On the whole this pre-season has been positive for Arsenal’s youngsters, with several such players featuring prominently during the first-team’s build-up to the new campaign, whilst three new signings have been brought in at youth level in Dan Crowley, Jamaal Raage and Julio Pleguezuelo.
The latter, however, was involved in a morale-sapping 7-0 defeat away to Luton Town in a friendly last Saturday which raised serious questions about the club’s youth development system, and, in particular, the capability of coach Steve Gatting, who has been filling in for the U21s since Terry Burton was named as Liam Brady’s temporary replacement as the club’s head of youth development.
Gatting’s team selection for the Luton fixture was certainly out of the ordinary, with Tafari Moore, a right-back, starting at left-back, Alex Iwobi, a winger or attacking midfielder, operating as the lone striker, and, rather bizarrely, Isaac Hayden, one of the club’s best prospects at centre-back or in central-midfield, being deployed in the playmaker role. Added to the inclusion of Pleguezuelo, who was making his second-string debut, and trialist Ramy Bensebiani as an unorthodox and highly unfamiliar central-defensive pairing, it was recipe for disaster.
Arsenal should still have performed better with the options they had at their disposal, however. The Gunners were able to call upon Nico Yennaris and Thomas Eisfeld, who have both represented the first-team competitively, whilst Wellington, Kristoffer Olsson and Hector Bellerin, the latter having just returned from the U19 European Championships, were also involved.
The result and, more importantly, the performance, was all the more disappointing given that it came just a few days after the youngsters had demonstrated terrific resilience to come from behind to draw 4-4 away to Leyton Orient, with defender Daniel Boateng scoring the dramatic late equaliser. According to reports this week, however, Boateng has had his contract with the club terminated for as yet unexplained reasons.
Another player to have departed the club, albeit on a temporary basis, is Chuks Aneke, who has returned to Crewe Alexandra on loan, where he spent the vast majority of last season. Aneke, a powerful midfielder who is a graduate of the club’s Hale End Academy, has found first-team opportunities difficult to come by at Arsenal and spent much of the recent Asia Tour operating in the unfamiliar position of centre-back. He has returned to Crewe with a flourish, however, and scored as they progressed to the second round of the Capital One Cup last night. All of the indications suggest that, with his contract due to expire at the end of the season, this loan move could be the precursor to a permanent departure to the Alexandra Stadium for the 20 year old.