Ladies and Reserves Column #7
It`s constituted something of a mixed week for Neil Banfield`s Arsenal Reserve side this week. With the season coming to an end, the winds of change are blowing through London Colney. Obviously development is the name of the game with regards to Banfield`s remit. As such the deadline for loan moves in the Football League is today (Friday, 23rd March) and there has already been movement. Promising young striker and all round nice chap Benik Afobe has joined promotion chasing Reading on loan until the end of the season.
Afobe spent the second half of last season on loan with Huddersfield Town, who narrowly missed out on promotion from League One with their playoff final defeat to Peterborough United. Afobe showed a great deal of promise, bagging four consecutive man of the match awards for the Terriers last spring and chipping six goals in to their promotion push. This season Afobe was inducted into the first team squad, making his debut on the Emirates Cup, but he picked up a groin problem in the contest with New York Red Bulls that kept him out for five months. Afobe completed 90 minutes for the first time this season against Liverpool on Tuesday. That he`s been taken on by a Reading side in the grip of a pressured promotion challenge despite having been restricted to four appearances shows you how highly he is thought of.
As is so often the case for promising young players, injury came at the wrong time. With Chamakh and Park competing with chocolate teapots and inflatable dartboards in the usefulness stakes to our squad, it`s reasonable to assume Afobe might have seen some bench time in the first team. A livewire pacey striker, capable of holding the ball up and assisting as well as scoring, Afobe fits the Wenger prototype of a striker who can play all across the front line. It will be very interesting to see how he copes under Brian McDermott at Reading. Joining him at the revolving door is his partner in crime Chuks Aneke, who joins League One Preston North End until May. Aneke and Afobe have struck up a telepathic relationship in Reserve games.
This is Aneke`s second loan spell in 2012 after a mixed time at Stevenage. Aneke will be keen to improve upon his time at Broadhall Way. Aneke looks a talented player who might suffer from not having a fixed position. He has a tendency to wander- effectively in Reserve games it might be added. But the rigours of lower league football do not easily allow for privilege players that are afforded free roles. Aneke will need to show the skills to adapt at Preston. If development be the name of the game for Banfield, he will have received sombre news this week with promising youngster Zak Ansah having ruptured his cruciate ligament in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool.
Ansah started life as a striker but Steve Bould remoulded him into a central midfielder for the U-18s. Last season saw Ansah`s development halted by a shoulder injury (he represented the U-18 side aged just 14) and now having come increasingly into the picture for Neil Banfield`s side, the Sidcup born schemer will sit out for six months at least. But in matters more first team. Banfield did oversee the return of a player from injury as Abou Diaby played a pre planned 60 minutes at Liverpool`s Melrose training complex and scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Diaby did have most of us reaching for our groundhogs in scoring the goal- a typically marauding run from midfield, as his ankle bent under the onrushing Brad Jones as he slid the ball into the net.
Thanks to varying degrees of assault on his ankles by the likes of Dan Smith, Paul Robinson and Michael Essien, seeing a physio rush on to apply treatment to the limb is always a concern. But encouragingly, he seemed to shake it off. Whether or not he makes the squad for tomorrow remains to be seen. Daniel Boateng reappeared from the bench following his loan spell from Swindon and the club may be looking to get him on another loan deal before midnight. Serge Gnabry and Hector Bellerin were unavailable due to participation for their countries at U-18 Level. (Thanks to @hazzaboy21 on twitter for the feedback there). The draw leaves Aston Villa need ing only two points from their remaining four games to put the Reserve League South title out of Banfield`s reach. That`ll make it 22 years without a trophy for the Arsenal Reserves. Oh the headlines, the woe. Banfield out!
Meanwhile, Laura Harvey`s Ladies side have had another faultlessly successful week. It`s been no gentle introduction to the season for the girls, with games every three days. Following on from last week`s 3-1 home win over Gothenburg, the lady Gunners kicked off the defence of their WSL Continental Cup with an emphatic 3-0 win over Liverpool Ladies at Skermsdale Town on Sunday. Apparently it wasn`t the most assured performance, with Emma Byrne earning her corn in the early part of the game. But Arsenal offer a lot of threat from set pieces and found themselves two goals up at the interval courtesy of goals from corners. Right back Steph Houghton and battering ram striker Jennifer Beattie coming up with the goods. Ellie White scored her second of the season to wrap the result up in the second half.
It speaks to the depth of Harvey`s squad that numerous changes were made with a view to the Champions League second leg with Gothenburg. Jennifer Beattie and Danielle Carter, both teenagers, started upfront, with Kim Little, 34 year old Jayne Ludlow and top scorer from last season Ellie White starting on the bench. I`ve written before that Harvey is managing something of a handover, with Faye White, Rachel Yankey and Jayne Ludlow the other side of 30 and promising youngsters coming through. Harvey hinted that some of the elder stateswomen of the squad might have to settle for reduced roles in the squad this year. Speaking after the Liverpool game, "We managed to give Rachel Yankey and Faye White some minutes, which puts them in a better position to have an impact on games."
That suggests a peripheral role from the bench for both. 34 year old Ludlow is still integral to the centre of midfield, with nobody else in the squad really able to perform her midfield terrier role. Ludlow has young legs around her in midfield in Little and Nobbs (stop tittering at the back!) and it looks as though Harvey will only want one elder mentor in the side at any one time given the high intensity at which the team play. With rested legs, Arsenal travelled to Sweden for the second leg of their Champions League quarter final with Gothenburg Koppabergs. Carrying a 3-1 lead from the first leg, Arsenal went for a safety first performance and were reportedly comfortable throughout.
Jane Tornqvist did give Harvey a slight flutter in the ticker by converting in injury time to bring the aggregate scores to 2-3. With the away goal another effort would have put the Swedes through, but the clock was against them. Arsenal go through to the semi finals to play Frankfurt Ladies, who also disposed of Swedish opposition in their Quarter Final against Malmo. Frankfurt are something of a powerhouse in the Women`s Bundesliga, they`ve finished in the top 2 in all but one of the last nine seasons, winning it on seven occasions and being runners up four times since 1999- though they haven`t won the title since 2008 now. Their pedigree in Europe is very good with 3 UEFA Cup wins and a Final appearance in 2004. The first leg of this tie will take place on Sunday, 15th April at Borehamwood`s Meadow Park, the second a week later in Germany. This means some rejigging of the calendar is required for Harvey and her girls, ensuring the deep squad will need to be utilised to its maximum. Arsenal`s next game is an F.A. Cup quarter final tie at home to Everton this Sunday at Meadow Park. Kickoff is 2pm, tickets, as ever, are £5 adults and £2.50 concessions. With the weather expecting to touch 20 degrees, why not come down? LD.
Update: Nico Yennaris has joined Notts County on loan for the rest of the season. Yennaris has appeared in the first team this season, performing excellently as a right back in the F.A. Cup win over Leeds and even coming on as a substitute against Manchester United in January. Yennaris is a defensive midfield player by trade and was a Junior Gunner as a kid.