There wasn’t just one Arsenal side that enjoyed victory against Marseille yesterday, with Arsenal U19′s, albeit in vastly differing circumstances to the first-team, overcoming the French side’s academy in their first fixture of the new UEFA Youth League.
Arsenal ran out comfortable 4-1 winners in the end, and there were many positives to glean from the occasion for Steve Gatting and the rest of the coaching staff, not least the performance of Serge Gnabry, who shone in his role as an unorthodox striker. Gnabry scored twice, which along with strikes from Alex Iwobi and Jack Jebb, propelled Arsenal to victory despite the Gunners scoring a comical own goal when goalkeeper Deyan Iliev mis-kicked a back-pass into his own goal.
Gnabry was the star of the show, however, with the young German demonstrating his key attributes of pace, power and flair, with his second goal, and Arsenal’s third a case in point. Gnabry did superbly to control a long pass and flick the ball into the path of Jebb, who returned the ball to Gnabry, with the former Stuttgart player powering forward to score.
It was a sublime move which came less than a week after the same player had scored an equally memorable volley for the U21s against West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium. For all the potential he has demonstrated in these two fixtures, however, Gnabry has yet to feature for the first-team so far this season, with the youngster currently not registered to play in the Champions League due to quota issues.
He should receive an opportunity to shine against West Brom in the Capital One Cup, though, and, at present, the 18 year old certainly seems a much better option than fellow winger Ryo for involvement with the first-team.
The victory over Marseille also saw impressive performances from Gnabry’s fellow goalscorers Iwobi and Jebb, with both players, who are now in their second full seasons at the Academy, demonstrating their considerable potential. Iwobi, who is usually deployed as a winger, has started the season in excellent form, whilst Jebb’s performance yesterday, operating as an advanced midfielder, was his most accomplished for quite some time.
There was further good news for Arsenal’s youngsters earlier in the week when it was confirmed that the club have signed 19 year old centre-back Semi Ajayi on a permanent basis following a successful trial. Ajayi, who rose through the ranks at Charlton Athletic, is an extremely good reader of the game and has joined on a two-year deal.
The games are now coming with some regularity for the youngsters, but, after a difficult summer, this week has been one of many positives for the Arsenal Academy.