Arsenal U21s may have been deprived of several of their most prominent players because of loan spells, and they may yet lose another player in that regard in Gedion Zelalem (via Guardian), but there were still several signs in their opening day victory over Fulham last week that Steve Gatting’s side are set to enjoy a positive season.
With the likes of Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dan Crowley all sent out on loan (via Arsenal.com), you could have been forgiven for thinking that Arsenal’s youngsters would struggle in terms of results this season, especially after they failed to earn promotion back to the top tier of U21 football during the last campaign.
Against Fulham, though, they were impressive throughout even though it took them until the 86th minute to open the scoring when Zelalem applied the finishing touch to an intricate team move to secure a 1-0 win (via Arsenal.com).
Alex Iwobi, the oldest outfield player in the side at just 19 was impressive whilst Jeff Reine-Adelaide flitted between the playmaker and left wing positions as he provided an indication of his potential, whilst never quite scaling the considerable heights of his Emirates Cup performances.
The young Gunners were impressive defensively, with Krystian Bielik and Julio Pleguezuelo forming an effective central-defensive partnership. Full-backs Tafari Moore and Marc Bola, meanwhile, might not be the club’s brightest prospects but they still provided something of an attacking threat with their overlapping runs.
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Striker Stephy Mavididi worked hard but was rather starved of service up front, although his replacement Yassin Fortune did show some promising signs after he was introduced late on.
Once again Arsenal’s U21 side is a very young group and the options available to Gatting will inevitably be depleted even further if more players go on loan or are needed for the senior squad.
A further problem for the Gunners at youth level is that several of the summer signings- Ismael Bennacer, Kostas Pileas, Vlad Dragomir and Donyell Malen- aren’t yet eligible to represent the club competitively as they wait for their transfers to be formally approved by FIFA.
Once those players are available, Arsenal will have a greater array of players to call upon which should, in turn aid results.
The U18s also got off to a positive start, dispatching of Norwich City at London Colney with a 2-0 victory (via Arsenal.com, which was secured courtesy of goals from Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah. Coach Frans de Kat will be wary, though, that his side also enjoyed an excellent opening to last season only to end the campaign as the worst-placed team in the Academy league.
That will surely serve as a warning that, although things have started well for Arsenal at youth level this season, there is still a very, very long way to go.