Pre-Match Report

Under 21 League: Arsenal v Norwich - Preview

By Rob Kelly

The disappointment on Sead Hajrovic’s face told its own story. Stood deep in the bowels of the Georgios Karaiskákis Stadium in Athens, the young defender was experiencing an unfamiliar sensation this season: defeat.

Two late goals had consigned Arsenal’s rising stars to a 2-0 reverse at Olympiacos in the NextGen Series, and the Swiss defender was not happy.

“I am very disappointed,” he told “We didn’t do too much going forward. We defended quite well but got caught on a counter-attack, switched off for one second and conceded.

“Some of us weren’t really playing that well, but even if you don’t play well then as long as you fight no one is going to say anything. But if you don’t switch on, and don’t fight, this is what happens.”

Captain Nico Yennaris was similarly despondent. This was not meant to happen, not after a superb start to the season that had seen four games yield 12 goals and only one conceded.

“I just didn’t think we were on our game,” he said. “I am very disappointed with the result obviously, but we were not on point all over the pitch. The team looked a bit sluggish, and there was no real energy at times.

“The team has got to stick together when it gets tough, we can’t turn our backs on each other.”

Arsenal’s Greek odyssey may have ended in disappointment, but the under-21s have an immediate chance to make amends against Norwich on Monday night.

For the vastly experienced Terry Burton, the result in Athens may have been unwelcome, but he remains phlegmatic. He knows that with the season still in its infancy, it is counterproductive to draw too many negative conclusions from one loss. Especially with the next game around the corner.

“You always want to win matches, that is what football is about,” the reserves and head development coach said. “But you know that over a period of time you will lose games, and you have to learn how to bounce back.

“It is still about individuals showing what they can do, as well as the collective performance.”

Arsenal will welcome Norwich to Underhill tonight in confident mood, having beaten them 5-0 last season, but Burton does not think that result will have any bearing on this match.

“We played them in a pre-season friendly this summer and they were very good," he said. “Last year when we faced them at Carrow Road, the likes of Andrey Arshavin played and several other first-team members, while they had a very young side.

“That is the way these games can go, you are never sure what team any club will have on any one occasion. You are not looking at what they did in a previous year, or even a previous game, it is the night itself [that is important] and hoping your own team plays to its capabilities.”

Arsenal lie top of National Group One of the Under-21 Premier League after claiming maximum points from their first three fixtures, and Burton is satisfied with what he has seen from his squad so far.

“The nature of our play has been very good,” he said. “We have had games when we have had to be patient and pass the ball well, and we have done that and still managed to create some good opportunities.

“There have been periods when we have had to defend very well and we have done that too, so overall it has been the sort of start that you would expect from an Arsenal team.

“We just need to make sure that whatever players feature on any given occasion continue to strive to achieve our high standards.”

Serge Gnabry and Martin Angha face late fitness tests ahead of tonight’s game at Underhill, which kicks off at 7pm. Entry is free.

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