Apr 8th, 2015 by 'holic
Once again I owe a huge debt of thanks to one of ours, this time the excellent company that is Steve T, for a guest post covering the U21 fixture at the Grove last night. Steve, thank you for helping out one who has been clocking up the motorway miles this week. It is much appreciated, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I have not long returned home from an enjoyable evening at the Grove having watched the under 21’s beat a Stoke side 4-1. A pre-match Italian meal with the kids was followed by the stroll to Gate H in time for the 7pm kick off time, and a meet up with BtM. The first thing I must say is how disappointed I was that Arsenal had not really advertised this event. I stumbled across it by chance one day on dot com. I guess I was one of not many as the crowd was under 3000. It was a real shame as smack bang in the middle of the Easter holidays I am sure that a bit of forward planning would have seen that number swell quite significantly. Especially at a cost of £4 an adult and only £2 a child.
The game itself was an interesting affair. Apart from the usual squad of youngsters available there was the return of some of the three weekers to the fold who were clearly looking for game time. The starting 11 included the likes of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby. I must confess that it was great to see Diaby back in an Arsenal shirt and playing again, especially after all he has been through. This was also the first time that I have seen Krystan Bielik in an Arsenal shirt.
The game kicks off and the first thing that you notice is how much slower the pace of the game is from the normal cut and thunder of a Premier League game. I was surprised. I never thought it would have the same intensity, of course I didn’t, but at times it was almost pedestrian and had the feelings of a testimonial.
The initial exchanges were not much to get you too excited, but then you could see how the influence of the first team had managed to filter it’s way down to the under 21’s as a defensive error allowed Stoke to take the lead! A fumble from Macedonian ‘keeper, Deyan Iliev, allowed Shenton from Stoke to open the scoring. However, this bunch are made of strong stuff. Arsenal grew in confidence and thoroughly deserved their equalising goal, courtesy of the impressive Alex Iwobi. Iwobi was to double his tally and send Arsenal into the break with a 2-1 lead after another well taken effort from a Diaby assist before half time.
The second period seemed to see an increase in the intensity. Diaby was now strolling around the imperiously and for me was the best player on display by some distance. I am one of many who have questioned whether the big Frenchman was ever likely to kick a ball again at any level so it was great to see the big man in such commanding form. Wilshere I thought had struggled in the first half but also seemed to up his game in the second period.
By now it was all Arsenal. The back four was being impressively marshalled by 18 year old Stefan O’Connor. He looked calm and assured in the middle and was not frightened to play the ball from the back. This allowed those in front of him to pull more of the strings and It was no real surprise when substitute Stephy Mavididi made it 3-1. The 16 year old went on to play an impressive cameo.
There was just enough time for Iwobi to complete his hat trick with a well taken third. All in all it was a very satisfying evening. Arteta was the first of the first team squad to make way for younger legs. Diaby managed to get just over 65 minutes of action. The removal of both saw Jack revert to a deeper role which I thought suited him much better than his earlier advanced position. Both he and Gnabry lasted the full 90 minutes.
All in all, a satisfactory evening’s entertainment for not too much money. Well done Arsenal. The U-21’s are at the Grove again next Monday against their Reading counterparts. It’s a 7pm kick-off and the prices remain unchanged, so have you got family and friends who want to see an Arsenal match?
Campo Retro Shirt Competition – The Winner
My weekend away meant I missed the draw for the shirt by our friends at Campo Retro. So a belated congratulations to Colin Howes who wins the shirt of his choice from the Campo Retro range, the Arsenal page can be found here. Thanks again, all at Campo Retro, for this great prize.