smith-Rowe

      MAVIDIDI

     Da Silva

*Overage player

This is the strongest possible squad and will inevitably be much weaker for many U18 league fixtures.