|Akpom scoring his penalty|
There were terraces. There were goals. There was a poznan. Yes, you read correctly. The day's conclusion? I'm going again next year.
It was a good day out in sunny Hertfordshire, and it made somewhat of a pleasant change standing on the terraces of the charming Meadow Park, the home of non-league outfit Boreham Wood. It's more up-close and personal - it feels more...real than sitting in the bowl in N5. And more importantly, it was an opportunity for the youngsters who fielded the Arsenal XI to showcase their skills.
I can't say much happened in the opening 45 minutes, other than a very good save from the highly regarded Damian Martinez in goal. It seemed a simple tap-in for the opposition striker, but the keeper spread his body and the ball cannoned off his knee, and out of imminent danger. This was after Boreham Wood took the lead, when Omar Riza - coincidentally a former Gunner - capitalised on some slack defending to head home.
Arsenal XI failed to lodge any sustained periods of pressure, and posed little threat to the Boreham Wood goal. Perhaps they were put off by the Bolo Zenden look-a-like at left back. Kris Olsson was unlucky with a left footed half-volley and Chuba Akpom struck the post on the brink of half time, after cutting inside from the left.
The second half was a different story - the team played with a higher tempo and were generally more composed on the ball. Sanchez Watt - who I thought was disappointing overall - failed to hit the target with a free header, while the impressive Akpom began posing a more serious threat to the Boreham Wood defence. By this point he was playing in a more central position, having played left-wing in the first half. From what I saw today, Akpom is more effective when deployed as a centre forward.
It was he who fell victim to a clumsy tackle in the box, which led to our equaliser. Sanchez Watt stepped up and buried it, and the whole team relaxed and played more coherently together thereafter.
Another penalty followed shortly and Akpom, who was making his debut for the reserves, stepped up and dispatched confidently. His jubilation was evident in his celebration, as he wheeled away into the corner flag. It was a great moment for him and cemented his solid, industrious performance.
The third came thanks to a nonchalant lob over the keeper from Swede Kris Olsson, whose celebration was somewhat muted, as if he was thinking 'whatevs, I do this every day in training'. On the balance of things, I'd say he handled himself pretty well today. Whenever he receives the ball, he's always looking to instigate an attack - he possesses the traits that would make a top playmaker in abundance. At times, though, he was either muscled off the ball or caught in possession, but this is only natural for a 17 year old making his reserve team debut (after making his debut for the first team the week before, against Southampton. Not many can say the same!) The important thing is that the technical skill is there - the physical side will come.
|Akpom in action|
Conor Henderson was the fulcrum in the side, dictating the play from his central midfield position, as you may expect from a man who has already featured in the first team. Kyle Ebecilio, hitherto played in midfield, was deployed at right back today, and had a solid game.
Jeffrey and Akpom were the two that stood out most. The latter, at the age of 16, played the full 90 minutes on his reserve team debut, and should be proud of his performance. When you see him, it is fair to say the physical side of his game is there; he is very tall and strong - almost gangly - and certainly put himself about, with some good pieces of hold up play in the second half. His work rate is excellent, too. Late in the game, he chased the Boreham Wood right back down and made a great sliding tackle near the opposition corner flag, showing the tenacious aspect of his game.
With an attitude like this, he could go a long way. As Ajax academy coach Bryan Roy says,
"as long as you enjoy doing it and you are motivated and have passion, then you will make it, without a doubt. There is a reason why boys with less talent and more willpower make it more than boys with more talent, but a little more lazy."
And that's not to say Chuba lacks talent.
Anyway, to fulfil one of my favourite quotes; 'It is better to under-promise and over-deliver, than to over-promise and under-deliver', I got hold of a couple of the star performers from the Arsenal XI, just to spice up this report.
What the players thought
(On the team's performance) I think we played alright, but in the first half we didn't move the ball quickly so were unable to create many chances. In the second half we played with a higher tempo, and did well.
(On his individual performance) I played OK, but I know I can do much better. I could have played further forward and been on the ball even more, but it is pre season and we have the games to get fit and find our tempo, so overall it was quite a good game!
(On the game in general) It was a tough game, they worked hard and we had to graft to get the victory. It was great to play with the reserves, alongside players such as Sanchez Watt.
(On his individual performance) I thought I did OK in patches. It would have been nice to have scored at the end, but I was unlucky.
(When asked what he felt he could have done better) I could have worked slightly harder on tracking back, but that will come with fitness I think.
(When asked if he coped physically) Yes, we've worked very hard during pre-season, and I don't want to get ahead of myself but I think we can achieve a lot this year if we apply ourselves.
Anyway, that's all for now. I hope this provided you with a bit of insight into the youth of Arsenal, and I'm sure you'll hear more from me on this subject in the future. Remember to Follow me on Twitter and leave any thoughts/feedback in the comment section below.
'Till next time.