by Andrew Crawshaw
The Arsenal Junior Teams cover ages 8 to U21. For the purpose of this review I am ignoring all age group matches below U18 level. I am therefore looking at four separate competitions :-
- U18 League
- FA Youth Cup (open to players U18 at 01 Jan 2015)
- UEFA Youth League (open to all players under 19 at 01/01/2015)
- U21 League (including promotion playoff games)
NB the U21 rules allow for the goalkeeper and up to 3 outfield players in any game to be over-age
A total of 63 players represented Arsenal in the four competitions at some stage during the season, 52 started games, of the remaining 11 – 5 came on as substitutes and 6 were unused substitutes.
The 2014-15 season saw Arsenal finish in bottom place so significant progress was expected. The first part of the season saw the clubs split into Northern and Southern Leagues with all teams playing both home and away games. After the initial 22 games the teams were split into three divisions of 8 teams (top, middle and bottom four from each of North and South).
The first part of the season saw Arsenal in sixth place out of 12 with 35 points. Chelsea were top on 50 and Swansea were bottom on 13. The second half of the season saw Arsenal in 5th place out of 8, with a P7, W2, D2, L3 record. We scored 15 goals but let in 14.
The season therefore showed a significant improvement on the previous year, we went from bottom to mid table. Our goal scoring was excellent, but our defensive record still requires improvement.
39 players were used in this competition but by far the bulk of the work was done by 21 players, the remaining players had 2 or fewer starts. Many of the latter group were much younger and included in the match squads to gain experience.
Edward Nkeitah was the outstanding goalscorer with 24, Yassin Fortune had 7, Reiss Nelson and Donyell Malen each had 5.
Goalkeeping duties were spread between Ryan Huddart, Hugo Keto and (at the end of the season) Joao Virginia. Phillips stepped up the age brackets to start 2 games.
I’ll look at individual players in far more detail in later articles.
FA Youth Cup
This was a competition we really tried hard to win this year. We generally used more senior players according to the age requirement and thus, far more of the normal U21 squad were involved.
21 players were involved in the 5 games played, unfortunately we fell just short being defeated by Manchester City at the semi-final stage, losing the away leg 2 – 1 and only managing to draw 2 – 2 at the Emirates after having a player sent off.
Five players, Hugo Keto (GK), Chris Willock, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ismael Bennacer and Tyrell Robinson played in all of the games. Kaylen Hinds, Stephy Mavididi, Ben Sheaf and Krystian Bielik all started in four of them.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Donyell Malen were joint top scorers on 3 apiece, Stephy Mavididi had 2 and Chris Willock, Kaylen Hinds and Ben Sheaf each had one.
This was modelled on the same group stages as the Champions League with the same teams playing on the same days as the First Teams (but not at the same stadiums and with kick-off times earlier in the day). The competition was open to players under the age of 19.
After an excellent start, the later results in the group stage only saw us qualify in second place and into a play-off game against Anderlecht where we were comprehensively outplayed. Overall a competition which failed to live up to early promise.
A total of 28 players were involved in the 7 games. Hugo Keto (GK), Marc Bola and Julio Pleguezuelo started in all, Chris Willock in 6, Krystian Bielik, Kaylen Hinds and Ben Sheaf in 5, Alex Iwobi (before his promotion to the first team squad), Stephy Mavididi and Reiss Nelson in 4.
The 9 goals scored were shared between Ben Sheaf, Julio Pleguezuelo and Alex Iwobi (two apiece), Stephy Mavididi, Chris Willock and Ismael Bennacer.
After a couple of seasons in the second division of U21 football, the main target was to win promotion back to the first division.
The Arsenal U21 team played a total of 24 games, 22 in regular league play and two knock-out games at the end to gain promotion back into the first division.
A total of 41 players featured in some way (including unused substitutes). Julio Pleguezuelo the team captain started all, Krystian Bielik started 19 and came off the bench once.
Seven over-age players featured (mostly to gain match fitness following injury recovery). Thomas Rosicky started 4 games, Jack Wilshere 3, Santi Cazorla 2, and Joel Campbell, Francis Coquelin, Danny Wellbeck and Mikel Arteta one apiece. Jack scored the only goal from this group.
Goalkeeping duties were shared between Matt Macey 15 starts and Ryan Huddart 9 starts, Hugo Keto warmed the bench whenever one of the other two wasn’t available. Between them they were beaten 27 times.
A total of 44 goals were scored, main scorers were Mavididi 13, Willock 6, Hinds 5, Malen 4, Gnabry, Iwobi, Reine-Adelaide and Sheaf with two apiece.
Our disciplinary record was 10 yellow cards (one a double yellow) and one straight red so not too bad overall. Crowley got 3 yellows and a red, Sheaf a double yellow, no-one else had more than a single yellow card.
The pre-season objective of promotion was achieved, we finished second to Derby County during regular season but beat both Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa in the play-offs to get the second promotion spot. All in all a satisfactory performance at this level.
Here’s the under 21 table for the end of the season. Derby were promoted and Arsenal beat Blackburn and then Aston Villa to gain promotion with them.
|4||Aston Villa U21||22||11||6||5||28||27||1||39|
|6||West Brom U21||22||8||9||5||24||20||4||33|
|7||West Ham U21||22||9||5||8||37||34||3||32|