After a difficult past few weeks, Arsenal’s youngsters finally conjured up a win to remember as they beat holders Inter Milan away to progress to the Quarter-Finals of the NextGen Series.
On a treacherous pitch which made cohesive, passing football almost impossible, Terry Burton’s side displayed grit and determination to prevail, with Nico Yennaris scoring the only goal of the game from distance in the second-half. The likes of Hector Bellerin, Elton Monteiro and Sead Hajrovic must also be commended, too, for turning in some impressive defensive performances, as they made all manner of last-ditch blocks and challenges to restrict Inter to speculative efforts from distance.
Arsenal’s reward for their victory is a Quarter-Final tie at home to CSKA Moscow, which will certainly be no easy task, but, should the young Gunners succeed in that fixture, a return to Italy will be on the cards, with both the Semi-Final and Final of the competition to be held in the area of Lake Como.
Arsenal will now be confident of progressing all the way in the competition, a feat which seemed rather unlikely when they were stumbling through the group stages, going four games without a victory or scoring a goal. Now, however, with the added experience of the likes of Yennaris and Martin Angha, this seems a well-balanced side and one which certainly isn’t lacking in belief.
For all the success in European competition, however, Arsenal are still without a win at U21 level since November, and currently sit bottom of the Elite Group. They did, though, display resilience to draw 2-2 with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns last week, having gone a goal down and conceded a penalty, which Lukasz Fabianski, making his third consecutive start at this level, did well to save. Nigel Neita and Chuba Akpom scored the goals which earned Arsenal a point, although Hector Bellerin was unfortunate not to win it late on when his fierce strike rattled a post.
The games are coming thick and fast for Arsenal at second-string level now, with nine fixtures to fulfil before the end of next month, starting with Southampton’s visit to Underhill on Monday, which is followed by a trip to Upton Park to take on West Ham a week today.
The U18s, meanwhile, restored a semblance of pride following some harrowing recent defeats by drawing 0-0 with Norwich City at London Colney last weekend. Arsenal, in truth, probably deserved to win the game against the Canaries, with wingers Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Tarum Dawkins providing frequent threats to the opposition goal.
To end on a somewhat negative note, two Arsenal loanees will miss the remainder of the season as a consequence of injuries sustained whilst playing for their temporary clubs. Benik Afobe sustained a tear in his anterior cruciate knee ligament whilst playing for Millwall, which is expected to rule him out for six to nine months, whilst goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook will spend three months on the sidelines having injured his finger whilst with non-league side Chelmsford.