Arsenal u21s secured promotion via the play-offs on Tuesday evening, beating Aston Villa 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium to return to the top flight of u21 football in England.
Overall, it was an impressive performance with significant broader ramifications, detailed here, but how did the players do on an individual basis? Running through the side:
Matt Macey: Clearly needs to improve with the ball at his feet, having been at fault for Villa’s goal and looking unconvincing after that. A giant who likes coming for crosses and was cherry picking floated corners all night. Only had one save to make bar the goal. Will be over 21 next year, so either needs to become third choice or moved on.
Julio Pleguezuelo: Out of position at right back, he looked tidy, defensively sound but largely conservative. Lacks the pace for the modern fullback role, and perhaps the height for central defence, but positionally sound and confident one-on-one. Needs to look at Fabio Cannavaro for inspiration, as physicality is not the u21 captain’s strength.
Tafari Moore: A right-back playing on the left, his return after a long injury has been fairly seamless. Quick, determined and with decent size, he was only beaten when left two-on-one as Willock tired late on, but put in an impressive display. Very impressive dreadlocks, too!
Calum Chambers: Looked ring rusty at first but, as we’ve seen in the first team, has the capacity to recover well after a nervy start. Was dominant and very steady when Villa tried to push late on.
Krystian Bielik: Having been transplanted from midfield, the young Pole has been impressive at the back in most recent performances and this was no exception. Countless excellent block tackles and interceptions, his positioning has really come on. Very comfortable on the ball, but occasionally takes risks that belie his midfield roots. Very dominant second half.
Francis Coquelin: Played at 100% commitment, and was far too skilled, strong and quick for this level. Seamlessly re-connected with Cazorla and their understanding was a joy to behold. Utterly dominant and a good passing range too.
Santi Cazorla: Though only half fit, the little magician reminded us that his injury probably cost us the title. His ability to retain possession under pressure, transition the play and be both economical and creative were breathtaking at times. Managed his energy well, too.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide: A season filled with moments of brilliance has also had a fair amount of anonymity at times, and he doesn’t impose himself as much as you’d expect for one of his technical and physical attributes. Showed flashes, but was largely peripheral. Mustn’t forget how young he is.
Joel Campbell: A typical busy, bustling performance to remind why the fans like him and why the manager seemingly remains unconvinced. Decision making veered between the insightful and the odd, but provided some much-needed physicality.
Chris Willock: After his semi-final heroics and valiant display in the youth cup, he again showed why Wenger has had him training with the first team. Stick thin but wiry, and not yet with the stamina to really last the pace, he can pass, shoot or cross with either foot, is very comfortable running with ball, shows good movement and is also willing to track back.Perhaps most impressive seems to scent blood at key moments. Late on, he looked dead on his
Perhaps most impressive is that he seems to pick up the scent of blood at key moments. Late on, he looked dead on his feet but still came to life to set up a third, created other half-chances and nearly scored himself. Like Iwobi a year or so ago, he has suddenly taken another step and with more strength and fitness could push for games next year. Just makes decisive things happen.
Stephy Mavididi: Following his excellent form for the u18s last year, the second half of the u21 season has seen him look a real threat. Strong and quick, with good work-rate and movement, he crucially seems to have slightly greater awareness of teammates than his immediate predecessor, Chuba Akpom.Had surprised me with his speedy adaptation to u21 level, and could probably score goals at a lower level professionally if he went on loan next year. The real test will be coming up against stronger and quicker opponents, but he has a lot of the requisite ingredients.
Had surprised me with his speedy adaptation to u21 level, and could probably score goals at a lower level professionally if he went on loan next year. The real test will be coming up against stronger and quicker opponents, but he has a lot of the requisite ingredients.
Ben Sheaf (on for Cazorla): Only got 10 minutes, but looked composed, technically sound and physically strong. His best performances this year seem to have been in continental competition at youth level, and in recent weeks has had limited chances to impress in his preferred central midfield berth. Dead ball expert.
Kaylen Hinds (On for Campbell): Likewise, only had 10 minutes. After an impressive performance in the FA youth cup semi-final defeat, his playing time at this level has been limited by the return of Gnabry and the form of Willock. An Islington boy with a decent goals record, it’s not yet clear where across the front line his best position lies. Finishing and decision-making need work, but his movement and technique are excellent.