There were plenty of goals during an unbeaten weekend for our academy sides, as our under-21s recorded a worthy win over Everton and our under-18s battled well for a point away in Manchester.
U21s: Arsenal 3-1 Everton
Mehmet Ali's side solidified our spot at the top of Premier League 2 with our sixth win of the season on Sunday afternoon. We went ahead very early at Meadow Park when Marquinhos picked out Catalin Cirjan, who turned his defender and guided a left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
Following a momentary loss in focus, Everton equalised against the run of play but we retook the lead only ten minutes later. Taylor Foran’s immaculate through ball found Cozier-Duberry, whose precise cut-back allowed Mauro Bandeira to fire home for his second goal in as many games.
It was more one-way traffic in the second half as the Everton defence struggled to deal with the dynamic duo of Marquinhos and Cozier-Duberry on both flanks, and it was the former who extended our lead to two with a thunderous low strike from inside the area.
Speaking after the match, Mehmet Ali revealed that our rapid start was a deliberate tactic: "I was really pleased with how we started the game. We always want to be on the front foot, we're always looking to start fast and dominate our opponents. But we watched a lot of Everton games and they always start on the front foot. So we had to make sure that we were going to start quicker than them."
Reflecting on the series of positive results for the Gunners at the weekend, Ali had this to say: "A really good weekend for The Arsenal. Our under-18s had a tough day yesterday against Manchester United and they put in some really good performances.
"We had three under-16s playing in that game as well, so credit to Jack, Birch and George who are really pushing those players up and that's what we want to do. We want to keep pushing all of these players to give them the best opportunity of breaking through to Mikel's side."
Mauro Bandeira, who restored our lead in the first half, was also delighted by the feel-good atmosphere in the club.
"It's amazing. Obviously, we're on the training ground with each other every day and especially the first team and the women who are doing so well. So the whole club is buzzing and it's not just us. It's everyone that's succeeding which is nice to see."
U18s: Manchester United 3-3 Arsenal
In the Premier League Cup, Jack Wilshere's under-18 side earned a point against Manchester United in a thrilling 3-3 draw away from home.
The hosts took the lead through a penalty within the first ten minutes, but it wasn't long before we had a chance to equalise with a spot-kick of our own that captain Bradley Ibrahim cooly converted on the half-hour mark.
Despite the Red Devils taking the lead again once again in the second half through Ethan Williams, we responded almost immediately; this time, with a neat finish from Ethan Nwaneri. The fifteen-year-old was on the scoresheet again only ten minutes later with a wonderful solo run through the centre of the park that was capped off with a powerful strike past the United keeper.
Nwaneri's goal put us ahead for the first time in the game but unfortunately, a victory wasn't to be, as Williams equalised for the home side just before the final whistle.
Jack Wilshere was proud of the character and resilience needed to come back from behind twice, but said that he has come to expect it from our under-18s: "I never question that with these boys. I talk to them a lot about being consistent and about doing the right things. And they do. They do every day in training, and they compete.
"They've got this spirit within themselves that they find an extra gear when things aren't quite working. They're a joy to work with in terms of that. Now, it's just maybe adding a little bit more quality and combining a little bit more to get more goals."
"They're disappointed at the moment because we didn't win and I think that's a good thing. I said to them: 'be disappointed because we didn't win the game but I'm proud of you. Be proud of yourself.' It's a tough place to come and it brings different challenges. I thought was a really high-level game, a really good game for the boys and their development."
Bradley Ibrahim spoke of our side's temporary disappointment – "I think we deserved to win the game but you know football, you have to battle it out" – but the midfielder is still relishing his role as captain.
"I enjoy trying to get the boys going. You saw in the first half that we didn't start as well, so I was trying to get us through that stage. Even though we conceded, we kept going and didn't drop our heads. We kept trying to battle."
18-year-old Ibrahim has also recently trained in our Europa League squad, alongside regular first-team starters: "Seeing when they win and how they manage the highs and when they lose, how they manage the lows...it was a great experience and great learning being around them."
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