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'We can be proud tonight'

Kevin Betsy said he is full of pride for how his players are showing courage and character in developing on and off the pitch.

Our head coach revealed his pride after watching our under-23s come agonisingly close to beating Manchester City, only to concede two last-gasp goals in a 3-3 draw against the league leaders on a dramatic night at Emirates Stadium.

We spoke to the boss after the game, here's what he told us…

on the changing room mood…
From the players’ perspective, they are quite dejected because they were 3-1 up with five minutes to go and we drew the game at home. From their perspective they wanted to win the game and they had the game in their hands but it’s a good lesson for us. The game is 90 plus minutes and you have to be on the ball - especially if you’re playing top of the league Manchester City with the fantastic players they have. It’s a really good learning one. They are disappointed obviously, but from my perspective and the staff’s perspective, we are really proud of the group. The reason we are proud is the first game of the season we are 6-1 away at West Ham and fast forward as the season is now towards the end we can be 3-1 up against the top of the table team who have won the league for the last couple of years in Manchester City. Some of the football in the second half from us was exceptional. That’s why we are proud, and big picture thinking and some really good things in the game today.

on being passive and regaining control…
We have a really clear game plan for every game. The players are really good at adapting and being flexible with different nuances of a tactical game we may face from an opposition. The first half we knew they would have good possession at times and it was how we defended the spaces and which player jumped at the right moment. We were a little bit late a couple of times, there was apprehension from the players when you’re playing a team that is top of the league with internationals in their squad. They were a bit passive at times but in terms of some encouragement and also some positional adjustments we were able to be more on the front foot and get our players across and pick players filling into positions to help players regain the ball much higher up the pitch and that’s what we did in the second half. Again, some other tactical adjustments that we did in possession helped us gain more control so the second half was a really positive performance all round up to the last five!

on Jack, Charlie, Miguel, Ruell and Lino…
Midfield-wise, Jack Henry-Francis was excellent, Charlie Patino as well was coming back from injury and showed lots of quality. I thought Miguel Azeez in the middle of the pitch was just top class – his passing range, short and long, he broke up the play, he led by example, he’s on a booking in the first half and to carry himself as he did throughout the game and got us control in the game in the second half was extremely pleasing. I must mention the two wing backs. Ruell (Walters) was a first-year scholar – outstanding performance – defensively and going forward. Credit to Lino Sousa - the new boy we signed this season. He played 90 minutes for the 18s on Saturday and to show some resilience to be asked to play again – we had some injuries with players who moved to the first team – he came and performed 75 minutes to that level – outstanding. That’s the level of character we want to build for our young strong Gunners and we continue that.

on the season and being brave…
The reflection of the group and how they’ve done this season as individuals, they’ve grown so much. The style of play we’ve asked them to play is really difficult but they’ve adapted so well. Look at some of the moves in the first and second half and how we played through their press. You can’t do that if the players don’t have a level of technical quality but also the belief and bravery to try and play out from the back. That’s how we want to go – that’s how we want to teach the players right from the U9s to U23. From a playing style perspective, so pleased with how well they’ve done. From an individual development perspective, every single player we’ve had with us this season we feel has developed individually and obviously collectively as a group – so that’s also pleasing. In terms of league position, if you want to go with that, we are sitting third or fourth in the league. We’ve done so well compared to where we were at the beginning of the season when we lost 6-1 away at West Ham so that’s great. With the Academy, in terms of the Papa John’s trophy, we’ve reached the final stages of that – the only Academy team to do that. When you look at the season overall and reflect and review our performance I think we’ll be very pleased. Lots of things to do going forward though.

By Mark Ashenden

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