What has happened this year to our Junior Teams?
Part 1 – U21 team
by Andrew Crawshaw
Last summer saw a major overhaul of the Coaching staff at Junior (U21 and below) level with Liam Brady retiring and being replaced with Andries Jonker. The U21 team were also relegated to the second level of Premier League. How are our U21s doing this year?
Steve Gatting is the U21 Head Coach assisted by Carl Laraman with Tony Roberts the Academy Goalkeeping Coach.
The League table on 17 February was :-
The twelve teams in the first division are (in League order) – Chelsea, Man United, Southampton, Everton, Spurs, Liverpool, Man City, Fulham, Sunderland, Leicester, Norwich and West Ham
So at first sight we are doing fairly well in Division 2, level on points at the top of the table and with games in hand on those above us. Looking closer though we should surely be leading this table comfortably, I mean none of the other teams have the same prestige as Arsenal and with all due respect to them we should beat them consistently, yet we struggle at times. Why?
Lets look at the squad that has played in the last three games. I have added their dates of birth so you can see how close they are to the upper age limit for U 21 Football (01.01.94 I think it goes from the start of the calendar year)
Newcastle 1 Arsenal 2 on Mon 9 Feb Goals by Iwobi and Lipman, Gnabry making his long awaited return from injury but well within the U21 age limit.
- GK – Iliev – 25.02.95
- Defence -, Dobson – 15:11:97, O’Connor – 23.01.97, Bola – 9.12.97, Smith – 3.10.96
- Mid – Zelalem (84) – 26.01.97, Kamara (90) – 28.10.95, Crowley – 03.08.97
- Attack – Maitland-Niles – 29.08.97, Gnabry (67) – 14.07.95, Iwobi – 3.5.96
- Subs – Huddart (GK) – 6.5.97, Wright – 30.10.96, Chatzitheodoridis (90) – 5.11.97, Eyoma (84), Lipman (67) – 20.09.95
This was a more experienced side with first team squad members Zelalem and Gnabry playing. Iliev made his first start of the season following injury. The whole team could still play at this level next year though and seven of the squad were qualified to play for the U18 team.
Wolves 2 v Arsenal 2 on Mon 05 January. Dates of birth when not given above.
- GK – Macey – 9.9.94
- Def – Ajayi – 9.11.93, Johnson – 5.10.97, Smith, O’Connor
- Mid – Zelalem, Maitland-Niles – 29.08.97, Crowley,
- Attack – Iwobi, Kamara, Akpom
- Subs – Huddart, Dobson, Willock – 31.01.98, Mavididi – 31.5.98, Hinds – 28.01.98
Ajayi the only player in the squad in his final year at this level (Macey the keeper is allowed to be over 21)
Arsenal went into a two goal lead but were pulled back in the second half and couldn’t find a winner, indeed Wolves had the best of the late chances and only a great block by Macey prevented the hosts from getting all of the points.
Arsenal 1 v Bolton 3 on Dec 15
- GK – Macey
- Def – Ajayi, Johnson, Robinson – 16.9.97, O’Connor
- Mid – Hayden – 22.03.95 (72), Zelalem, Maitland-Niles, Crowley,
- Attack – Iwobi, Kamara, Akpom (72)
- Subs – Huddart, Smith, Sheaf – 5.2.98, Willock, Mavididi
First team squad member Isaac Hayden making an appearance recovering from injury (but he is still only 20!)
Bolton off to a flyer with a goal in the fifth minute, Arsenal equalised with a Stephan O’Connor header from a set piece Arsenal had squandered numerous chances to take the lead and they were made to pay when Bolton scored two killer goals in the last 5 minutes to get the points.
It seems to me that Arsenal have a deliberate policy of pushing their young players to their maximum ability and that is typified with the make-up of the U21 squads being primarily of players well below the maximum permissable age. Arsenal players in the 18 to 20 age group see their future progress being hastened by loan spells to gain first team experience with other clubs and at 20/21 are expecting to be part of the Arsenal first team squad.
Teams are allowed to have an over-age goalkeeper and a maximum of three over age outfield players. Arsenal rarely include over age players. Abou Diaby has played a couple of games this year, but I can’t remember any other older players appearing.
The whole idea of the U21 league was to provide a competitive league as an alternative to younger players going out on loan. To me it seems that this aim is not being realised. There are insufficient games to keep players properly occupied, they only play 22 games in the season and for young professionals that simply isn’t enough. Whilst a full season of 38 games may be too much, there should be scope to expand to 30 plus games, maybe by playing each team three times instead of twice.
Most of the top teams with decent players aged 19 plus look to loan them out in order for them to progress. Overseas clubs have B teams playing in lower leagues which seems a perfectly logical way for the better junior players and developing fringe players to maintain sharpness.
One last thought, whilst Meadow Park at Borehamwood is a perfectly good ground, it isn’t the Emirates and it would be good to have some of the U21 games in the main stadium. Price the games at a fiver a seat and I’m sure that more supporters would come along to watch.
Anniversary of the day
18 February 1888: Arsenal v Erith – continuing the development of Royal Arsenal through the club’s first full season. This is the first recorded appearance of Jack Humble in the team, although for a number of games in this era there are incomplete details. Jack Humble was Woolwich Arsenal’s first chairman, and served on the board well into the 1920s, with just one short break. He was the man Henry Norris sought out to help pull the club together after Norris’ take over.