Report: Zelalem and Maitland-Niles feature as Arsenal U23s are beaten by Reading

Premier League 2- Division 1

Arsenal U23s 0 Reading U23s 2

By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park


This was supposed to be a night of significance for Arsenal’s youngsters as they participated in the first ever fixture of revamped second-string football.

However, it ultimately turned out to be a rather frustrating occasion as familiar failings resurfaced and Arsenal were beaten 2-0 by a well organised and hard working Reading side.

There were some notable inclusions in the Arsenal side, with Gedion Zelalem and Chris Willock, who featured for the first-team in pre-season, both called upon tonight. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, meanwhile, made his first appearance for Arsenal in over a year after returning from his mixed loan spell with Ipswich Town.

The most notable aspect of the Arsenal team, though, was the deployment of Ben Sheaf at centre-back. At a time when defensive options are running thin in the first-team, the same fate has befallen the U23s, with Krystian Bielik’s absence (and the departures of Julio Pleguezuelo and Stefan O’Connor on loan) meaning that Sheaf, normally a midfielder, was forced to operate at the heart of the defence.

Whilst he clearly wasn’t comfortable in that position, the 18-year-old did at least make some good interventions and appeared more assured than his central-defensive partner Kristopher Da Graca, although, in truth, that isn’t saying much.

Arsenal were all too vulnerable defensively, with full-backs Chiori Johnson and Kostas Pileas frequently getting exposed, and it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before Reading took the lead.

They did just that through Andy Rinomhota in the 70th minute before a spectacular strike from substitute Harry Caldwell ten minutes later effectively ended the game as a contest.

Bielik and Calum Chambers were watching on at Meadow Park, and how Arsenal could have done with those two players this evening. The young Gunners showed some encouraging signs in terms of their build-up play, with Zelalem, Willock and Reiss Nelson playing some slick passes, but they lacked ruthlessness in front of goal and Stephy Mavididi wasn’t able to make the most of the admittedly few chances that came his way.

There were some notable omissions from the squad, with Marc Bola, Kaylen Hinds, Aaron Eyoma, Tyrell Robinson and Savvas Mourgos all not involved. Glen Kamara, meanwhile, made the bench after his proposed loan move to Dordrecht broke down.


Johnson-Da Graca-Sheaf-Pileas


Nelson-Maitland Niles-C. Willock


Subs: McGuane (for Zelalem, 61), Kamara (for C. Willock, 61), Dragomir (for Bennacer, 88). Not used: Keto, T. Bola.

The opening stages were rather tight, with neither side able to make the most of the possession they had. Maitland-Niles and Zelalem, the two most experienced outfield players in the Arsenal side, saw a lot of the ball early on as Steve Gatting’s team sought to impress.

Macey, who featured for the first-team in pre-season against Lens, had to be alert to gather a couple of crosses before Arsenal made a venture down the other end with Ismael Bennacer, who was again impressive, doing well to win the ball back, although the move didn’t amount to anything of significance.

Arsenal’s side contained an abundance of creative talent yet a dearth of defensive resilience, and the latter fault was in evidence when Da Graca, who has never been especially convincing since joining the club, made a terrible error that Reading almost capitalised upon. It was Sheaf who stepped across to cut out the danger, with the former West Ham United player performing well in challenging circumstances.

Reading then had the ball in the net only to see the effort ruled out for offside. It seemed patently clear, though, that they would eventually be the side to open the scoring.

Before that eventually transpired, however, Arsenal tried their utmost to break the deadlock, with Nelson and Willock both being thwarted.

Reading came close to scoring on a couple of occasions early in the second-half, and Arsenal’s cause thereafter wasn’t helped by the withdrawal of Willock and Zelalem, who were presumably tired as a consequence of their involvement with the first-team this summer.

Marcus McGuane and Kamara entered the fray in their place, but it was Reading who wold then seize control, with Rinomhota finishing well after Macey failed to hold a previous effort.

At the other end Mavididi did tremendously well to shake off the attentions of the Reading defence, but he wasn’t able to provide the finishing touch and, with that, Arsenal’s hopes of getting something from this game vanished.

Moments later it was 2-0 and game over, with Cardwell scoring a spectacular goal to put the game beyond doubt.

There was a positive moment when the talented Vlad Dragomir entered the fray late on to make his first competitive appearance at this level, but this was a frustrating night and this result provides an indication of how challenging matters will be for Arsenal in the top tier. Next up is a trip to face Manchester City at the Etihad.

Gnabry hits brace as Germany thrash Fiji 10-0 to progress in Olympics


Arsenal prospect Serge Gnabry hit a brace as Gemany trounced Fiji 10-0 tonight to progress to the quarter-finals of the Olympics, and in so doing the 21-year-old became the tournament’s top scorer so far with five goals in three games.

The winger, who has endured a frustrating time over the past couple of seasons, scored a fine free-kick and was impressive throughout as Germany edged closer to fulfilling their aim of winning a gold medal.


The young defenders seeking to step up for Arsenal U23s this season

Football - 2016 Durban U19 International - Semifinal - Arsenal v TP Mazembe - Moses Mabhida Stadium

Jordi Osei-Tutu

Arsenal’s youngsters will get a new era underway on Friday when they take on Reading in the first fixture of the re-branded U23 division.

Steve Gatting’s side are set to be short of defensive options at the commencement of the campaign, with Julio Pleguezuelo and Stefan O’Connor out on loan, Tafari Moore set to head on temporary transfer and Krystian Bielik potentially needed for cover in the first-team squad.

Here, then, is an assessment of the young defenders that could feature prominently for Arsenal at U23 level this season.



Chiori Johnson

Tafari Moore is on trial at Utrecht ahead of a possible loan move and even if that deal doesn’t come to fruition the England youth international is likely to spend the season elsewhere.

That should open the door for Chiori Johnson to establish himself as the first-choice right-back for Gatting’s team. Johnson has endured much misfortune with injuries but returned to excellent effect in the second half of last season as he delivered some impressive displays.

Aaron Eyoma, meanwhile, can also fill in at right-back if required, although the Hale End product is much more suited to playing as a winger.

Jordi Osei-Tutu is still eligible for the U18s this season, but the former Reading youngster, who can also play at centre-back, should step up to the U23s at some point this season.

In addition, midfielder Ben Sheaf is able to play at right-back in an emergency.


tolaji bola

Tolaji Bola

Arsenal U23s are particularly light in this area, with the unconvincing Kristopher Da Graca their most established centre-back.

Marc Bola, who has mainly played at left-back, could revert to playing at the heart of the defence, with Tolaji Bola another option.

Kostas Pileas can also play at centre-back, with youngsters Toby Omole and Joseph Olowu next in line.


marc bola

Marc Bola

Marc Bola should continue as first-choice, with Tyrell Robinson and Pileas also able to feature in this position.

Beyond that, Dominic Thompson, a first-year scholar, could receive a call-up in the event of an injury crisis.


Iwobi and Akpom score as Arsenal conclude pre-season with victory over Manchester City


Arsenal concluded their pre-season programme unbeaten by overcoming Manchester City with a 3-2 victory over Manchester City in Sweden today.

Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom, both of whom have been hugely impressive this pre-season, were on the scoresheet, whilst Theo Walcott also found the net, but Arsenal’s victory came at a cost with Gabriel suffering what appeared to be a serious injury.

Krystian Bielik entered the fray in the closing stages as a replacement for the Brazilian, but Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock and Gedion Zelalem were all unused substitutes.

Iwobi appears to have done enough to command a starting berth for the opening Premier League fixture against Liverpool next weekend, whilst Akpom will hope to at least make the bench for that game after scoring four goals in four friendlies.

Bielik, meanwhile, could also be involved in some capacity against Jurgen Klopp’s side following Gabriel’s injury.


Mavididi hits brace as Arsenal U19s retain Durban International Cup with victory over South Africa


Arsenal U19s retained the Durban International Cup today as they beat South Africa U19s 3-1.

The prolific Stephy Mavididi hit a brace, with South Africa also scoring an own goal to add to their misery.

Despite losing their opening game of the tournament to KZN Academy, Arsenal soon bounced back and registered victories over Sporting Lisbon and Golden Arrows to progress out of the group stages.

The young Gunners then beat TP Mazembe in the semi-finals, with today’s victory seeing them keep hold of the trophy.

Arsenal squad: Hugo Keto, Ben Sheaf, Stephy Mavididi, Kristopher Da Graca, Savvas Mourgos, Marcus McGuane, Josh DaSilva, Donyell Malen, Nathan Tella, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Jordi Osei-Tutu, Kostas Pileas, Tolaji Bola, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe, Toby Omole, Marcelo Allende, Thom Jonkerman. 


Arsenal’s O’Connor heads to Maastricht with further Dutch loans likely 

It has been confirmed that Arsenal defender Stefan O’Connor has joined Dutch second division side Maastricht on a season-long loan. 

The centre-back, a product of Arsenal’s Hale End academy, had been on trial with Maastricht for several weeks and will gain valuable experience of senior football. 

It is anticipated that Glen Kamara and Tafari Moore will also secure loan moves to Dutch sides shortly, with the pair set to join Dordrecht and Utrecht respectively.