European dream over, but silverware still attainable for Arsenal youngsters


Silverware often appears elusive for Arsenal at youth level and the young Gunners will have to wait at least another year before tasting success on the European stage after their UEFA Youth League campaign was brought to an abrupt end by Atletico Madrid last week.

Arsenal got off to an excellent start in the group stages, with a young side containing the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem and Chris Willock confidently swatting aside Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray.

Despite losing twice to Anderlecht, they managed to prevail in the return games against Dortmund and Galatasaray to set up their one-legged away tie against Atletico in the Last 16.

The draw had been known for weeks. Arsenal had prepared well, or so they thought.

Within a minute of the tie getting underway a lapse in concentration meant that they found themselves a goal down and it was a deficit from which Frans De Kat’s side, despite their best efforts, couldn’t recover.

They kept threatening to equalise, with Dan Crowley, as ever, leading the forward charge, ably supported by Alex Iwobi and Stephy Mavididi.

Atletico stood firm, however, and Arsenal saw their Youth League dream come to an end in Spain for the second season in succession following last year’s defeat to Barcelona at the Quarter-Final stage.

Arsenal had paid for a lack of assurance defensively, and they were particularly hard hit by the absence of second-years Tafari Moore and Julio Pleguezuelo. However, perhaps more worrying was their inability to breach the Atletico defence, with Arsenal’s passing often not quick, incisive or direct enough.

Despite the disappointment of Tuesday night, there is still a genuine possibility that the youngsters will be able to lift some silverware this season in the form of the FA Youth Cup.

Having seen off the considerably different threats of Reading and non-league Royston Town in previous rounds, Arsenal’s campaign continues at home to Crewe Alexandra on Monday night.

Crewe, who are renowned for giving young players an opportunity to impress, will be no pushovers, but Arsenal will still be confident of prevailing, with the additional incentive that, should they progress, they will face Manchester City away in the Quarter-Finals, possibly at the Etihad Stadium.

To stand a chance of progressing far in the Youth Cup, however, Arsenal will have to recapture the form that they displayed in those aforementioned victories over Dortmund and Galatasaray.

Since then, despite demonstrating glimpses of their talent, they haven’t been able to produce many cohesive performances. There will be very little margin for error in their quest to finally win another piece of silverware at youth level.

Jeorge Bird is the author of  Follow him on Twitter @jeorgebird


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