This story first appeared in the June 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
RUSSELL HARGREAVES Broadcaster and host of Arsenal’s weekly podcastArsenal Under-21s reaching the top division of the Under-21 Premier League
It’s been such a strange season at Arsenal, with some great highs - like that Danny Welbeck goal against Leicester back in February - and some really frustrating lows, both domestically and in Europe.
But despite ending it without a first-team trophy, I hope we leave 2015/16 in a relatively good position. There’s been definite improvement on and off the field from what I’ve seen and I hope the stage is really set for the Gunners to kick on next season. I think the most important thing for Arsenal as a club is to continue to bridge the gap for younger players to come through the academy and progress to the point where they are able to make the step up to first-team level.
We saw some youngsters against Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup and Alex Iwobi’s emergence has pleased many but, in general, the chasm between playing in the second tier of the Under-21 Premier League and being up there and ready to fight for a first-team shirt is really big.
I think that securing that promotion to the top under-21 division will have an impact on some of the club’s brightest talents in the future - and that’s why I’ve chosen it as my moment of the season. Playing regularly against teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton, Southampton and Tottenham - all teams that have developed some excellent young players in recent times - will hopefully help Arsenal’s youngsters to notch up their own performances by a level.
In the recent play-off final win against Aston Villa, Steve Gatting’s side included the likes of Calum Chambers, Francis Coquelin, Joel Campbell and Santi Cazorla. But what really pleased me was the manner in which the young players stepped up. Ultimately, they decided that game.
I thought Stephy Mavididi took his goals really well. He’s scored a few times at the Emirates this season and seems to enjoy playing there, and I like the way he’s stepped up to playing for the under-21s. Chris Willock was excellent too. He scored twice in the semi-final win over Blackburn and produced another excellent performance when it mattered, against Villa. I think his work-rate is incredible and what I also really like is his versatility. In fact, there are plenty of similarities with him and Alex Iwobi.
Both have come through the ranks and both have the ability to play anywhere across the front. Fans crave home-grown youth and we don’t see that much of it now, because of the way the Premier League has gone. Willock is, however, an example of the supreme talent present in the academy. Hopefully playing at the highest under-21 level next season will help both him and all of Arsenal’s young talents to maximise their potential.
JAMES OLLEY Chief football correspondent at the Evening Standard Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City - Monday, December 21, 2015
THIS was the moment when anything seemed possible. Chelsea’s implosion had cost Jose Mourinho his job, Leicester could not stay at the top forever and Tottenham were, well, Tottenham. Arsenal against Manchester City pitched the two sides most obviously equipped to challenge for the Premier League title at that point.
It is often said the Gunners falter when the title is on the line. It was also suggested that their win at City back in January 2015 was an outlier on a graph that otherwise consistently pointed to Arsenal exhibiting frailty and naivety against the biggest teams. How wrong they were. Arsenal executed an intelligent gameplan to perfection. City dominated the opening 30 minutes but by half-time the Gunners were 2-0 up through their only two shots on target.
Olivier Giroud extended his blistering form to 12 goals in 14 matches while Theo Walcott’s wonderfully taken opener was heralded as further indication of his development as a complete centre forward. Arsenal played more scintillating football in blitzing Manchester United 3-0 back in October and performed under even greater pressure when defeating Olympiacos in Greece by the same score to stay alive in the Champions League but neither opponent offered the potent threat City represented here.
They had only beaten City once at home in seven previous attempts dating back to 2009 and this victory felt like further evidence Arsenal were finally coming of age. Things panned out rather differently in the end but the lasting effect of this victory will be to engender greater confidence and self-belief in future encounters against the top teams – something we saw in the reverse fixture at the end of the campaign as Arsene Wenger’s side twice came from a goal down to secure a draw which all but sealed Champions League football once again.
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