Going into Arsenal’s final Premier League International Cup group game on Tuesday, the Gunners knew they had a near-impossible task to secure progression.
At the very least, they needed a win, but only a win by four goals would be enough to avoid relying on other teams’ results. Their opponents, Jong PSV, were top of the group and undefeated going into the game.
What’s more, the u21s were missing some of their best players, who had played for the u18s in the FA Youth Cup the previous night.
The likes of Lino Sousa, Reuell Walters, and Amario Cozier-Duberry are normally guaranteed starters for the u21s, but the Youth Cup is a rare exception where u18 football takes priority, so none of them were available.
With all that being said, Arsenal’s terrible start to the PSV clash was still a surprise.
In a whirlwind opening 10 minutes, PSV totally dominated the play, hardly letting Arsenal get a touch. They took the lead in the sixth minute, doubled it in the eighth minute, then made it 3-0 in the ninth.
The only reason PSV didn’t quickly get a fourth was the combination of a good save from Karl Hein and a goalline clearance from Henry Jeffcott, but the away side were totally in control.
Arsenal worked hard to get back into the game, and Joel Ideho ran in behind to score and pull one back in the 33rd minute. Then, just before half-time, Charles Sagoe Jr was brought down for a penalty, converted by Matt Smith.
Somehow, the young Gunners were almost back on terms, but the tide was set to turn again.
11 minutes into the second half, PSV scored a fourth with a huge slice of luck attached to it, a free-kick deflecting perfectly into the path of the goalscorer. But lucky or not, that goal took the wind out of Arsenal’s sails.
PSV began to dominate again, scoring another goal three minutes later, before adding a couple more counter-attacking goals in the 83rd and 88th minutes as the game wound down.
The match finished 7-2, the most goals the Arsenal u21s/u23s have conceded in a game for many seasons. The last time I could find was the 10-1 defeat to Aston Villa in 2011, when Arsenal had a man sent off in the 11th minute.
There was a bit of a reality check in this one, notably that sides like Jong PSV – that play their football against senior opposition on a weekly basis – simply have an edge over English youth teams.
PSV also beat West Ham United by five goals, and eased past Manchester United 2-0 in the group stage. Brighton were the only team to take a point off them in a 2-2 draw.
It’s also worth remembering that’s the point of this competition, for Arsenal’s youngsters to test themselves against strong European sides. Sometimes you’ll get days like this.
They are painful, without a doubt, but bouncing back from this kind of setback is part of the development experience.
The only other positive from the game was the return of Salah-Eddine Oulad M’hand. After so long out injured with Hull City, Oulad M’hand was recalled by Arsenal, and he was making his first appearance back on the pitch in the second half.
This was hardly the dream comeback, but the midfielder looked lively and worked hard, and he’ll now look to get back in the starting lineup.
Arsenal u21 lineup vs PSV
Hein, Nichols, Awe, Jeffcott, Ismail, Smith, Bandeira, Cirjan, Ideho, Lewis, Sagoe Jr
Oulad M’hand (for Bandeira, 46), Cottrell (for Cirjan, 46), Robinson (for Lewis, 66), Roberts (for Nichols, 66), Kacurri (for Awe, 80), Cooper, Kamara
The Arsenal u21s don’t have to wait too long to try and get back on track, with a game away to the Wolves u21s on Monday, February 13th at 13:00 GMT.
They’ll then be back in front of the home fans at Meadow Park on Friday, February 17th at 19:00 GMT against West Ham United.