Arsenal U18s have struggled in the league for several years now, with many of the club’s best players often being pushed into the U21 side as quickly as possible.
This season, however, results at U18 level have been especially concerning. Despite a change in the club’s hierarchy at youth level, which saw Andries Jonker appointed as Academy Manager and Frans De Kat (pictured) installed as U18 coach, the youngsters have continued to deliver inept displays.
To provide some background, the U18s have won just one league game since September and have conceded an alarming 39 goals in their 21 fixtures.
The aim at this level, of course, is always to produce youngsters who are capable of breaking into the first-team squad in the future but losing nearly every week is hardly beneficial for either their confidence or their development.
The main cause of this abysmal form, somewhat inevitably, appears to be the defence. Many of the goals that the U18s have conceded this season have stemmed from individual errors, with the positioning of the full-backs and the communication between the centre-backs often being called into question.
There are some good attacking talents at this level, with Tyrell Robinson a dangerous winger who can also be utilised at left-back, whilst schoolboy striker Josh Da Silva possesses much potential.
In the past week, however, the U18s have suffered four concerning defeats in seven days.
Last weekend they lost 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion, despite an impressive individual strike from Greek midfielder Savvas Mourgos.
On Monday night came perhaps the biggest disappointment as De Kat’s side crashed out of the FA Youth Cup by losing 3-2 to Crewe Alexandra.
It was another inept Arsenal performance, with the defence struggling to cope with Crewe’s pressing game and high intensity. The most concerning aspect was that Arsenal were unable to muster much in the way of attacking momentum despite being able to call upon the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem and Chris Willock.
Stephy Mavididi and substitute Marc Bola scored to give Arsenal hope of progressing, but Crewe were deserved winners and Arsenal’s wait for a trophy at youth level goes on.
U18 league action resumed on Wednesday with a trip to take on Tottenham Hotspur and this game resulted in yet another defeat, with Tottenham winning 4-1. Mourgos was again on the scoresheet for an inexperienced Arsenal side, but once more some disappointing defensive decisions proved to be Arsenal’s downfall.
Then, this morning, with Krystian Bielik making his first appearance for the club since his move from Legia Warsaw, the U18s slipped to another defeat, this time losing 3-1 to bottom of the table Norwich City, despite Da Silva’s strike.
It has been a season of much concern at this level and, whilst the results are clearly a major talking point, the biggest worry as far as the future of the club is concerned is the lack of defensive prospects emerging out of the club’s Hale End academy.