A new challenge for our U21s and the first North London derby of the season: check out all the goals, highlights, and interviews from this weekend’s academy action.
U18s: Arsenal 4-1 Tottenham Hotspur
There was plenty to smile about on Saturday as our Under 18s registered their first win of the season and Jack Wilshere got his first victory as head coach.
Omari Benjamin ensured the North London derby kicked off the right way with a sumptuous strike into the top corner, giving us the lead only four minutes in. Less than half an hour later, Benjamin had a first-half hat-trick to his name thanks to two more superbly taken goals.
Things then went from bad to worse for Spurs, who were reduced to 10 men before half-time. Our rivals did manage to get back into the game through a corner, but it proved only to be a consolation goal as Ethan Nwaneri made it 4-1 shortly after.
Jack Wilshere was thrilled by more than just the three points, as he singled out the strength of character on display: “It makes me really proud when you ask the boys to do something and bring a certain energy and attitude, and they go out there and do that.
"That, for me, is the biggest thing today: the way they approached the game. As long as you can see that there’s a hunger, and I looked at the players in their eyes before the game and I saw it. I just said to them now, that is the level.”
Omari Benjamin, match ball in hand, spoke after the game about his impressive start to life in the Under 18s: “As a first year coming up, my main objective was to start getting minutes and start getting game time, and then scoring goals is a bonus. So, if I can keep doing that, it’ll be a good season.”
“It feels that much better because it was against Tottenham. It felt brilliant to get that quick start because, in the previous two games, we’ve gone a goal down. So, to be on the front foot, it’s changed the game and we were able to dominate throughout.”
U21s: Brighton & Hove Albion 2-2 Arsenal
Our flying start to the Premier League 2 season hit a slight snag on Friday night after a draw away to Brighton & Hove Albion, though we remain unbeaten and at the top of the table.
Brighton took a very early lead, but it took us less than four minutes to find the equaliser. Amario Cozier-Duberry took the opportunity to get his first goal for the U21s and level the score simultaneously, with a well-drilled shot in the bottom corner.
Charles Sagoe Jr and James Olayinka continued their great runs of form as they linked up down the left wing to make it 2-1 just after the break. Matt Smith and Nathan Butler-Oyedeji came close to increasing our lead in the second half, but it was not enough to keep Brighton at bay, and the hosts equalised in the 73rd minute.
Skipper Matt Smith reflected on the team’s disappointment after the draw: “I feel like it was frustrating going 2-1 up and then conceding the equaliser. But we’ll dust ourselves off and go again on Tuesday.”
Smith also spoke of his pride in wearing the armband – “It’s a massive honour to captain Arsenal, whatever the level and whatever the age group” – and playing alongside top prospects including Amario Cozier-Duberry: “He’s got a really bright future ahead of him. He’s got a lot of ability and he works hard as well.”
Overall, Mehmet Ali was pleased with the team’s performance: “I thought we edged the second half and we were better. It’s just a shame we didn’t get that other goal to kill them off, but I thought a draw was probably the fair result tonight.”
Ali and co are already looking ahead to our cup tie against Cambridge United on Tuesday: “The Papa Johns Trophy is brilliant for these boys to play in front of a crowd. To play against men will be a real difficult challenge but it’s one that we’re up for, and again, it’s going to help these guys with another layer for their development.”
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