What’s happened this year to our junior teams?
Part 2 – U18 team
By Andrew Crawshaw
In Part 1 I looked at the fortunes of our U21 team, (What has happened this year to our Junior Teams?) in this part I will first try and place the U18 setup into the context of the Youth Academy and secondly take a closer look at how their season has progressed so far.
The Arsenal Hale End Academy is separate to the senior Colney Training facility and is home to children and youths from the age of 8 to 18. The format of the training sessions depends on the age of the participents, with the youngest in much smaller groups and concentrating on basic skills. As they get older the drills increase in complexity with the aim of producing smart players rather than necessarily the biggest/strongest.
The whole purpose of the Hale End Academy is to act as a feeder for the club first teams, both Men’s and Ladies’. The Academy works with youngsters from age 8 to 18 so the U18s are the pinnacle of this development level. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Jack Wilshere was there from Age 8 as was Leah Williamson who has just signed for the Ladies team and who I saw score a very good goal against Millwall on Sunday (her first since signing).
It is the stated aim of the club to find and nurture sufficient junior players to satisfy the bulk of the requirements of the first team, leaving transfer funds as far as possible to purchase the special players already at (or emerging as) World Class.
The Academy have their own staff Frans de Kat is the U18 head coach assisted by Kwame Ampadu, Jan van Loon is in charge of the U16s, Luke Hobbs the U14s, Ryan Garry the U13s and Steve Leonard the U12s. Andries Jonker is the Academy Manager having been appointed last year.
The U18s play in the Barclays U18 Premier League South Group and are currently in 11th place. The table was published before the latest game against Tottenham which we lost four one The full table is :-
|2||Aston Villa U18||20||10||5||5||44||44||0||35|
|4||West Brom U18||21||9||4||8||35||39||-4||31|
|7||West Ham U18||21||8||5||8||41||35||6||29|
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TheU18 League games are played behind closed doors at London Colney, so I have no first hand experience of them. Brief highlights of the games are posted on the arsenal.com website, Under-18s v West Brom (a) . I have, however seen the home games in the FA Youth Cup which have been played at Borehamwood with the last game at Barnet. The U18 squad also formed the basis of the U19 Champions League Squad which again I saw the home games.
In many ways the U18 squad is an in-between group of players as it comprises a mix of three separate components.
- Older schoolboys who are at a higher standard than normal for U16 competition,
- First and second year scholars at the Academy (16 and 17 year olds) and
- The younger group of younger professionals (those 17 and older who have signed professional contacts at the club).
One thing they all share is the desire to progress to the U21 level and first team football as quickly as possible.
A scary statistic I saw today is that only 2% of players in the game at U16 level are still involved at U21 level. That applies across the board for all clubs and we would expect those at Arsenal to have a far greater success rate than that, which is indeed the case, although that subsequent success is not necessarily with Arsenal.
Indeed it is interesting to note that Brooklyn Beckham has failed to progress at Arsenal from the Schoolboy level to the Academy students so having a famous footballing father is no guarantee of progress.
In terms of the league position one glance at the above table tells the story. We are next to bottom and have now lost half of all games played. This is clearly not acceptable for the club and points to either this being a poor group of players or the coaching etc not being up to scratch. Either way I fully expect Mr Jonker to be reviewing the situation before next year – expect to see some new arrivals being brought in from other clubs during summer.
The main problems I have noticed this year have been in defence, too often we have been caught out by the kind of through ball that Crewe used for their first goal Youth Cup v Crewe (h). This has been exacerbated by the absence of a true defending midfielder (maybe the position is not ‘sexy’ enough to appeal to young players). In the cup games Zelalem has been utilised in this role more often than not and it is fair to say that he isn’t naturally suited to it. The fullbacks from the start of the year have both made big strides and have progressed to the U21s.
One potential issue with young players arises when they are asked to play at a different level to which they are training (particularly when more senior players are asked to drop back a level). It must be very difficult to be with one group of players all week and then be asked to turn out and play with team-mates who you thought you had left behind. This is a task that not all have seemed to manage successfully.
Indeed this transitional stage of development is probably one of the most difficult for young men to achieve successfully. I don’t envy Frans De Kat, their Coach, the task of coping with all of the hormones and potential distractions that the lads face.
In conclusion, a season that cannot yet be regarded as a success. A good run in the U19 Champions League, a disappointing exit from the FA Youth Cup against a team from a much lower league and poor results in the League meaning that we are in a real battle to avoid coming bottom.
There have been some highlights, the continued emergence of Dan Crowley as a real talent, a number of players achieving the goal of early transition to the U21s.
One final thought, out of the 30 players shown on the .com as first team, twelve have spent time in the Arsenal Academy. Probably more than many would have thought.
- Goalkeepers – Wojciech Szczesny
- Defenders – Kieran Gibbs, Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden
- Midfield – Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Gedion Zelalem
- Attack – Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom