U-21s and Ladies Column: Issue #3
In a League Cup week, the work the development staff at the club do is temporarily ushered from behind the curtain to centre stage. Serge Gnabry, Martin Angha, Ignasi Miquel, Nico Yennaris, Damian Martinez, James Shea and Hector Bellerin were all in the 18 that faced Coventry City on Wednesday and all have appeared for Arsenal`s U-18 side at some point. Francis Coquelin also played 90 minutes having signed for the club when he was 17.
There were some impressive performances too. Ignasi Miquel turns 20 today and the exposure of having played a couple of seasons reserve football as Arsenal`s captain has lent him an assurance that the spindly, panicky 18 year old version of Iggy did not possess. The key thing for Miquel now is probably to go out on loan and experience an environment in which he is under greater pressure than a home game against a side two leagues below can`t replicate. It`s easy enough to look assured in such situations, Miquel could probably do with a few months in League One or the Championship where, as a central defender, his level of resistance will be pivotal in the tough pursuit of points.
Likewise, Nico Yennaris looks to have outgrown U-21 level. With the exception of the West Ham match last week, it`s all looked rather asinine for the 19 year old in the second string. I think he`s probably worth a loan spell at a Championship side. There`s no doubting this is a make or break season for him if he is to become a fixture in Arsenal`s squad. Wednesday`s run out will have done his cause no harm. But whether he can produce the same level of assurance at an unforgiving Premiership away game is yet to be seen or tested. Martin Angha however, had a tough time at right back and it all looked a bit soon for him in truth.
He was a little ponderous in possession and didn`t make the right decisions at times. But that`s to be expected at this stage. Angha only really broke into the U-21 side in the second half of last season. I`m sure Bellerin would have been picked ahead of him at right back but for the fact that Arsenal had quite a small side out physically. As a centre half by trade, Angha has a few more inches and a bit more bulk to his frame. He`s only started playing in the full back position in the last few months. Gnabry demonstrated his obvious quality in the twenty minute cameo he was afforded. The German is built and plays a lot like Chamberlain, in that he`s fearless and very direct. (He can strike from range too).
His decision making will also need fine tuning (there was an occasion when he ignored a simple pass to Chamakh in favour of a shot from range), but that will come with time. Gnabry was playing for the U-18s in February, so he`s developing quickly, but there will probably be cause to hold him back a touch at some point. At 16, Jack Wilshere was on the fringes of the first team squad. In September 2008, he made his first team debut. Yet by the end of that season, he was back in the U-18s- starting both legs of the F.A. Youth Cup semi-final and final in 2009. Development of young players is seldom a linear progression for even the most talented. We should temper our expectations for Gnabry. He`s obviously developed physically rather early and sometimes that can inflate your impression of how far along a player is. When those physical advantages decrease as the playing field levels amongst his peers. Chuks Aneke and Jay Emmanuel Thomas have found these obstacles a problem in the past.
Terry Burton has more local concerns with the League Cup done and dusted for another month. His side have endured a rocky run of games, culminating in a 4-1 defeat at West Ham. Burton`s boys travel to the Hawthorns on Monday afternoon in an attempt to get the season back on track. He has lost two mainstays of the second string with Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt having joined Colchester United on loan for three months. Watt and Eastmond are closing in on their 21st birthdays and clearly have no future at the club. Eastmond had the talent and was on the brink of the first team in 2010. But having signed a first team contract (an insight into why he hasn`t left yet), it appears Eastmond became too comfortable with life.
Sanchez Watt hasn`t built on an encouraging loan spell at Leeds two seasons ago and was fairly anonymous during spells with Crawley Town and Sheffield Wednesday last year. Watt is possibly the most appallingly one footed player I have ever seen. Twice this season I`ve watched him fluff one on ones with the keeper because he wouldn`t use his right foot. However, Burton will be able to call on Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong, who will look to continue their rehabilitation from injury. Sebastien Squillaci and Marouane Chamakh did not start the League Cup tie against Coventry and may look to supplant their lack of minutes in the second string. Squillaci has already appeared at Underhill once this season.
Laura Harvey`s problems this week are somewhat less, well, problematic! She took her side to Catalonia on Wednesday and they put one foot into the next round of the Champions League by resoundingly beating Barcelona 3-0 at Mini Estadia. Katie Chapman notched her third goal of the week- having scored twice in the 4-1 WSL win over Liverpool. Whilst Jordan Nobbs continued the goalscoring form that saw her selected for England for the first time earlier this month. Jennifer Beattie poses a Drogba-esque threat at set pieces and she scored another header in Spain to complete a comfortable victory.
Importantly, older campaigners such as Kelly Smith and Jayne Ludlow were unused subs. Smith is fit again after a calf strain and her experience will be vital as Arsenal look to bag two trophies in the next fortnight. Arsenal held up their end of the bargain last weekend with a thorough win over Liverpool. But Birmingham defeated Doncaster Rovers later in the evening to allay any title celebrations. Arsenal need a draw against Doncaster Belles this Sunday to retain their WSL crown. The ESPN cameras will be there for the Ladies` last home engagement of the domestic season. The expectation is that they will be filming Arsenal`s trophy presentation come full time. The game kicks off at 4.30pm at Borehamwood, live on ESPN. Tickets are £5 adults and £2.50 concessions. The trophy will be presented after the game in the event that Arsenal don`t lose.
Harvey will want to secure the title on Sunday. Both to maintain Arsenal`s unbeaten record in the WSL this season, but also because their last match is away at Birmingham City on October 7th. The Gunners won`t want to go into that one needing a result. Especially as they play the same opponents three days later at Underhill in the Continental Cup Final. Arsenal also have their second leg against Barcelona on the horizon on Thursday, 4th October at 3pm at Borehamwood. The U-19s play Olympiacos at Underhill just 4 hours later for a Hertfordshire double whammy.
The Barcelona second leg ought to be a formality now. The issue will arise in the next round. Potsdam won their tie in Bruges 3-1 so it`s almost certain that Arsenal will meet the German side next. Potsdam are one of the behemoths of the women`s game, just behind Lyon. Arsenal would face the unfamiliar prospect of going into a match as underdogs were they to meet. Not only is Potsdam`s ability an issue; but their status too. Arsenal just aren`t used to playing matches and not dominating them, they found it very difficult to adjust to that situation against Frankfurt in the Champions League semi-final last season. Activating a cautious game plan just isn`t in the girls` DNA. But for now, all of the focus will be on Sunday and the opportunity to win the league title for the 9th consecutive season. LD.