The Development Team drew 3-3 away to Oxford United on a cold afternoon and difficult pitch.
The u20 team is currently composed of 17-and-18-year-olds with many of them capped at those levels for England. This a young team and they are clearly in the process of developing.
On a pitch that was 56m wide, well below the recommended 60m, the Arsenal girls were guilty of going through the middle too often. Against a well drilled defensive Oxford team, they created a dozen of chances during the game but also conceded three goals including two from Oxford first-teamer, Emily Allen.
Arsenal took the lead via Paige Bailey-Gayle, who received the ball wide right competing with the Oxford left-back. She managed to snatch it and finished with a left footed shot.
The equaliser came from a free-kick given away by Gabby Ravensrcoft 22 yards away from Lucy Thomas’ goal. Ellie Noble sent the ball to the top corner to make it 1-1.
Half-time was reached with the 1-1 scoreline, and it was a frustrating half as the young Gunners were denied time and space by excellent Oxford defending.
The second half started with both sides trying to make things happen and Arsenal still attacking via a funnel system.
It brought some reward with a couple of chances created by runs through the middle of Oxford’s defence and the second Arsenal goal thanks to a very clever chipped pass from Lia Cataldo to Gabby Ravenscroft who finished well with a half-volley. 2-1 Arsenal. 62′
Ravenscroft scored her second and Arsenal’s third goal a few minutes later. She hit a low shot from the edge of the box and the Oxford goalkeeper dived to catch it, but the ball bounce awkwardly, hit her arms and went in. 3-1 to the Arsenal. 65′
Unfortunately, that lead was quickly reduced to one goal as Oxford scored in the 67th minute. A great cross from Ellie Noble found Emily Allen unmarked at the far post to make it 3-2 on 67′.
The game then lost some of its fluency with Arsenal finding it hard to create chances but they finally started using diagonal passes to get behind Oxford’s defence. Shannon Cooke from centre back found a good range of passes to the wingers.
Oxford then got the equaliser as their defence cleared the ball. The header made it through as there was no midfield with the three Arsenal players all too high on the pitch. The Oxford midfielder played a superb through ball between our centre-backs and Emily Allen got her second of the day 3-3 84′
The last minutes were played at frantic pace with both teams trying to find a winner and coming close to it, but it finished 3-3 which was a fair result.
It was a very good game for the young players as they can see that there is a lot of work to be done before they can be selected for the first team.
I think it was clear that there were two main problems for the Arsenal girls in this game:
In the middle and final third the ball was moving too slowly to surprise the very compact defensive block from Oxford. There was also not enough diagonal passing to go round the defence as the ball was being passed like a team attacking a defence in handball.
I did wonder if the coaches provided enough guidance to the players on that point as the tactical answer was to possibly keep the full-backs and wingers as close as possible to the touchline, even if the ball was on the opposite wing.
When the pitch is so narrow it is the only way to stretch an opposition’s defence that sits quite deep.
The development team is unbeaten and top of league with 28 points from nine games and four points ahead of Chelsea.
They are actually unbeaten on the pitch in all competitions. The only ‘defeat’ came in the Development League Cup preliminary round with an away walkover despite beating Yeovil 7-0 on the day.
It will be interesting to see which players stay at the end of the season as a couple have already indicated they would move to the USA to play in the NCAA and study over there.