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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

REPORT: Mixed performance as Arsenal XI draw 4-4 against Leyton Orient

In what was a thrilling encounter, an Arsenal XI side fought from behind to secure a draw in the last minute against League One outfit Leyton Orient.

There are both negatives and positives to be taken from this game. Let's start with the latter. Firstly, 16 year old right back Taf Moore had an excellent game. Playing against men twice his size, the athletic full back showed composure when in possession and proved hard to beat in defensive situations, using his pace and tenacity to great effect. In the first half particularly, Moore was very impressive and in my opinion the best player in red and white.

Moreover, Wellington Silva put in his best performance wearing an Arsenal shirt, scoring two goals and at times terrorising the Orient defence with his pace and trickery. What he lacked against Sutton United two weeks ago was an end product, so tonight's performance shows a significant improvement in that regard. Unfortunately the Brazilian is yet to receive a work permit and thus is confined to friendly matches only. Another loan move beckons.

This brings me to Chuks Aneke, whose return to Crewe on loan seems to be edging closer. Although often lethargic in possession, in a way reminiscent to Abou Diaby, he was at the heart of most attacking moves and demonstrated his skill and vision on a number of occasions. Having said that, as disappointing as it is to say, I think he may have found his level playing against League One sides.

Chuba Akpom continued the goalscoring form he showed with the first team in Asia with a well taken goal to grab Arsenal's third of the evening. A clever diagonal run in behind the Orient defence was found expertly by Aneke, whose through ball fell perfectly for Akpom to tuck away underneath the goalkeeper. The striker will be disappointed not to have scored earlier, however, failing to convert two or three excellent chances. He was replaced after 74 minutes by Lipman, after picking up a slight twist in his leg.

Finally, goalkeeper Dejan Iliev made several excellent stops and was responsible for preventing an embarrassing scoreline, with the defensive unit ahead of him failing to offer sufficient protection. He also showed a good reading of the game, acting as a 'sweeper keeper' on a number of times.

Now onto the negatives. While it must be noted Leyton Orient are a much stronger opponent than Sutton and Borehamwood, Arsenal's defence, with Leander Siemann at left back and a centre half pairing of Isaac Hayden and Daniel Boateng, was less than convincing. Orient's almost identical opening two goals both came from unmarked headers from a corner, while a plethora of unforced errors were made throughout the game. It does seem somewhat pointless playing the likes of Boateng, a player whose Arsenal career is clearly at an end, when youngsters such as Stefan O'Connor and Elliot Wright are chomping at the bit to experience some more game time at this level.

Nico Yennaris, Kris Olsson and Thomas Eisfeld were largely average in midfield, although the latter was involved in some good attacking moves and was unlucky to hit the post from a free kick in the second half. It was a shame Danny Crowley wasn't called upon from the bench, although he may well feature in the U18 friendly against Leicester tomorrow. Next up for Arsenal XI is Luton on Saturday, where Steve Gatting will be hoping for a more solid team performance.

Thanks for reading and follow me on twitter. UTA

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Suarez, Wenger and principles

Arsenal's motto is Victoria Concordia Crescit, or Victory Through Harmony, a term enshrined within the club's heritage, the origins of which can be traced back to 1913.

Arsene Wenger has, by and large, abided by this throughout his seventeen-year tenure at Arsenal, ensuring those who represent the club - himself, staff, players etc - do so in a commendable, respectful manner. He is known to scrutinise the personality of a player before making a signing, analysing the effect they may have in the dressing room and judging if they are fit to represent the red and white of The Arsenal. It is clear we go about our business in a different way to those around us. Wenger's values have been fundamental to this. History. Class. Tradition. These are words associated with Arsenal Football Club. But what does the genuine interest in Luis Suarez tell us about Wenger's principles, or loss of?

Perhaps it is somewhat fitting that as Victoria Concordia Crescit has disappeared, being replaced by 'Forward' to mark the 125th anniversary of Arsenal's existence, so too has Wenger's principles. Perhaps, in order to go forward, as the new, shallow platitude on our crest suggests, we must abandon the values ingrained in the club's history that were built around our Latin motto. And what better way to do this than signing the serial cheat, racist and all-round detestable human being that is Luis Suarez?

There is, of course, no doubting his talent as a footballer; I'd be lying if I said one part of me would not love to see him play for Arsenal. Who knows, it may transpire that we sign him, he scores 25 goals this season, helps us win a trophy and stays free of controversy. This line of speculation is unlikely in more than one way, however!

There is an argument supporting his signature based around the fact we signed Robin van Persie as a volatile youngster with serious discipline problems, and transformed him into a top professional who managed to subdue his petulant tendencies. However there are several discrepancies with this comparison. Firstly, van Persie cost little over £2 million. There was little risk in financial terms if this investment backfired. Suarez, on the other hand, will cost closer to £50 million. The cost-risk ratio is thus much less appealing. In other words, a significant amount of money will be wasted if Suarez gets injured or fails to reverse his undesirable streak. Secondly, we signed van Persie as a 21 year old. At this age you are still developing as a person and a footballer. With time and effort, one's personality can be changed for the better. Suarez, however, is closer to 27. How much time in football terms has he got left to change? Is he arguably past the age where one's natural tendencies can be altered? This is all speculation. What I will say, however, is that I strongly believe Wenger will only sign Suarez if he genuinely thinks he can reform him.

Some may also say that every high calibre player has an edge; we've seen it with Dennis Bergkamp to highlight a notable example. But Suarez unfortunately carries a bit more than an edge; something more unsavoury, an inability to control himself in the heat of the moment. I won't bore you with a list of his misdoings - you've seen it all before.

But by at least attempting to sign Suarez are we, Arsenal Football Club, condoning racism, cheating and violence? These are questions that must be asked, no matter what your outlook is. Is it worth the hassle of another potential race-row, only this time with Suarez as an Arsenal player?

My worry is the divisions the signing of Suarez may create. Already, I know one black Arsenal fan who travels home and away to watch the team, who has vowed not to go again for as long as Suarez is an Arsenal player. A stance somewhat drastic in my view - but pertinent nonetheless. Of course, this is all hypothetical, as the player is yet to sign, but I do wonder what the effects would be in the stands as well as the dressing room if Suarez were to sign and controversy followed suit.

I have to say I am surprised by Wenger's interest in the Uruguayan, but a part of me is also excited. While on one hand it seems the boss is conceding to the pressure he is under and abandoning his principles, perhaps going for Suarez is just a necessary compromise at a challenging time in his managerial career. While it would go some way in fulfilling the club's new motto, one has to wonder if he is worth the money and the hassle, when there are high calibre strikers such as Higuain and Soldado seemingly available at the right price this summer.  I'll leave you with one image, and you can make your own minds up about Suarez and Arsenal.

UTA and follow me on Twitter

Friday, 12 July 2013

REPORT: Crowley steals the show as Arsenal XI defeat Sutton United 4-3; plus thoughts from captain Isaac Hayden

Dan Crowley runs at the Sutton defence

First of all, I'm back! Exams and other commitments forced me into a temporary blogging halt, but I can safely say that these are now over. Anyway, onto the game...

After around two months of no Arsenal, football junkies of the red and white variety were eagerly anticipating this fixture, desperate for our Arsenal fix.

The first of our pre-season campaign will be remembered for Daniel Crowley's debut performance at the club. The new acquisition from Aston Villa started the game in the number 10 role, operating behind industrious striker Austin Lipman.

Arsenal took the lead inside ten minutes, after a superb curling pass by skipper Isaac Hayden - unlucky not to be included in the first team's tour of Asia - found Lipman, who outpaced the Sutton defence before driving into the box and finding Anthony Jeffrey to tap in.

It was soon 2-0 after Crowley, having just nut-megged a Sutton player, was brought down. Jebb, who has a penchant for scoring spectacular free kicks, stepped up from 25 yards and nonchalantly curled the ball into the top corner. A superb goal by the young midfielder, who will hope to establish himself as a regular in the U21 set-up after being confined to U18 football last season.

Sutton almost scored when Arsenal centre back Tom Dallison, making his debut for the reserves, sliced a clearance onto his crossbar, before Dejan Iliev spread himself and blocked the rebound. A fine piece of goalkeeping.

It was 3-0 after 20 minutes when the impressive Hayden waltzed into the box, took his time and struck home with a left footed effort, after some abject defending.

Gooners behind the goal were singing, "we can't afford Asia, so we've come here instead!"

Despite being substituted at half time, along with 8 teammates, Crowley mesmerised the opposition with his close control and elusive dribbling skills. Within just 5 minutes, the diminutive midfielder wet the mouths of the onlooking Arsenal fans with a magnificent run, where he showed tight control inside the box, turned sharply (leaving the Sutton defender on his arse in the process), before dinking in an inviting cross. Certainly an impressive way for a 15 year old to introduce himself.

Although at times caught in possession, either by being brushed off the ball or by trying to be a little too intricate, Crowley was the star of the show. You can just tell, he has *it*; that something you can't describe, but know when you see.

His part in Jack Jebb's second goal of the game, to make it 4-1 before the break, was particularly impressive. In a seemingly tight area on the far right of midfield, Crowley and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the highly rated winger who featured in last season's commendable NextGen campaign, eluded the surrounding defenders with a passage of pass and move football that would have greatly pleased the onlooking coaches Terry Burton and Steve Gatting. After taking three defenders out of the game with his shrewd movement, Crowley ran towards the byline, showed his composure and cut it back to Jebb, who coolly slotted the ball away with a first time finish on his weaker foot. 4-1 to The Arsenal in what had been a really fluid attacking performance.

The second half was poor, with Hayden and left back Arinse Uade the only players not to be subbed at half time. This led to a very disjointed performance with no real moments of quality to note. Debutant and recent Swedish acquisition Jamal Raage looked lively on the right wing, and almost scored with a low, hard shot after cutting inside onto his powerful left foot. Wellington Silva was on the left wing and showed his quick feet but lacked an end product. All conceded goals came from crosses into unmarked players in the box. Same old Arsenal, I guess.

I asked Arsenal's U21 captain Isaac Hayden some questions after the game:

Thoughts on today? 
IH: It was a good performance in the first half. All the goals were of high quality. The second half was a little difficult because of the changes (9 substitutions), but a lot of the younger players today showed they can cope!

What are your first impressions of Danny Crowley? 
IH: One word: class.
Some praise from your captain after just 45 minutes game time - shows just how good he was and the impact he's had in training! 

What are your hopes for this season?
IH: Just work hard and perform to the best of my ability consistently and see where it gets me; that's all I can do!
Thanks for reading and follow me on twitter. UTA