Much has happened in the past week with regards to Arsenal’s youth system, and, on the face of it, the majority of the events that have occurred have been tinged with negativity.
The departure of Alban Bunjaku has been the biggest topic for debate, with the 17 year old currently on trial at West Ham after leaving Arsenal following a disagreement with the coaching staff. Bunjaku, a skilful playmaker, had found the net 15 times for the under-18s in the past two seasons and had shone with his sublime technical ability, but was aggrieved at the lack of opportunities he was afforded at Reserve level.
Only time will tell whether Bunjaku’s departure will come back to haunt Arsenal but, unless he proves to be the exception to the rule, it seems unlikely, with Arsenal not having made too many grave errors concerning players at this level in the past.
Bunjaku was absent as Arsenal went out of the FA Youth Cup to Derby County in extra-time last week. Despite Arsenal dominating the opening period, Derby withstood the pressure before striking the decisive blow late on. There were some positives to take from the occasion from an Arsenal perspective, however, in the performances of goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook, who made some impressive saves, and right-back Hector Bellerin, signed from Barcelona, who impressed with his forays forward.
That defeat was followed by a much-changed Arsenal under-18 side losing 3-2 to Charlton in the Academy League a few days later. Serge Gnabry and Kyle Ebecilio scored impressive goals for the Gunners and, despite the defeat, Steve Bould’s side are still within touching distance of the top of the league table.
Then came Monday’s Reserve defeat to Chelsea at London Colney, with the visitors running out 4-0 winners. Chelsea’s dominance, however, particularly in the first-half, wasn’t as profound as the scoreline would suggest, with Arsenal enjoying large spells of possession and squandering several opportunities, several of which fell to Rhys Murphy, before a Chelsea side including Romelu Lukaku took their chances in emphatic fashion.
Despite the defeat, it has, on the whole, been a largely positive first half of the season for the second string, and, it is to be remembered, although the club hate to lose at any level, the progression of players into the first-team picture is the primary aim for Neil Banfield and his staff.
In that regard, 2011 has brought several positives, with Ignasi Miquel, Conor Henderson, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Chuks Aneke, Nico Yennaris and Daniel Boateng all making their first-team debuts, whilst Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin have established themselves as members of the first-team squad.
The aim for 2012 will be to continue the production line, although some, perhaps not quite in as dramatic fashion as Bunjaku, will fall by the wayside in the process.