By Tony Attwood
Last night Arsenal under 21s beat Fulham 1-0 at the Emirates. It was a terrific game full of the most amazing skills from incredibly talented players; an absolute joy to watch. It was one of those games where right up to the 86th minute when Zelalem scored there was a doubt if Arsenal would make the break through.
Entry was free to members (all members, red, silver, gold), and there was the catering facilities in the ground.
And yet under 2000 turned up.
OK, each to his own, but I couldn’t help thinking that some of the people who moan about the high price of entry, about not being able to get tickets to Arsenal matches, about being priced out of football and all that, are really more interested in moaning and knocking Arsenal rather than actually watching football.
Now I fully admit I don’t get to many under 21 games. In the days when they or the reserves played in games in minor stadia across the Midlands (where I live) I would always go, but these days, with the 190 odd mile round trip, to London, and few under 21 games open to the public (and even fewer in the Midlands) I don’t go so much – given that I go to all the first team games at home, and a handful away.
But for a person who is struggling to afford the first team, seeing the under 21s at the Emirates is a brilliant experience. Indeed for anyone who really doesn’t want to support the club by being a member, and who can’t afford the £31 for the lowest price non-member ticket into the ground, an under 21 game like this surely would be a must.
What we saw last night was a Fulham side that parked the bus, and an Arsenal team that tried every possible move to get around them – and finally did. It was skill – skill – skill – very few nasty tackles from the Fulham defenders, and the few there were, were dealt with, through a solid bit of headmasterly like talking by the ref. Quite a different experience from the Premier League.
In fact, no one set out to maim the more skilful side which made for the speed and enthusiasm of many of the players.
We didn’t have any over age players in the line ups, as far as I know, but we certainly did have some players who absolutely caught the eye. Krystian Bielik at number 5, part of what was for much of the game a three men defensive back line, was superb, and you can see at once why Arsenal ventured into the market for him. Unless something goes seriously wrong, he must be vying for a first team centre back position. You can see why he is counted as a first team squad member.
Tafari Moore, unmistakeable in what I believe the younger generation call “dread locks” was amazingly composed at right back and also ready ready to step up (although my ability to call such progress is notoriously inept).
And they knew that ahead of them they had Gedion Zelalem in a central position in midfield, pushing and probing endlessly, with Ben Sheaf, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Alex Iwobi all ready to pounce on anything. Yassin Fortune (the young man who joined us in the package that brought Jeff Reine Adelaide) also made an entrance as a sub and looked impressive.
After the game Zelalem was interviewed by Arsenal.com and said, “My goal came because I watch the first team a lot and they like to play quick one-twos on the edge of the box. Us youth-team players aspire to be like them so we try to play like them. It worked against Fulham and hopefully the fans enjoyed the goal.”
We did indeed, despite the smallness of the crowd (at least we were all in the East Lower so managed to get a bit of togetherness out of the occasion).