The Premier League International Cup isn’t the most high profile of the competitions which Arsenal U21s are involved in, but it is certainly a beneficial tournament for development.
This week Arsenal suffered a 1-0 defeat at home to Sparta Prague and the game posed a real challenge for Mehmet Ali’s team as they were faced with different tactical problems which they don’t usually have to deal with in league games.
Matches in this competition are often very hard-fought and not as open as usual.
Arsenal’s cause wasn’t helped by the fact that they were without a host of key players, but for those who were involved it was certainly a useful exercise, and Ali gave debuts to four U18 players who featured as substitutes, with Mathaeus Roberts, Osman Kamara, Seb Ferdinand and Ismail Oulad M’Hand all coming on.
Jack Henry-Francis, who captained the team, made an impact in midfield, and there was also an encouraging performance at right-back from Josh Robinson, who is striving to earn a professional contract.
Arsenal’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of this competition suffered a blow with this defeat, but the overall experience will have benefited the players immensely.
Centre-back Zach Awe has featured prominently for the U21s this season and is now approaching the stage where a loan move could be required. The 18-year-old received a callup to the first-team squad last season against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
As we approach the halfway point of the season, there are plenty of positives to take for Arsenal U21s, who are top of the league, although there was frustration in being eliminated from the Papa Johns Trophy.
Next up is a Premier League Cup game at home to Burnley next Friday.