Arsenal got their Champions League campaign back on track against Galatasaray on Wednesday, but the club’s start to the season in the UEFA Youth League has been even more impressive.
The young Gunners have taken six points from their first two games, following up a win over Borussia Dortmund with an effective dispatch of the Turkish side just hours before the first-team fixture between the two sides.
The 5-1 victory over Galatasaray was notable not only for the emphatic scoreline but for the free-flowing performance from the Arsenal youngsters. The sublime technical talent of Gedion Zelalem, who scored his first goal for the club, Dan Crowley and Chris Willock was far too much for the opposition to cope with.
Crowley and Willock also found the net, which, added to goals from Kaylen Hinds and Alex Iwobi, made for a very good afternoon’s work from Arsenal.
The victory was all the more commendable given that it was achieved with a rather inexperienced side. Iwobi, at 18, was the captain and the team’s oldest player, with the rest of the side comprised of first and second-years.
The new first-years are certainly impressing, with George Dobson, a player who can play at centre-back or as a defensive-midfielder, demonstrating his potential, whilst Stephy Mavididi is slowing being eased into the older age groups having already scored 10 goals for the U18 team this season.
The U18s have also made a good start to the new season, although they were a little fortunate to prevail 3-2 away to Fulham last Saturday. Fulham raced into a two goal lead after capitalising on some weak Arsenal defending, but a Hinds-inspired comeback saw Arsenal eventually win 3-2.
Hinds, on as a half-time substitute, scored two goals himself and also played an intelligent pass to set up Mavididi.
It is still very early days in the tenure of Andries Jonker as the Head of the club’s Academy, but the Dutchman’s arrival has coincided with a notable upturn in results at all three major youth levels (U21s, U19s and U18s). Whether that will continue throughout the season remains to be seen, but another notable change since Jonker’s arrival is that the Arsenal youngsters, particularly at U21 level, now appear to be playing as more as a team, whereas previously some individuals would take most of the responsibility.
On the loan front, two players whose Arsenal futures looked in some doubt earlier this year have enjoyed stellar starts to their latest temporary transfers. Benik Afobe’s exploits at MK Dons have been well documented, with the striker scoring again in the defeat to Bristol City last week.
Ryo Miyaichi, meanwhile, has had a couple of impressive run-outs for FC Twente, with the Japanese winger looking to finally show some consistency having seen his progress halted by a series of injuries in the past few seasons.