Arsenal’s Reserves and under-18s could hardly have the started the season in more contrasting fashion.
Whilst Neil Banfield’s second string maintained their 100% start to the campaign with a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Wigan yesterday, the under-18s were rather slack as they went down 2-1 to Barnsley last week, suggesting that it may be another season of inconsistent results at that level.
As far as the reserves are concerned, though, there is much to savour at present. Although Banfield was shorn of the services of Ignasi Miquel and Henri Lansbury yesterday after they trained with the first-team, his side, whilst not yet at peak fitness, demonstrated impressive levels of work ethic and commitment to come from behind against a spirited Wigan outfit.
After the hosts had taken the lead early in the first half, Arsenal were dealt a further blow when goalkeeper Vito Mannone was forced to withdraw through injury. They responded, though, with Sanchez Watt epitomising that aforementioned commitment and desire to pressurise a Latics defender into squandering possession before finishing calmly.
Watt would then combine with Chuks Aneke for the latter to put Arsenal ahead and, despite some valiant attempts by the hosts to restore parity, the Gunners were out of sight when Japanese starlet Ryo Miyaichi, who was playing in order to build up his fitness, finished sweetly.
Miyaichi, in truth, did not have the most memorable of games overall and was a peripheral figure for much of the afternoon but he continued to get into the right positions and eventually got his reward.
There were other positives, too, with the all-Dutch defensive-midfield pairing of Kyle Ebecilio and Oguzhan Ozyakup continuing to blossom. Ebecilio provides steel and Ozyakup craft, but Ebecilio is also rather skilful himself and is benefiting from Lansbury’s absence as he attempts to become a regular fixture in Banfield’s line-up.
Diminutive Jernade Meade, too, is fast becoming a key figure at this level and has performed well enough in recent weeks to keep George Brislen-Hall, his rival for the left-back spot, out of the side.
For the under-18s, though, it is a slightly different story. Last season was, to put it mildly, an inconsistent and incoherent campaign for Steve Bould’s latest crop of players and it was expected that this season would be rather different with many of the second years now pushing for professional contracts.
However, the defeat to Barnsley suggested that little has changed over the summer. Defensive mistakes were made with Elton Monteiro, whose acquisition from Sion two years ago becomes more puzzling with every performance, culprit-in-chief. Bould is currently without Josh Rees and Alban Bunjaku, by and large his two most impressive players last season, because of injury and the new foreign recruits including Hector Bellerin, Jon Toral and Kristoffer Olsson are yet to be called upon.
Bould did take solace, however, in the performance of schoolboy substitute Chuba Akpom, who recently impressed for England under-17s. Akpom possesses an interesting and varied skill set and a unique playing style and, judging by the effusive nature of Bould’s comments, he could be set for several more run outs this campaign.
Bould will be hoping that the rest of his squad will soon follow Akpom’s example.