by Andrew Crawshaw
After a strong start to the season, injuries, red cards and players being called up for first team duties had a massive impact on Freddie Ljungberg’s youngsters. A win and two draws in October were followed by a dreadful November and December which saw 4 straight defeats with us conceding 4 or 5 goals in every game.
Arsenal (4) v Chelsea (5); 3 Nov
A goal from Bukayo Saka in Min 8 looked to set us up in this game but Chelsea fought back with 3 goals in 4 minutes (Anjorn 14, Redan 15 and Grant 18). Ballard reduced the deficit in the 31st minute and Nketiah in Min 42 saw us go into the break all square. Gallagher for Chelsea and Nketiah with his second took the score to four apiece before Billy Gilmour earned Chelsea all three points with 7 minutes to go. Here is a link to the highlights on Arsenal.com
Derby (5) v Arsenal (0); 26 Nov
Truly a night to forget for Arsenal, the only bright spark being the return of Koscielny who played the first half as he looked to build up fitness following his long injury layoff. The only first half goal came when Tolaji Bola brought down Jaydon Lawson in the box and George Thorne made no mistake with the spot kick. Following the restart Derby doubled their advantage through Cameron Cresswell and shortly afterwards there was a five minute spell of chaos which saw three players given red cards. Osei-Tutu and George Thorne went in the 55th minute for an altercation (hard on Osei-Tutu as the Derby player had him by the throat) and Daniel Ballard was sent off shortly afterwards for a lunge. We finished the game playing 9 men v 10 and hardly surprisingly Derby managed to score three more goals. Here are the highlights
Liverpool (4) v Arsenal (1); 8 Dec
Ben Sheaf returned from injury and we started with two 17 year olds (Bukayo Saka and Tyreece John-Jules) in attack. Liverpool opened the scoring in the10th minute when Lazar Markovic scored from a tight angle but their lead only lasted a minute with John-Jules scoring from close range. Liverpool rode their luck for a while as we created many chances but luck and good defending prevented us from taking the lead. It was Liverpool who got a second goal on the stroke of half time through Rafael Camacho. In the second half we could easily have had a penalty, instead Liverpool attacked, beat our attempt at catching them offside giving Liam Millar an easy tap in. Less than two minutes later he got a second to complete the scoring. Liverpool moved above us in the table pushing us into 7th place.
Arsenal (0) v Blackburn (4); 17 Dec
Charlie Gilmour and Zech Medley started after featuring in the Europa League and Xavier Amaechi returned from injury. Effectively we were bullied and fouled out of the game and rarely showed any glimpses of our true abilities. Rovers scored early in the first half after two fouls on our players were ignored, Lyons got a screamer for them early in the second half before a penalty when Sheaf handled the ball and Nuttall had an easy finish from close range to round off a terrible evening.
January saw a welcome return to a sort of normality with us ending our losing streak with a draw at Brighton and returning to Borehamwood to thump Man City.
Brighton (2) v Arsenal (2) 7 Jan
New year and definite signs of improvement. Ex Gunner Hugo Keto was, typically, in fine form in the Brighton goal making a number of fine saves as we dominated the first half. Eventually with just three minutes of the half remaining we broke the deadlock, Amaechi scoring following a great Saka run and cross. Unfortunately we didn’t start the second half in the same vein as we finished the first. Julio Pleguzuelo came off injured in the 51st minute and we never looked quite as comfortable after that.Anders Dreyer scored the Brighton equaliser following a charging run and then pounced on an Arsenal mixup on the halfway line before charging through and scoring a second. We continued to press forward in numbers and in the closing minutes substitute Gedion Zelalem scored our second from close range.
Arsenal (5) v Man City (1)
At last we got our swagger back and City really had no answer to our play. We had a very strong front line and went with Saka, Nketiah and Amaechi. Saka was the first on the scoresheet, in the 4th minute cutting in from the wing and shooting into the far corner. Amaechi stormed into the box shortly after, drew a foul challenge and Robbie Burton made it two from the spot. At the end of a dominant first half Joe Willock made it three. Nketiah had a shot that the keeper could only parry and Joe was on had to pot the rebound. At the start of the second half City got one back as Iliev made a double saves but Luke Bolton put a third shot past him. Any signs of a comeback were quickly extinguished as Saka added our fourth and Amaechi made it five in the 67th minute following good work from Nketiah. The win took us back to 7th place but we are 8 points behind leaders Everton with 7 games to play, essentially we need to win all of them to provide a meaningful defence of the title we won last year.
Of course football at this level is far more about player development than winning, but installing the habit of winning is also very important to young players. If they are doing that they will play more naturally and be far more willing to make a high reward play rather than a safe sideways pass.
Here is the current table
Next up is a home game against West Ham at Borehamwood on Monday evening. This features the two top scoring sides in the division (as well as two of the leakiest defences) so a goal-less draw is the least likely result and one could easily look forward to one or both teams scoring three or more.