After making a sensational start to their UEFA Youth League campaign, things have taken a turn for the worse for Arsenal’s young prospects.
Arsenal U19s quickly underlined their credentials by dispatching of Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray with aplomb, but two successive defeats to Anderlecht have raised doubts about their capability of qualifying for the knockout stages.
At present Anderlecht sit top of the group with nine points, Arsenal and Galatasaray both have six points and Dortmund are languishing behind with three points. With two games left to play, a lot can still change and Arsenal will certainly have to perform far better in their remaining fixtures than they did against the Belgian side this week.
Arsenal have an abundance of creative talent in this side, with the likes of Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley and Chris Willock all capable of causing problems for the opposition. Defensively, though, some vulnerabilities exist, particularly with Julio Pleguezuelo not yet fit enough to feature having only recently returned from injury.
The absence of striker Kaylen Hinds, who scored three times in the first two games in this competition, has also been keenly felt. Hinds should be back for the home game against Dortmund later this month, and Arsenal will be aware that three points in that fixture will be a priority before they conclude the group stages with a trip to face Galatasaray.
Last season Arsenal managed to reach the Quarter-Finals of the competition, where they were defeated by Barcelona. This season they have had to cope without many of the star names who featured in that campaign, including Hector Bellerin, Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom.
This year, with only players born in 1996 or later being eligible, several of the club’s first-year scholars have gained valuable experience of playing at this level, which will surely aid their future development.
With inexperience, though, will come some mistakes, and Arsenal will have to learn from their defensive errors quickly if they are to remain a threat in this competition.