What has happened this year to our Junior Teams?

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 :-

Pos Team P W D L Pts
1 Newcastle 13 7 3 3 24
2 Derby 14 7 7 4 24
3 Arsenal 12 7 3 2 24
4 WBA 13 6 5 2 23
5 Middlesbrough 12 7 2 3 23
6 Reading 13 6 2 5 20
7 Bolton 15 4 7 4 19
8 Brighton 12 3 3 6 12
9 Aston Villa 14 3 3 8 12
10 Blackburn 12 2 4 6 10
11 Wolves 13 1 6 6 9
12 Stoke 11 2 3 6 9

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.

17 Replies to “What has happened this year to our Junior Teams?”

  1. Perhaps I might explain to anyone reading this, the question of “what has happened to our academy teams” is one that has been on my mind for a while, and I asked Andrew to give me his thoughts. As usual he has given us chapter and verse.

    Seen as explained here we effectively have three groups outside the first team: Under 18, Under 21 and “on loan”

    Thanks Andrew – I look forward to part two.

  2. Where are the days that arsenal.com showed their matches live on the internet. Long for those days….

    I have high hopes for Crowley who looks to be a very exciting young player. He is a real dribbler and can twist and turn on a handkerchief as we say in Dutch. I think he will be the successor of Santi Cazorla in the future. Nah, now I said it 😉 Not next season but the season after.

  3. I notice that the Under-21 teams are made of players mixed up from the First team squad, the Under-18 team squad and those in between, termed the Young Professionals.

    It would be good, in my opinion, to make the Under-21 League more interesting by introducing certain rules on the composition of this team. Borrow a bit from the UEFA Youth League, an Under-19 thing, which seems to be a kind of “bonus” tournament for our Youths, and a good one too!

    The UEFA U-19 tournament only allows no more than 3 players aged only a year older than those qualified to be included in the each team squad.

    The U-21 League can adopt this and extend the quota by allowing only no more than 3 players from those who are under 18 years old. In other words, clubs must name the full squad permissible to play in the Under-21 League in advance, just like in the Champions League, and allow no more than 3 changes to be made midway through the season.

    I also agree that certain matches could be played in the main stadiums of the clubs to create interest and publicity for the players. We used to have our Reserves game played at Highbury, I remember.

  4. Does anyone know anything about Arsenal’s disabled teams? I had put up a comment related to some team coming to the Emirates to play our disabled team a day or two ago. This was youth, maybe U16? Soliquay Moors, could be mis-spelled?

  5. I think one of the reasons i read that the u21s do not play at the emirates is something to motivate them for. To work hard and work their way up to the first team and play at the emirates.

  6. Not playing at Emirates, we are told, is very much about preserving the quality of the playing surface. I remember going to reserve games at Highbury and if you’ve seen the state of the pitch back then you’d understand why it was stopped.
    But I agree that more games could be played at Emirates and should be. It would be good for the players and fans who can’t get to Borehamwood.
    Or maybe Arsenal could ‘do a Man City’ and use some of theor wealth to build a small stadium somewhere accessible for all non-first team games to be played.

  7. Walter,

    Crowley is an excellent prospect for the future, remember he is currently 17 and, I hope, has some further growing to do. He is still very slight in stature. I’ve seen him a few times in the youth cup competitions and at times he tries to do everything himself when he ought to be relying on others to do their bit. I think it might be a couple of years before he becomes a first team regular. I’ll cover him in more detail when I write about the U18 players in part 2.

  8. insideright

    “Arsenal could ‘do a Man City’ and use some of there wealth to build a small stadium somewhere accessible for all non-first team games to be played.”

    Surely you mean ‘do a Mansour’ don’t you?

    In reality none of what’s been done financially at man City has anything to do with ‘Man City’ Football Club has it !

  9. Is that scouting or training? Lets wish the academy to remedy their problems soon, as i fear many of them may not make the grade. Some more talented have failed.

    Some games from the U21 and U19 are played at Arsenal, i think semis and finals?
    I see Ronaldo is making his move now for summer. No doubt manu will swoop and “capture”.
    Seems that ManC is trying to build a lasting empire too, and they have more money than us for now.

  10. Results and league position are the very last thing that matters.

    The education of the younger less experienced players is the ONLY thing.

  11. Young players need regular competitive football against their peers and older players. Development has been hampered since the demise of the football combination and central league where reserve players played in a full time reserve league. Whilst it is important for young ones to hone their skills , if they are not ready by 19,20 , 21 then they are not going to be.

  12. Porter

    I think your 8:40pm comment would be significantly better if you dropped the last sentence, or even just the last phrase of the sentence. There is no need for it, and there are counter examples (in general, I don’t know of any specific to Arsenal off the top of my head).

  13. Some players come into the game later than others but the basic skills are there by the time they reach their later teens. At that point they need to play and to play against people that are more developed to improve their own abilities.

  14. I think the academy should concentrating in player development than honors. Lets not forget. Steve Boulds all conquering youth teams. How many players have we got into the first team?? 2?? Taking Coquelin into the picture here.

    I see the number of first teamers that the academy can produce as the real success of the academy and not the medals that they collect.

    PS: I am in no way suggesting that our academy has been a failure. No it isnt. Number of academy graduates in the english football is the proof. One thing that puzzles me is that our youth policy is a swashbuckling hit. Look at the number of youngsters we’ve signed and successfully integrated into the team. But we are not having the same success rate as far as our academy is concerned.

  15. The answer to the question asked by the headline of the article is answered in the first paragraph- a complete or almost complete overhaul of the setup. The years leading up to chippys departure seen a decline, including a number of wrong appointments, in-house unrest among staff, sackings, resignations, followed by an almost complete overhaul.Hopefully it is was a few steps back to make strides forward.

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