After having to endure some difficult results at various levels recently, there were positives aplenty for Arsenal’s youngsters this week as they secured progression in two of the major competitions that they are involved in.
Last Friday they reached the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup after comfortably dismissing of Torquay United with a 5-0 victory at Borehamwood. Given the calibre of the opposition Arsenal were always expected to progress, but they did so in a professional and ruthless manner, with midfielder Dan Crowley, who signed in the summer from Aston Villa, the stand-out performer.
Crowley found the net with a superb strike after good work from Gedion Zelalem, whilst Alex Iwobi (pictured) scored a brace, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and substitute Jack Jebb joining them on the scoresheet. Arsenal’s attacking momentum was unrelenting, but Steve Gatting’s side will be acutely aware that much tougher tests will lie ahead if they are to progress further in this competition.
Yesterday, Arsenal’s U19 side, containing many of the players who had been involved in that Youth Cup victory, secured qualification for the latter stages of the UEFA Youth League, despite, like the first-team, losing away to Napoli. Arsenal lost 2-1, with Chuba Akpom’s goal not enough to prevent defeat, but they will still be able to take their place in the Last 16 as group winners, meaning they will be paired with one of Shakhtar Donetsk, Copenhagen, PSG, Schalke, Austria Vienna or AC Milan in a single-legged fixture.
Given that Arsenal managed to reach the semi-finals of this competition’s predecessor, the NextGen Series, last year, the youngsters will be hoping for a lengthy run in this competition too, and, depending on his first-team commitments, they may be able to call upon Serge Gnabry for involvement in the latter stages.
Isaac Hayden, another player who has been involved with the first-team this season, was suspended yesterday, but will return for the Last 16 tie, whilst centre-back Julio Pleguezuelo was absent through injury but should also have recovered in time.
Next week the focus will switch back to Arsenal’s U21 side, who conclude 2013 with home fixtures against Leicester City and Manchester United. The latter encounter will be especially intriguing, whilst Arsenal will be seeking to bounce back from the 5-1 thrashing inflicted upon them by Sunderland recently.
Hector Bellerin, meanwhile, continues to impress on loan, with the 18 year old having featured three times for Watford in the Championship as a right wing-back. His raiding runs forward have yielded great results, including a superb assist against Leeds United at the weekend. Bellerin’s initial arrangement with Watford expires on January 2nd, but, if he continues to progress, it would not be too surprising if the loan deal was to be extended until the end of the season.