Steve Bould was coach of Arsenal U18s for seven years before his promotion to the first-team coaching staff, but his successor, former West Ham player Pat Holland, lasted just seven games in the role before being dismissed this week and replaced by U16 coach Steve Gatting.
Holland had been appointed, surprisingly ahead of Gatting, who was the popular choice at the time, on the eve of the campaign, and it is fair to say that the first impression he provided to Liam Brady and the rest of Arsenal’s youth development staff wasn’t the most positive one as his side went down 5-1 away to Bolton Wanderers on the opening weekend of the season.
His final game in charge proved to be another hefty defeat, this time a 3-0 loss to Reading, and, although his side did go unbeaten for five matches in the interim, Holland struggled to strike a chord with his new charges, playing several players out of position and deploying a rather predictable method of squad selection by rotating the same three players each game, which meant that there was little in the way of competition for places.
It is hoped that Gatting, who knows all about the players at his disposal having coached many of them at U16 level in recent seasons, will turn this current U18 side into a more cohesive unit. With Holland, although the results produced when he was in charge were not entirely satisfactory, it was more the mundane level of performances under him which grated the most, and Gatting will be seeking to reignite the free-flowing, passing game that Arsenal strive to have as their symbol.
Away from the U18s, there was also some interesting news this week with regards to the club’s partnership with SPL side Inverness. The Gunners have struck up an agreement with Terry Butcher’s side whereby they will send several youngsters over to Scotland in the hope of them receiving some playing time at a moderately high level.
Philip Roberts was the first such player to make the trip, with the young forward, who signed for Arsenal from Norwich City two years ago, joining Butcher’s team on loan, initially until January. In his first couple of months in his new surroundings Roberts has cut quite an impression, and scored his first senior goal recently, leading Butcher to state that he will be looking to secure the forward’s services until the end of the campaign, whilst also looking to bring in other young Gunners on a temporary basis.
The most convenient scenario for both parties would be for Arsenal to send players who are, like Roberts probably would be if he remained at the club, struggling to command a regular place in the U21 side. The likes of Josh Rees, Samir Bihmoutine and Nigel Neita have hardly featured for Terry Burton’s team so far this campaign and a spell in Scotland could provide them with some useful experience as they continue to make their respective ways up the footballing ladder.