The top Arsenal academy teams have all played their final games of the season, so let’s take a look at how they’ve done this year.
- Head Coach: Freddie Ljungberg
- Premier League 2: 2nd-place finish
- EFL Trophy: Eliminated in the round-of-32
- Top Scorer: Eddie Nketiah (10 goals)
- Top Assist Provider: Bukayo Saka (8 assists)
Freddie Ljungberg took over as the u23s’ head coach last summer, and there was a bit of an adaptation period as the team got to grips with his ideas. The young side played possession football, playing out from the back, but they were also deadly on the counter-attack, transitioning at pace with a killer instinct in the final third.
That didn’t all come together immediately though. In their 13 league matches in 2018, Arsenal only won four times, losing five and drawing four. Things were particularly bad in November and December, when they conceded 18 goals and scored just five.
This was partly down to the unavailability of certain players. A number of u23s joined the first team for Europa League and League Cup matches, in addition to first-choice right-back Jordi Osei-Tutu and star winger Xavier Amaechi picking up injuries. PL2 2017/18 Player of the Season Reiss Nelson also left on loan.
In the second half of the campaign, after getting to grips with Ljungberg’s ideas and with a few players coming out of their shell a bit (notably Tyreece John-Jules), Arsenal went undefeated and won seven of their 10 games. They ended up finishing second, and can hopefully carry their momentum forward into next year.
In the EFL Trophy, Arsenal had a decent group stage, defeating League One side Coventry 3-0 and League Two side Forest Green Rovers 3-1. They suffered a heavy 6-2 defeat to Cheltenham Town, but that was in exceptional circumstances after they picked up a red card at 0-0 after seven minutes.
Unfortunately, after progressing through the group they faced Portsmouth, the eventual winners of the competition. It was a tightly-fought contest and Saka scored a screamer for the Gunners, but the hosts found a late winner to eliminate Arsenal 2-1.
The goals were fairly well shared around between Nketiah, John-Jules, Willock, Saka and Amaechi, as well as the likes of Nelson, Mavididi and Smith Rowe before they all left, hence why Nketiah was top scorer despite only scoring 10. He would’ve scored a lot more if he hadn’t played fewer than half of the Arsenal u23s’ matches.
Meanwhile, Saka scored six and managed eight assists for the u23s, as well as another eight goals and two assists for the u18s, as he had a fine campaign between the two teams. He also won three penalties, two of which were converted into goals.
- Head Coach: Ken Gillard/Kwame Ampadu
- U18 Premier League South: Champions
- FA Youth Cup: Eliminated in the Fifth Round
- U18 Premier League Cup: Eliminated in the Group Stage
- Top Scorer: Folarin Balogun (28 goals)
- Top Assist Provider: Matt Smith (15 assists)
The u18s had to deal with a change of head coach early in the season, as Kwame Ampadu left the club in October to join up with Thierry Henry at AS Monaco. However, Ken Gillard has done fantastically well in Ampadu’s place, so much so that he’s been given the job on a permanent basis.
In the league, Arsenal finished on 60 points out of a maximum of 66, having won 20 of their 22 games. That made them u18 PL South Champions, but they ended up losing to Derby in the North/South playoff to decide the overall winner. Even though Derby were deserving winners, it’s fair to say nothing went for Arsenal that day.
Star goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo and top scorer Folarin Balogun were both absent, u18 regulars Sam Greenwood, Miguel Azeez and Yunus Musah were away with England, Tom Smith made an early goalkeeping howler to throw away the lead and another deflected goal and an Arsenal penalty miss condemned them to their fate.
The rest of the season was considerably more impressive. No one in the u18 league could come to terms with Balogun, who scored 25 league goals in 19 games. Matt Smith was the creative hub of the team, and the Gunners also had an excellent defensive record throughout.
In the FA Youth Cup, Arsenal started strongly with a 2-0 win over Northampton Town and a 5-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. However, they then suffered a shock 2-1 exit to West Brom in the next round, with the players later admitting they’d grown complacent.
The positive thing is that they used that result as motivation, winning their next nine games in a row.
A number of players will progress from the u18s to the u23s next season, with Folarin Balogun, Matt Smith and defensive duo Harry Clarke and Mark McGuinness the ones to watch out for. That’s in addition to Tyreece John-Jules, Bukayo Saka, Xavier Amaechi and Trae Coyle, who have already been making the step up this year.
Vontae Daley-Campbell will also be part of the u23 side next season if he signs professional terms with the club, but he’s had an offer on the table for a long time now without committing, so he and Bayli Spencer-Adams may well be on the way out.
Just a quick note on the Arsenal u16s, there have been a few exciting talents in the side that will likely start to make the step up to u18 level next season.
16-year-old trio Yunus Musah, Miguel Azeez and Mazeed Ogungbo have already made plenty of appearances for the u18 side, and Kido Taylor-Hart got on the scoresheet on his u18 debut this year. They’ll all likely be regulars for the u18s in 2019/20.
Then there’s Daniel Oyegoke, who will be hoping to step into the space at right-back vacated by Daley-Campbell, Nathan Butler-Oyedeji, who performed well at the u19 Dallas Cup, and new signing Catalin Cirjan from Romania.
The u16s reached the u16 PL Cup final this season, as well as winning the Liam Brady Cup and the JSSL Professional Academy 7s. Let’s hope they can carry that kind of success into the u18s and help the side retain the u18 PL South.