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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.

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