Last night Arsemal’s youngsters were trounced 6-2 by Cheltenham Town in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Unless you were one of the 400 magnificent travelling fans who made their way over to West England on a cold Tuesday night, you will probably look at a 6-2 defeat and question the ability and potential of the players coming through.
Last nights defeat was not a fair reflection on the current state of our academy teams.
Arsenal are current Premier League 2 Champions – the Under 23 league. This seasons campaign sees us in 4th place; just 2 points off top. The U18 team are equally as competitive; 1 point off top in the Southern League.
It is clear that we have some very good players for their age coming through.
So why did we get thrashed by Cheltenham Town?
Down to 10 men
After just 8 minutes, Arsenal found themselves down to 10 men and a goal gown after Robbie Burton was sent off for a challenge on Chelsea loanee Jacob Maddox.
From the subsequent free-kick, Chris Clement inflicted further punishment on Arsenal putting Cheltenham into the lead.
Arsenal played 82 minutes with 10 men.
Men against boys
When we say Arsenal were down to 10 men; the truth is we were down to 10 boys.
The Checkatrade Trophy is an odd competition. It pits Premier League U21 teams against lower league senior teams. It is men against boys.
7.8 Each Invited Club must ensure that in each Match:
7.8.1 at least six of the starting eleven players named on the Team Sheet are players who were aged under 21 as at the 30th June in the year in which the Season concerned commenced; and
7.8.2 no more than two players who:
(i) are aged 21 or over; and
(ii) have made 40 or more appearances in a First Team Fixture (either in the starting eleven or as a playing substitute)
The average age of Arsenal’s outfield players was just 18; they were up against a Cheltenham side with an average age of 24.
Key players missing
It was not just that Arsenal had out a young team, it was also that the U21 side was missing some key players.
Arsenal were without Emile Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Julio Pleguezuelo, who have all joined the first team squad ahead of tonight’s League Cup game against Blackpool. They are 4 best players at that level.
Also Jordi Osei-Tutu, Xavier Amaechi, Joseph Olowu and Tobi Omole are all injured. The later two both played against Coventry in the first Checkatrade game, and the first two would have started if fit.
So in a game of men against boys, Arsenal were without at least 7 U21’s that would have expected to have started.
The Forgotten 3
Alongside Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Willock and Pleguezuelo, there are 3 other first team squad members who would have been eligible for the Checkatrade Trophy.
Matteo Guendouzi, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are all under-21.
A few people have had a moan that the defeat shows that we do not have many top youth prospects coming through, yet in Guendouzi, Mavropanos and Maitland-Niles; we have youth prospects who are so good that they are no longer really considered youth prospects.
You add these 3 names to other key players missing and the XI that Arsenal could have put out against Cheltenham Town would look completely different:
Osei-Tutu Mavropanos Pleguezuelo Omole
Amaechi ESR Willock
The side that ended up being beaten, when down to 10 mean, by Cheltenham Town was basically a “B Team”. None of the players who appeared would start in Arsenal’s strongest XI.
The fact that some of our kids are so good that they are knocking on the door of the first team squad, and in Guendouzi and Maitland-Niles we have two who have seen plenty of first team action, shows how good our youth team players are.
Arsenal have some very good youngsters coming through. The future is bright. and the defeat against Cheltenham was not a reflection of the players coming through.