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Friday, 26 October 2012

Arsenal's left back dilemma: who should start against QPR?

In the absence of Kieran Gibbs at left back, there is room for debate as to who should be his replacement.

Andre Santos has had two consecutively poor performances, at fault for Grant Holt's goal for Norwich and Jan Huntelaar's for Schalke. Both were due to lapses in concentration and perhaps lack of natural defensive instinct, failing to step up with the rest of his defence and thus playing the strikers onside.

Now, does Arsene Wenger keep faith in Santos? He's been a liability recently but he is our sole specialist (heh) left back in Gibbs' absence - and one we paid over £7million for. 

One has to worry though that against the pace of QPR's wingers, the likes of Junior Hoillet and Shaun Wright-Phillips, married with the probable counter-attacking game the Hoops will play against us, Santos will struggle. 

He will leave space in behind due to his natural inclination to go forward and poor positional sense, and I just don't see him matching those attackers for speed. 

Alternatively, Ignasi Miquel could be deployed at left back. As I said yesterday, this is probably my preferred option. The Spaniard is a natural defender, tall, disciplined and relatively quick. He has impressed whenever called upon and would certainly add some solidity to our back four. 

There is also of course Thomas Vermaelen. To be honest the thought of him at centre half against Zamora - which wasn't pretty at times last year - is enough to persuade me that he should start at left back. Not many strikers bully Vermaelen, but Zamora did exactly that at Loftus Road last season. 

The skipper has said he does not like playing at full back, but he is adequate enough in this position to fill in during Gibbs' absence.

What this would also allow is a centre back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker - arguably our strongest partnership. 

Anyway, regardless of who plays it is a very important game. Anything other than three points and I'd predict some fairly vociferous criticism from portions of the crowd towards the team and the boss.

Leave your opinions in the comment section below and don't forget to follow me on Twitter

Up The Arsenal.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Arsenal 0-2 Schalke: post-match thoughts

It wasn't good last night but let's not get carried away. We lost to an extremely good side; they pressed us intensely throughout the match, and possess an attack which could hurt the best. Any team who defeats Borussia Dortmund on their own patch is, by implication, a top side, barring in mind Dortmund beat Real Madrid last night.

Having said that, there are several issues to highlight. Firstly, the decision to shove Podolski out wide. I understand this when we are playing away, as he adds protection down the left flank, but surely when we are at home we should be taking the game to the opposition?

Podolski's influence on the game is significantly reduced when he is shunted on the left. If the reason behind it is that Gervinho won't work as hard in comparison if he plays there, then that is a bit of a joke. Give him a kick up the arse and make him, because the team can't afford to sacrifice Podolski's natural finishing ability as a striker. 

The decision to play Gervinho rather than Giroud was a strange one. The bigman has started to show some form for club and country (forget about Norwich - everyone had a stinker) and would have at least added a focal point to our attack. With Gervinho there we just seem a bit lost a times - as does he.

There was no penetration, pace or cohesion in the final third, nor did we apply any sustained periods of pressure on goal - our sole shot on target was the penultimate kick of the game, by Serge Gnabry.

I joked before the match that I hoped I wouldn't be saying 'the only positive to take from the game was Gnabry', like we all did after Norwich. Unfortunately that was exactly what I said again.

The youngster did well, and mesmerised the crowd with a wonderful scoop turn with his first touch after coming on. He received a harsh lesson though when he gave the ball away in the middle of the park, which led to Schalke's second.

Furthermore, the reactiveness of the players and the coaching staff was quite exasperating. Andre Santos was targeted the whole game. It was abundantly clear he was being left too exposed, defending against Farfan and the constantly overlapping full back Uchida. He clearly needed help. 60,000 fans could see it, Bould must have seen it. But nothing was done.

It's down to the player to scream at his teammates to help him out, but Santos evidently failed to do so. Then it's down to the coaching staff. At half time surely Steve Bould addressed the situation, but it continued throughout. This, it must be said, is very disappointing. You want the team to be alert and proactive, instead they were mute and reactive. Nothing was done. And we faced the consequences.

I don't want to be overly critical but Santos is not a defender. As well as playing Huntelaar onside for their opening goal, he also played Holt onside against Norwich. In Gibbs' absence, I would be inclined to choose Miquel at left back. A natural defender, tall, disciplined and by no means a slouch.

The past days have really highlighted the unpredictability of the Champions League. I think to remain objective about the Schalke game you must notice how the gap in quality between teams has drastically reduced; United scrape past an average Braga side, Chelsea deservedly beaten by Shaktar, Juve scraping a draw against Danish part-timers, Malaga beating Milan, Barca needing a scruffy last gasp winner against Celtic, Madrid losing to a Dortmund side that lost to Schalke, and so on.

Just a few weeks ago we were praising the apparent strength in depth of our squad. However last night Giroud was our only first team player on the bench, and we face the familiar scenario of a squad depleted through injury.

We are second in our group and finishing top is still achievable, so it's not quite time to get your bin bags out. With the likes of Walcott, Chamberlain and Wilshere to return, plus our first choice left back, right back....and keeper(s)...and Diaby...and Rosicky....and Frimpong...ah fuck it, somebody go give Colin Lewin a hand.

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Monday, 22 October 2012

U21 report + highlights, Everton 1-2 Arsenal: Wilshere completes another 90 minutes

Terry Burton's U21 side managed to build on their 2-0 home win over Reading a fortnight ago by beating Everton at their Finch Farm Training Complex on Monday afternoon.

There are several positives to be taken from the match, most notably Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Frimpong completing another 90 minutes in their road to fitness.

After a lapse of concentration by Ignasi Miquel, which Apostolos Vellios promptly capitalised on, Thomas Eisfeld scored an excellent brace to secure the 2-1 victory for the Gunners.

The young German was inches away from a hatrick when he unleashed a powerful effort on goal from distance, only for it to cannon off the woodwork.

Eisfeld, who contributed with six goals and six assists in 12 games last year for Borussia Dortmund U19s, clearly has a natural ability to create and score goals. He has shown this on a number of occasions already since joining Arsenal, netting twice in the pre-season tour of Asia and grabbing four goals in eight games in the U21 league.

Goalscoring midfielders at Arsenal have been a rarity since the days of Bobby Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, so Eisfeld could prove to be an invaluable asset in the coming years.

Wilshere showed his quality throughout, with some sweeping passes and a clever assist for Eisfeld's second, cutting in from the right and playing in his teammate whose finish was clinical.

Burton will be pleased with the way his side recovered after going a goal down early on, in a match which proved much tougher than the comfortable 3-0 home win in the corresponding fixture earlier this season.

A trip to France now beckons for Arsenal's young guns, where they face Marseille in the Next Gen Series on Thursday - a game they cannot afford to lose. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Wilshere's recovery continues with behind-closed-doors friendly against Chelsea

Tomorrow, an Arsenal side comprising of a mixture of U21 and first team players will take on Chelsea at London Colney. The friendly has been arranged to continue the recuperation of Jack Wilshere after a 14 month injury lay-off, as well as Emmanuel Frimpong and Bacary Sagna.

All three featured in the reserves' match against Reading last week, with Wilshere receiving over 70 minutes, Sagna an hour, and Frimpong the whole game. However they were unable to immediately build on this due to the absence of a fixture the following week. Thus, the club have arranged the private friendly against Chelsea.

There will be no regulations with regards to age tomorrow, so expect further players on the fringes of first team football to feature, such as Andre Santos, Francis Coquelin and Sebastian Squillaci. It will be a beneficial and perhaps necessary exercise in maintaining their fitness levels.

With Kieran Gibbs hobbling off in the game against West Ham almost a fortnight ago, meaning he is now "very doubtful" for Norwich on Saturday, it is vital for Santos to be in prime condition in the readiness of a return to the starting line-up.

Marouane Chamakh may well begin up front, and Andrey Arshavin, who has received scarce first-team football this season, is also likely to feature.

Martin Angha will be one of the several U21 players unavailable due to international commitments, however Kris Olsson is available and striker Chuba Akpom, who only just turned 17, earning his first professional contract in the process, takes a place on the bench.

With the friendly against Chelsea and another U21 game against Everton next Monday, there is plenty of game time for Jack Wilshere in his pursuit of fitness, and Arsenal fans can certainly be hopeful of a return in time for Reading away in the League Cup at the end of October. Fingers crossed. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pat Holland departs from his role as Arsenal U18 manager

Just seven games into his tenure as manager of Arsenal U18s, Pat Holland has left his role at the club due to "personal reasons", according to the official website.

However one must presume the management of the academy were not satisfied with the way the season was progressing for Holland's side, and thought the players were not fulfilling their potential.

At U18 level the results are not the be all and end all - it is more about developing the youngsters by providing them with experience and quality training. Liam Brady, the director of Arsenal's academy, may have been unconvinced by Holland's methods at London Colney, or thought his management skills were outdated.

Holland's style on the touchline was criticised for being unconstructive, shouting traditional cliches like 'cross it in' and 'get tight' (via @deanafc1989). Some of the players at Arsenal's disposal may not respond to such instructions and this could perhaps be seen in the side's poor form and failure to improve it with any consistency.

Holland began his season with the U18s with a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Bolton, and ended it with a 3-0 home defeat to Reading. The results in between were more encouraging, however, with two convincing 3-0 wins over Norwich and West Ham, and also a 2-1 dispatch of Everton. These wins were sandwiched by draws to Blackburn and West Brom, so it was certainly a mixed bag for Holland.

In truth one would only be speculating to explain his departure at this moment in time. One thing is for certain though: his replacement will be former U16 manager Steve Gatting, who has been working as the U18 assistant manager this year. He has coached at Arsenal for five years and played for the Gunners 76 times in the late 1970s, so has a wealth of experience with the club.

In other news, Sanchez Watt scored the winner last weekend for Colchester with a well taken strike, while Chuks Aneke played the full 90 minutes for Crewe and by all accounts was one of their most influential players, despite losing.

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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chuba Akpom signs professional terms at Arsenal

Arsenal forward Chuba Akpom has had a lot to celebrate recently in what has been a whirlwind couple months for the youngster, cemented by today's news that he has signed his first professional contract upon turning 17.

Akpom follows Jack Jebb and Austin Lipman in signing professionally with the club, in what has been a busy month of youth football at The Arsenal.

Akpom, who made his debut for the U18s just two years ago in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, incidentally alongside midfielder Jebb, has progressed from one level to the next this year.

He made his debut for Terry Burton's reserve side in the pre-season game at Borehamwood, where he scored a penalty and impressed generally, and since then, has established himself as a fixture in the team, keeping out the considerably more experienced Sanchez Watt.

As I said in a previous article, Akpom's strengths are varied. At 6ft2, he has the physical attributes - especially when married with his excellent hold up play and awareness - to make an effective target man. He also has the vision and skill to excel on the left wing or indeed in the no.10 position, just behind the main striker.

Such a multi-faceted skillset is rare to find in a man so young, not to mention his tremendous work rate and down-to-earth attitude.

Akpom has also shone on the international stage. He was called up to Noel Blake's England U19 side in September, at the age of 16, alongside stars such as Liverpool's Raheem Sterling and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse. He scored three goals in two games for Blake's side, as well as grabbing an assist. Quite a return.

After scoring his last goal as a sixteen year old last night in the 2-0 defeat of Reading U21s - his first goal at reserve level - the young striker can dream of a trip to the Madjeski Stadium with Arsene Wenger's side, where they face eachother in the League Cup later this month.

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I interviewed the man himself not too long ago, which you can check out here.

You can send your congratulations in to Chuba, too

Monday, 8 October 2012

Wilshere and Sagna make comebacks as Arsenal U21s ease past Reading

Arsenal's second string are back to winning ways after dispatching their Reading counterparts 2-0 at Underhill on Monday evening.

Despite an array of first team players in the starting line up, it was Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom who sealed the points for the Gunners.

Terry Burton's midfield comprised of first team stars such as Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin in what was a very strong side.

Hugely encouraging news for Gooners is that Bacary Sagna made his return to action, receiving an hour at right back as scheduled and leaving the pitch unscathed. It was the first step in what will be a gradual process towards match fitness.

His absence from the first team this season has been somewhat compensated for by the form of Carl Jenkinson, however the Frenchman's eventual return to first team football (fingers crossed) will provide a massive boost to the side.

Burton also had F1 racer turned football superstar Andre Santos at his disposal, deploying the Brazilian at left back. Despite featuring in the 3-1 defeat of West Ham on Saturday, replacing the injured Kieran Gibbs, Santos played the full 90 minutes tonight. Wenger obviously sees the need to maintain the 29 year old's fitness levels, and reserve team football is extremely beneficial in this respect.

Keown Junior...I wouldn't miss a penalty around him
Despite imposing centre half Niall Keown in the Reading side, son of Arsenal legend Martin, Arsenal took the lead three minutes before half time after some excellent link up play between Frimpong, Wilshere and Eisfeld. It was the latter who then slid the ball into Gnabry, who confidently chopped the ball inside and curled it home with his weaker left foot.

Gnabry, tipped as a "star of the future" by Wenger, impressed yet again, and could certainly be fast- tracked into first team football this year following his appearance in the League Cup against Coventry.

Arsenal centre back Sead Hajrovic almost gifted the visitors an equaliser just minutes into the second half, but Adam Le Fondre failed to capitalise on the Swiss's poor back pass. Hajrovic, hitherto criticised for a lack of concentration, will not have helped his cause with that.

Frimpong then should have scored after being put through by Coquelin, but he showed a real lack of composure and scuffed it wide.

Thankfully the points were sealed when Chuba Akpom nodded home from close range, anticipating Ignasi Miquel's flick on following a Wilshere corner. It was Akpom's last goal as a 16 year old, and the forward can expect a professional contract upon turn seventeen this week.

All in all a highly satisfactory evening for Arsenal in front of an onlooking Arsene Wenger, who will be hopeful of including Wilshere and Sagna in his plans for the coming months.

Click here to follow me on Twitter for more on Arsenal and youth football, or if you just want some TLC during the international break.

And click here for highlights of the Reading game.

Arsenal loan watch - Denilson and Aneke score wonder goals

Hello Gooners,

Been a bit quiet on here lately as I've been spending most of my spare time doing stuff for The Sport Review and Gingers4Limpar, which you can check out here and here.

Chuks Aneke scored a beautiful equaliser for Crewe Alexandra in their 2-1 defeat of Hartlepool last weekend, sweeping the ball first time over the 'keeper from outside the box. The nineteen year old's loan spell at Crewe has been extended, and Arsenal obviously regard it as a place where he can develop. Barring in mind the Cheshire club brought through Nick Powell, who is now at Manchester United, one can understand this decision.

Check out Chuks' screamer by clicking here.

Denilson scored his first for Sao Paulo in their game versus Palmeiras, with a magnificent effort. Following a corner, the ball fell to him around 40 yards out, he took a touch unopposed, and just whacked it into the top corner. Watch it here.

I saw young forward Phillip Roberts in action for Inverness, where Arsenal have agreed a deal to send youth players to develop. He impressed me, working hard, looking lively and pulling off a magnificent defence splitting pass, only for his teammate to squander a one-on-one.

On a serious note, Benik Afobe, on loan at Bolton, was a victim of racist abuse from Millwall fans last weekend, along with teammate Marvin Sordell. Hopefully the FA will dish out the appropriate punishment to the offending fans, although knowing their incompetence this is unlikely.

Anyway, sorry to leave you on such a distasteful note, and expect to see a bit more action from me on here in the coming days.

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Monday, 24 September 2012

Arsenal have the foundations of a title winning side

It is a telling indication of how far this team has progressed when the general consensus from our fans was one of disappointment after coming home from Manchester with just a point from the league champions.

There are numerous positives to be taken, particularly regarding individual performances. Per Mertesacker was supreme in defence, intercepting almost everything that came his way. He really has stamped his authority in the team this season, and the fact he has forced Wenger to keep Koscielny on the bench tells a story on its own. 

In terms of the defence overall, I think a bit of objectiveness is needed to really appreciate their achievements this season. 

BUNDLE!.jpgSo, we were essentially without the three most important members of our back five yesterday; no Szczesny, no Sagna and no Vermaelen, who was ruled out on the day of the match with a bout of flu. In previous years, we would most probably have been doomed. But such is our strength in depth that we kept the £120 million Manchester City strike force at bay for most of the game. Who would have thought that? 

Let's look back at the 0-0 draw at Stoke earlier this season too. We kept a clean sheet against a side even the strongest of defences struggle to keep out, without our first choice 'keeper or our right back! 

Credit must be given to Steve Bould, but at the end of the day it is the players who perform on the pitch, and it is they who deserve the lion share of the plaudits. 

Carl Jenkinson - while still naturally showing signs of inexperience, particularly in his sometimes sloppy passing - has excelled at right back, producing displays that Bacary Sagna would struggle to outdo. 

The Frenchman should not take his return to the first team for granted - the way Jenkinson is going he'll have to earn his place in the starting line up! What most fans love about Jenko is that he really is a Gooner. The fact we sing 'Carl Jenkinson, he's got Arsenal PJs!' shows how much the fans appreciate his commitment and desire. I loved Gary Neville's comment after the City game too:

"I don't know him, but the kid looks like he would run through a brick wall for you."  

His galloping run in the first half, where he seemed destined to lose out to Joleon Lescott, certainly supports this statement. He ran almost the length of the pitch and tenaciously bundled his way past the defender, then intelligently cut the ball back for Lukas Podolski who fired his shot wildly over the bar. 

When Gary Neville compliments you, especially a right back, you know you've done well.

Another positive in terms of our defensive strength this season is Kieran Gibbs. Once tipped as Arsenal's natural replacement for A$hley Cole, the left back has been blighted by injury and has struggled to sustain any concerted period of form. However, this season Gibbs seems to have burgeoned into a proper full back; defensively astute, showing new signs of maturity, and offensively dangerous, acting as an auxiliary attacker to great effect. 

This offers a new dimension tactically to our left hand side. With Podolski/Cazorla deployed here, they will naturally drift inward creating space out wide - which is where Gibbs comes in. We saw glimpses of this against Liverpool - if I remember correctly it was a Cazorla pass which set up the onrushing Gibbs in the box, only to have his shot saved by Pepe Reina. This could be a significant attacking outlet for Arsenal this season, especially with Olivier Giroud’s aerial threat in the box.

Moreover, Podolski’s commendable work rate down the left flank is very important to the side, and something certainly instilled by Steve Bould. His defensive work in the 2-0 win at Anfield was vital, ensuring Gibbs was never left exposed. While his performance against Manchester City was hardly exhilarating, he continued to work hard, protecting his full back.

The foundation of every winning side is a solid defence, and this season Arsenal seem to have exactly that. 


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Arsenal U21s fail to impress ahead of Capital One Cup tie

Terry Burton's reserves side faced West Ham United at their East London Old Ford Sports Ground on Friday, hoping to ensure their preceding result - the 1-1 draw at home to Norwich City - was just a minor blemish in an otherwise 100% start to the season.

However, this was not to be, as West Ham dispatched their Arsenal counterparts 4-1 in what was a disappointing display from the Gunners.

Despite taking the lead after just five minutes through centre back Elton Monteiro's bullet header, Arsenal failed to cope with the relentless pressure from the Hammers and conceded two goals in each half.

Sticking to his promise after the Norwich game, Burton gave starts to those he rested, making eight changes in total. Samir Bihmoutine was handed his first appearance of the season at left back, while Serge Gnabry returned after the knock he received against Olympiakos in the Next Gen Series last week.

Sanchez Watt retained his place upfront, perhaps due to the absence of Chuba Akpom who is in Estonia with England U19s, while Nico Yennaris returned to his berth in defensive midfield. He was partnered by versatile Dutchman Kyle Ebecilio, who has impressed intermittently this season.

Few players shone; there were glimpses of magic from Gnabry, and Hector Bellerin was by all accounts a dangerous attacking threat when he came on after the hour mark.

However, Burton's decision to make such a large reshuffle to the team certainly backfired. The defence lacked organisation and experience while the forward players showed little end product.

The torrential rain may have played a part in what was a disjointed and generally lacklustre performance from Burton's men, however it was the same for both sides.

This was the final window of opportunity for some of these youngsters to impress before the League Cup tie against Coventry this Wednesday, but it did not go the way they would have planned.

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Arsenal looking to the future as Jebb and Lipman sign professional contracts

Last week Arsenal fans were greeted by the news that midfielder Jack Jebb had signed professional terms with the club, upon turning seventeen. Just a week later, it was the same outcome for industrious forward Austin Lipman, who will look to continue impressing in Pat Holland's U18 side.

For both, this is just a stepping stone in their embryonic careers. However, after Arsene Wenger's recent comments, there is reason to take considerable encouragement.

After being asked if he thought clubs would continue spending big rather than focusing on promoting youngsters from within, Wenger had this to say about our academy:

"When you look at the quality of the players born in 1995/96/97, the number of good players coming out is absolutely massive" (via @ZPAFC)

This is clearly said with Jebb and Lipman in mind, who are both born in '95. Gedion Zelalem is another outstanding prospect. The athletic midfielder was described as the most talented player in the academy by Swedish star Kris Olsson, despite being born in 1997. Alex Iwobi, nephew of Jay Jay Okocha, has also impressed, as has sixteen year old prolific striker Jordan Brown.

Jebb is considered by many to be one of the most promising players coming through the Arsenal system. Despite some underwhelming performances this season, the midfielder is a superb passer of the ball and possesses tremendous technical ability. He made his debut for Arsenal's U18 side two years ago in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, alongside 16 year old forward Chuba Akpom who has, it must be said, left Jebb behind in terms of progress, having distinguished himself as a fixture in Burton's reserve side.

Jebb, on the other hand, is yet to make an appearance in the second string, which will now be his primary target. He imposed himself in the U18 side last year, performing seven times under Steve Bould's tutelage, scoring a well taken free kick against Leicester City in the process.

Lipman has impressed for both club and country and has showed some real signs of progress, scoring an excellent goal last week for Arsenal's U18s against Norwich. His aim for this season will be to establish himself as a fixture in Pat Holland's side, and then possibly think of featuring in the reserves.

The future looks bright.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Arsenal's 2012/13 Champions League Squad | youth round-up

Good afternoon Gooners, sorry for the lack of action over the past week or so. 
Today, Arsenal released their squad for this season's Champions League. The most notable addition is seventeen year old German winger Serge Gnabry, perhaps vindicating rumours he will be fast-tracked into the first team this year. 

Below is the preliminary squad. Please note the so called 'B list' has yet to be confirmed, but will most likely contain the likes of Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, so refrain from freaking out when you don't see those names below!


1. Wojciech Szczesny, 

21. Lukas Fabianski, 

24. Vito Mannone


3. Bacary Sagna, 

4. Per Mertesacker, 

5. Thomas Vermaelen, 

6. Laurent Koscielny, 

11. Andre Santos, 

18. Seb Squillaci, 

20. Johan Djourou, 

25. Carl Jenkinson, 

28. Kieran Gibbs


2. Abou Diaby, 

7. Tomas Rosicky, 

8. Mikel Arteta, 

15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 

16. Aaron Ramsey, 

19. Santi Cazorla, 

23. Andrey Arshavin, 

27. Gervinho, 

47, Serge Gnabry


9. Lukas Podolski, 

12. Olivier Giroud, 

14. Theo Walcott, 

29. Marouane Chamakh

Youth round-up

Over the last week or so there has been lots of snippets of news concerning Arsenal youngsters.

Firstly, sixteen year old striker Chuba Akpom has flown to Germany with Noel Blake's England U19 squad, for a friendly against their national side. He has done well in training, alongside the likes of Raheem Sterling (who played against Arsenal's first team for Liverpool last weekend) and James Ward-Prowse of Southampton, and will be looking to continue his remarkable progress in this fixture.

On Monday night Arsenal's U21 side defeated their Everton counterparts 3-0 at Underhill, with goals from Sanchez Watt (two penalties) and Dutchman Kyle Ebecilio, continuing their 100% start to the season. 

Pat Holland's U18 side beat the same opponent 2-1 at London Colney, coming from behind to deservedly take all three points. Captain Isaac Hayden scored a well taken goal, while winger Tarum Dawkins scored a curling effort after an excellent Arsenal move. 

Moreover, Arsenal have announced a partnership with Inverness, in an attempt to offer our youngsters more first team experience by sending them on loan. Striker Phillip Roberts was first to make the move to Scotland.  

Macedonian U17 'keeper Dejan Iliev was brought in, adding further competition to this position in Pat Holland's U18 side. 

Arsenal's U19 side cruised past Marseille in their first Next Gen match of the campaign, beating the French team 3-0. Goals from Nico Yennaris and Chuba Akpom (x2) cemented an exhilarating performance from Terry Burton's youngsters, who face Olympiacos in Greece next in the competition.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Arsenal U21s continue 100% start to the season with 3-0 win over Blackburn

Terry Burton's side made it two wins from two for the Gunners in the reformatted U21 league. With the first Next Gen match of the year on Wednesday in mind, he made several changes from the team that beat Bolton the previous week, and this time decided to take advantage of the three over-age players rule, with Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt starting. Martin Angha came in at right back, and had a very good game, while Daniel Boateng partnered Ignasi Miquel at centre back. Chuba Akpom retained his place up front, but Kris Olsson was dropped to the bench and Serge Gnabry was not involved at all.

In truth, Blackburn offered very little in this game, and James Shea in the Arsenal goal barely had a save to make. Arsenal took the lead inside fifteen minutes through Sanchez Watt's clinical finish, after being played in by a defence splitting reverse ball by 19 year old Chuks Aneke.

The hosts were playing some good football, and were clearly far superior to their Blackburn counterparts. The Gunners' lead was almost doubled five minutes from half time, when Eastmond capitalised on an awful pass by the opposition defender and played in Watt. The forward unleashed a rasping effort which the goalkeeper did well to palm away, only for the ball to fall at the feet of Aneke who, with the goal at his mercy, had his shot miraculously cleared off the line by Blackburn's Raheem Henley.

On the brink of half time, however, Arsenal did double their advantage. Conor Henderson played a lovely ball inside the opposition full back to the onrushing Angha, whose cross was dummied by Akpom and fell to Thomas Eisfeld, who dispatched confidently. The German clearly has a natural instinct of being in the right place at the right time, and continues his fine goalscoring form.

The torrential weather conditions certainly contributed to the lacklustre second half, and there was little to get excited about. The atmosphere became subdued as news of Robin van P€r$i€'s goal for Manchester United filtered through, but the 5,600 fans had something to cheer about after 70 minutes, when Henderson's long range shot deflected past Urwin in the Blackburn goal.

The fact that sixteen year old Chuba Akpom retained his position up front, forcing Sanchez Watt out wide, is a clear indication of how highly Burton rates him. The forward did well today, playing to his strengths. He held it up, brought others into the game and worked tirelessly, while also threatening with a couple shots. It's only a matter of time before he scores his first competitive reserve goal.

Thomas Eisfeld did well too, again deployed on the right side of midfield. In addition to his goal, the German contributed to most dangerous Arsenal moves, and was at times very difficult to defend against, with his clever bursts of movement. Goalscoring midfielders are revered at The Arsenal, and just as Freddie Ljungberg bows out of the game, we can have another one to look forward to.

Martin Angha was impressive at right back, despite having little to defend against. He acted as an auxiliary attacker to great effect, with several overlapping runs and crosses, including one that led to Arsenal's second.

There's not much else to report really. Henderson did well, and Ebecilio impressed again after coming on as a substitute. Arsenal's U18 side drew 2-2 away to Blackburn, with Jon Toral scoring again, while the U16s drew 1-1.

Next up for Burton's men teenagers is Marseille on Wednesday, in the first game of the new Next Gen series - a match these youngsters will relish.

'Till next time.

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Friday, 24 August 2012

The end of Project Youth? Non - just Wenger being pragmatic

There have been a few blogs written recently raising the question as to whether or not Arsene Wenger's 'Project Youth' has come to its end. It has not, in my opinion, and anyone who says it has is being shortsighted.

Indeed, there is an argument to suggest so; over the last two years, we have signed ten players over the age of 25. While this is a clear indication that Arsene is acknowledging the fact his side requires more experience to be successful, it does not signal the end of Project Youth per se.

In my view, this is just Wenger being pragmatic, for a change. He has realised his philosophy of developing academy players into a title-winning side has failed. That is why he has brought the likes of Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski in. But this means he is just placing less reliance on his philosophy; not ending it. There is a difference.

I also think Wenger has realised he does not have enough time to carry on placing as much of an emphasis on his youth project. Fans are losing patience and demand success immediately. There is no long-term picture in the minds of so many supporters. And I think Wenger has adapted to the climate he is in and sought to almost appease his critics, whilst simultaneously improving the team - just not in the way he idealises.

So yes, ostensibly, there is reason to believe Wenger is ending his youth project. But my friends, this is incorrect. Had this been true, Barcelona starlets Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin would not have been brought in as part of the deal for Cesc Fabregas. Nor would teen sensations Kris Olsson and Kyle Ebecilio, or Gedion Zelalem and Serge Gnabry. Had this been true, the latter would not have been asked to join the first team training camp in Cologne. Why would we have bothered? Or what about 19 year old Thomas Eisfeld, signed last January from Dortmund; why would Wenger have signed him if he did not envisage a future for him at the club?

Let's put it this way: Kieran Gibbs, an academy graduate, would have been long gone had Wenger 'given up' on his youth ideology. He has been blighted with injuries and struggled to maintain any consistent level of performance. Now tell me, don't you think he'd have been replaced by a more experienced and, to put it bluntly, better player?

Wojceich Szczesny is another player who can support my argument. Here is a young man with natural leadership skills and maturity beyond his years. To give a 22 year old full responsibility as your club's number one 'keeper surely dispels the myth that Wenger no longer has faith in youth.  

Project Youth is a long term process. Indeed, it may have been temporarily suspended, due to the aforementioned reasons. But make no mistake, Wenger's legacy will continue and in years to come, our side will comprise of players such as Ryo Miyaichi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Campbell, Kris Olsson, Serge Gnabry, and so on.

While in the short-term, these players, barring Oxlade-Chamberlain, will face limited first team action, spending most of their time on loan or on the fringes, they will be there in the future, more or less, forming the nucleus of the next generation.

Look at Chelsea. They have an ageing side and have released some of their biggest names. But they didn't have any players to promote from within as replacements. Consequently they have spent astronomical sums of money again to rebuild their side, with players like Hazard and Oscar coming in.

Compare this to Arsenal. While I am no psychic and can't give a definitive answer as to how our current crop of young stars will develop, it is more than likely that in the future we will have a group of players who have come through the ranks and are ready to fill the gaps, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere as the fulcrums in the side.

I do realise I am now somewhat speculating, but I'm doing so to prove my point; signing a group of experienced players does not end Wenger's youth project, his life and soul. It will remain with longevity, and players will continue to choose Arsenal for their faith in youth, as Cesc Fabregas did, as Aaron Ramsey did, and as Kris Olsson did.

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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Arsenal's new coaching additions | EPPP info

Arsenal have confirmed that Pat Holland has replaced Steve Bould as manager of the U18 side. He is joined by former U16 manager Steve Gatting, who has been promoted to assistant professional development coach (essentially Holland's right hand man). 

Holland, a West Ham legend, has previous coaching experience with the youth teams of Tottenham (over 20 years ago) and also Leyton Orient. It was the latter who handed him his first managerial job in 1995, although it proved to be unsuccessful and he was sacked the following year. In recent times he has been employed as Chief Scout at Millwall and Milton Keynes Dons.

Former Arsenal player Kwame Ampadu was also introduced, being handed the role of youth development coach. Like Holland, Ampadu has a connection with Leyton Orient, having played for them between 1998-2000. His most recent job was U18 coach at Exeter City.

Arsenal's recent coaching additions are a consequence of the Premier League's new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), which ensures youth players receive the necessary time with coaches to maximise their potential in a footballing and academic sense. 

The FA realised too few clubs placed the appropriate emphasis on education for their youngsters, and have sought to rectify this (surprisingly proactive by their standards). Manchester City and indeed Arsenal were two of the best in this regard, but many other clubs were not of the same standard.

Not only does the EPPP aim to increase the number of homegrown players appearing for their side's first team, but also aid those who fail to make the grade.
"The Elite Player Performance Plan is a long-term strategy designed to take Premier League youth development to the next level", says Ged Roddy, Director of Youth at the Premier League.
"Widespread consultation has taken place across the game to address how a modernised youth system can be sustained which will provide the best platform to support the aspirations of our Home Grown Players to succeed in the biggest leagues", 
"The new system will create greater access to players so that they can receive more time to train and prepare effectively for a career in the Premier League". 
The old reserve league format has been completely revamped into a new U21 system, as many will know by now. Clubs are split into categories 1 to 4, with 1 hosting the elite. This is where Arsenal sit, in the same group as Bolton, Blackburn, Everton, West Brom, Reading, West Ham, and Norwich.

Three over-age players are allowed in each side, plus one over-age goalkeeper. This means first team players on their way back from injury can still gain match fitness in the second string, and also provides fringe players with an opportunity to impress.

So far, though, Terry Burton has opted to ignore this concession, leaving out players such as Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond for the likes of Serge Gnabry (17) and Chuba Akpom (16). Burton's faith in his younger players has been vindicated, with the latter pair shining despite still being eligible for Holland's U18 side.

"The new U21 Premier League addresses one of the most critical points - the transition from Academy football to the highest standards in the first team" 
- Richard Scudamore, Premier League Chief Executive 

It is difficult to judge how successful the change will be at this moment in time, but as the season progresses, assessments can start to be made.

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'Till next time

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Akpom's England U19 call up cements a terrific month for the youngster

Sixteen year old Arsenal forward Chuba Akpom has progressed from one level to the next in the past month.

After making his debut for Terry Burton's reserve side just four weeks ago, Akpom has now been called up to England's U19 squad, alongside players such as Nathan Redmond (Birmingham) and James Ward-Prowse (Southampton) - with the latter starting for The Saints against Premier League champions Manchester City last week.

England U19 manager Noel Blake is usually a good judge of talent, and his side will take on Germany in a friendly this September. It will be a stern test for Akpom, who has not ceased to impress so far and will be confident of continuing his fine form.

Playing for England's U19 side when just sixteen years old shouldn't be a problem for the striker, who first appeared for Arsenal U18s at fifteen. At this age he almost made the England U19 squad, but remained on standby.

Akpom's strengths are varied. At 6ft2, he has the physical attributes - especially when married with his excellent hold up play and awareness - to make an effective target man. He also has the vision and skill to excel on the left wing or indeed in the no.10 position, just behind the main striker.

Such a multi-faceted skillset is rare to find in a man so young, not to mention his high work rate and down-to-earth attitude.

I asked Chuba some questions:

On the last month..."Its been really good. I had a good pre-season, especially scoring on my debut for the reserves against Boreham Wood. My main focus is to keep this run of form going"

On his England call up..."I'm really honoured to be selected to play for England U19s at just 16 years of age. It will be a great experience, and highly beneficial for my development as a footballer" 

On familiar faces in the squad..."I'm good mates with Raheem Sterling, we play a lot of football together during the summer break. He is a great player, I'm glad we are in the same squad"

'Til next time, and remember to Follow me on Twitter.

You can follow Chuba here.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Report: Arsenal U21s 3-1 Bolton U21s

Terry Burton's U21 side played their first match in the reformatted reserve league against Bolton tonight.

After dominating much of the first half, Arsenal were dealt a major blow when goalkeeper Emi Martinez was deservedly shown a red card after bringing down Bolton's striker, who had just rounded him. The penalty was duly dispatched and the half finished 1-0 to the visitors.

Some Terry Burton words of wisdom must have done the trick at the interval, as his side came out almost rejuvenated in the second half, and didn't have to wait long for the equaliser.

Young German midfielder Thomas Eisfeld continued his impressive goalscoring record for the Gunners with a tap in after some tidy play between Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom - which resulted in the latter striking the woodwork.

Eisfeld seems to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time, as he showed tonight and also with his goals during the pre-season tour of Asia.

Conor Henderson then exhibited his expertise from dead ball situations, firstly with a superb free kick to make it 2-1, and then a thumping penalty to give the Gunners a two goal cushion.

The team showed tremendous character against a physical Bolton side, who had a man advantage for most of the game. Burton will be delighted with the response of his players after half time, and they obviously listened to what he had to say. Next up for the U21s is Blackburn on Saturday, which is also at The Emirates.

Player Focus (on most influential performers):

James Shea

The young goalkeeper was excellent after replacing Martinez in goal, at the expense of Kris Olsson. His first involvement was to pick the ball out the back of the net from a penalty but numerous impressive saves followed. Most notably, a double save Wojciech Szczsney would have been proud of. The ball was cut back to Bolton's striker and from no more than 10 yards out, shot straight at the keeper, who sprung to his feet instantly to block the rebound. First team goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton will have been impressed.

Hector Bellerin

The Barca import played at right back today, and struggled defensively at times. He grew in confidence as the game progressed, however, offering more of an attacking threat. Having said that, he missed a glorious opportunity to give Arsenal the lead, after great work from Gnabry on the right. 

Nico Yennaris

Yennaris was deployed in central midfield, his natural position, and in my opinion was Arsenal's man of the match. Having performed for the first team on three occasions - including a match against Manchester United - Yennaris added real composure to the Arsenal midfield. 

He did the simple things excellently - which is easier said than done. He broke up play, distributed possession adroitly and made a couple bursting runs forward. For a man so small he is deceptively strong - particularly in his upper body, and was not afraid to put himself about. While most of the plaudits will be aimed at Conor Henderson and Serge Gnabry, I thought Yennaris delivered a stellar performance this evening. 

"He's so good to play with", says Chuba Akpom, "he works hard and plays simple football".

Conor Henderson

The fulcrum in the side, Henderson cemented his impressive performance with two goals from dead ball situations, most notably a curling free kick from 20 yards out. 

An excellent passer of the ball, my only criticism - which I have noted after watching him in all the reserves' pre season friendlies this year - is that he tries to force play too often, constantly searching for the killer ball. As the saying goes, "football is simple yet the hardest thing to do is playing simple football". Nonetheless, Henderson played well. 

Serge Gnabry

Another fine performance from the 17 year old German, whose bullish runs and deceptive trickery are becoming somewhat of a trademark. He displayed his dexterity as a winger with an excellent first time cross with his weaker left foot in the first half, followed by some great pieces of movement to spin in behind the opposing full back. 

The mouths of the 4,000+ Arsenal fans were watered after a scintillating piece of skill by Gnabry in the second half, where he rode a tackle and then, in the blink of an eye, turned magnificently past three defenders and delivered a dangerous cross. 

Thomas Eisfeld

Like his compatriot, Eisfeld impressed again, despite struggling to impose himself on the game in spells.  He demonstrated his tremendous technical ability on numerous occasions, for example a little burst of pace from midfield followed by a Fabregas-esq scooped through ball which almost created a goal for Akpom. 

Again, he tended to drift inside from his wide right position, suggesting he is most comfortable when operating centrally. He scored the equaliser and was one of Arsenal's most dangerous attackers, so will have impressed the onlooking Arsene Wenger. 

Chuba Akpom

As ever, 16 year old Akpom delivered an industrious performance, and deserved a goal. Despite several cynical fouls from behind, leaving his ankles "destroyed", the striker continued to hassle and harry, and displayed his willingness to run in behind.

In the opening stages, Akpom played a cute reverse ball into Gnabry and the German should have scored. But for a fine last ditch tackle from Bolton's Niall Maher, Akpom would have given Arsenal the lead, and was unlucky not to score later on after his shot hit the post - only for Eisfeld to convert the rebound.

Akpom played to his strengths and has made huge progress in the last couple months. Evidently, he is making a firm impression on Terry Burton.

Thanks for reading and feel free to Follow me on Twitter.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Which U18s can Arsenal fans expect to see in this year's Capital One Cup?

New reserve team boss Terry Burton has had a mixed start to his reign, winning twice, drawing once and losing on the solitary occasion. Despite this, pre-season for Arsenal's second string has provided the fans with some exciting glimpses of what is to come. I was present for all the reserves' pre-season fixtures, excluding Chesham, and hope to provide some insight as to who could make the step up to first team football this year. 

Chuba Akpom 

Akpom with Neymar

The 16 year old excelled in his reserve team debut a fortnight ago, in the 3-1 victory over non-league side Boreham Wood. The England U16 international is most effective as a centre forward, and possesses a balance between technical and physical prowess rare to find in a man so young. 

He confidently dispatched his penalty against the Hertfordshire side and impressed with his hold up play and work rate. The following week, in the 0-0 draw at Stevenage, Akpom struggled to impose himself on the game, exacerbated by the lack of service he received.  Despite this, he continued hassling and harrying and was ever willing to run in behind, so he should take encouragement from that performance. 

Akpom was rested for the midweek game against Dartford, but received a massive break the following day as he was asked to train with the first team. Chuba told me he 'fitted in well' alongside stars such as Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, showing how far he has developed as a player in the last year or so.

Akpom entered the fray after an hour in the 6-2 thrashing of Chesham and impressed again, posing a constant threat to the opposition defence and scoring in the process. Two goals in his first three matches for the reserves will certainly please Burton and his coaching staff, and place the youngster in contention for Capital One Cup football this term.  

Kris Olsson

Like Akpom, Olsson made his debut for the reserves against Boreham Wood. He handled himself impressively from his central position, constantly seeking possession and trying to create. The 17 year old scored a delicate lob which epitomised his ability, vision, awareness, and confidence. The latter trait is emphasised by the fact he didn't feel nervous 'at all' when taking his penalty vs Southampton for the first team - which he scored with aplomb. 

His physical strength is arguably the only thing restricting him at the moment from featuring in the Capital One Cup. On the other hand, the coaching staff had enough confidence in the Swede's ability to select him for the Southampton friendly. 

Against Stevenage, Olsson struggled to influence proceedings in what was a dire match. He publicly stated how disappointed he was with his individual performance, although he was playing a solid team and shouldn't feel disheartened. 

He did not come off the bench against Dartford, but grabbed another 60 minutes at Chesham. I spoke to Chuba and he picked out Kris (and also 16 year old first year scholar Jack Jebb) as the star performers, as well as himself. 

The young Swede, touted 'the next Tomas Rosicky', is certainly one to keep a keen eye on.

Serge Gnabry

At 17 years of age, attacking midfielder Serge Gnabry is one of the most exciting prospects at Arsenal. With a physique comparable to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the youngster would acclimatise to the physical demands of first team football better than others.
Gnabry was one of the stars of Steve Bould's U18 side last year, scoring seven goals in ten games - a phenomenal return for a midfielder. The then reserve team manager Neil Banfield gave Serge his chance in the second string where he continued to impress, scoring twice in six appearances. 
In the opening 45 minutes against Dartford last Wednesday, Gnabry was the most dangerous player on the pitch, wreaking havoc upon the opposition defence with his directness and trickery. 

In the 0-0 draw with Stevenage the previous week, the German provided some of Arsenal's only moments of quality, notably a jinking run resulting in a shot which hit the bar. 

Though still eligible for Arsenal's U18 side, Gnabry will feature more prominently in Burton's reserves this season, and the fact he has traveled to Cologne with the first team is a clear indication of Wenger's intention to use him in the Capital One Cup. 

Martin Angha

The Swiss defender was the most prominent figure in Neil Banfield's reserve side last season, with 22 appearances. Despite his preferred position of centre half, Angha is equally as adept at fullback, where he possesses enough technical ability to provide additional fire power to the attack. 

The defender, who turns nineteen in January, was deployed at centre back in the game against Boreham Wood, delivering a solid and composed performance.

Burton decided to utilise Angha at right back the following week against Stevenage. However in the opening stages the youngster was guilty of over playing in congested areas near his own goal. This is an observation worth noting, as he has previously been criticised for lapses in concentration. Although this will improve with experience, it could be a possible hindrance to his prospects of first team football this season. However, he grew in confidence and composure as the game progressed, and his side kept a clean sheet.  

Angha has trained with the first team on several occasions, and his versatility is certainly valued. He was also one of the select few who were chosen to train with the Brazil national side, showing he is regarded highly by his coaches.

Moreover, had it not been for a registration issue, Angha would have traveled to Olympiacos as part of the first team squad for their final Champions League group stage fixture last year.

Clearly, the youngster has talent, and if he is not sent out on loan this season, could well feature in the Cup.

Kyle Ebecilio

Ebecilio is also a versatile player, who is normally deployed in midfield. He can be effective in both central and wide positions, impressing with his passing ability, tackling and power. He also provides a useful source of goals from midfield. His idol, he has said, is Alex Song, and their styles are not too dissimilar. 

Having played football in Holland, graduating from the Feyenoord academy, it is no surprise to see such a rounded individual. An alternative training method used in Holland is to play youngsters out of position so they can develop other skills and become more complete footballers. You can read more about this subject here

The Dutchman's reputation was significantly enhanced after last year's U17 European Championships. Despite invariably playing as a defensive midfielder, Ebecilio was the tournament's highest goalscorer with three goals, and after his side's 5-2 demolition of Germany in the final, was awarded the 'Golden Player' prize, following in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas and Wayne Rooney.

Despite his goalscoring excursions, Ebecilio, who finds the net almost once every six games for Arsenal's U18s, has been played predominantly at right back this year. Having been called up to the first team for the friendly against Southampton in this position, it is feasible that this is where he'll play if selected for the Cup, especially when you consider Arsenal's lack of depth in that area. 

However, despite impressing in an attacking sense, Ebecilio does not seem a natural defender, and Carl Jenkinson and Nico Yennaris are ahead of him as deputies to Bacary Sagna.

Ebecilio has over 20 appearances for Arsenal's second string and trained with the first team on several occasions. It is said that Arsene Wenger is contemplating including him in Cup football this season, so remember the name. 

'Til next time, and remember to Follow me on Twitter.