Mehmet Ali reflected on our narrow loss to Sparta Prague in the Premier League International Cup at Meadow Park and the takeaways from Wednesday night's performance.
The 1-0 defeat was our under-21s' first on home soil this season, and despite our Young Gunners' spirited fight to attempt a way back into the game, it wasn't quite enough on the night.
"In the last five minutes, I saw the boys really trying to get into the box, get crosses in, make aggressive runs in behind their backline," said Ali. "It was just a shame that we didn't do that earlier on in the game. I felt we had good control, our structure was good and we had a good rhythm, but we lacked quality in the final third.
"We lacked aggressive runs, aggressive crosses, shots from in front, and those clever combinations. That's what we were looking for. I thought we were good between the boxes but the game was decided inside both boxes," he added.
"I just said to the boys: we have to learn and we have to be better in those moments. We can have the structure and set up, but you have to also have the bravery to go and head [the ball], and be switched on and focused. There's plenty of work for us to do in training in terms of being more ruthless in the final third and stopping and scoring goals."
Our Czech opposition, who now sit top of our group, presented a unique test for Ali's young charges and the boss noted the distinct experiences this competition offers.
"Tactically, I think there are different things going on. When you play foreign opposition, you always expect different things you know, from a referee's decisions and stuff like that. It is different.
"From their perspective, I think they gave us a lot of respect. They dropped off, they made it hard to break them down, and they tried to catch us in transition. When we were aggressive on them and we pressed, they were quite direct and they played forward passes. But that was their game plan and their style and credit to them, it helped them get the win today."
"They had some senior players that played for them today and they're a B team who play men's football every week," Ali continued. "You could see their know-how and their nous of how to buy fouls and run the clock down when they were one-nil up, which was very clever. It was great for our boys to experience that and find ways of beating that - we just didn't do that tonight."
There were several changes to the side who beat Swansea City 4-1 at the weekend and with the transitional nature of academy teams, Ali credited the alignment of the club as a whole as a way to ensure rhythm and stability.
"That's why it's so important that we're aligned overall as an academy and with the first team. There are so many players that have fluid movement from going up to the first team, staying with the under-21s, and even under-16s coming up to support under-18s. It's so important that our style and what we're trying to do remains the same and that our principles don't change regardless of what players we have in the side."
"It's just a shame that tonight we couldn't win the game, but there were some positive performances. I was pleased with some of the younger ones that did get the opportunity to play tonight and it will do them well in the future."
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