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Ipswich Town 2 v 2 Arsenal U21
Papa John's Trophy
Wednesday, 1st December 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Gunning for Glory - Notes for Arsenal U21s
Tuesday, 30th Nov 2021 15:00

As the Blues host Arsenal’s U21s in the knockout stage of the Papa John’s Trophy, TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp. With the league season in full swing, Town turn their attentions to the Papa John’s Trophy second round.

Their opponents, Arsenal U21s, finished their group in second place, picking up four points from a possible nine.

They started their group games with a 2-1 defeat at Swindon, won 4-3 away at Newport and then were beaten 4-3 on penalties at Plymouth after a 1-1 draw.

Last season, the Arsenal U23s side finished the season with six wins, eight draws and 10 defeats in Premier League 2, settling in 10th place out of 13 teams.

The Gunners’ U18s ended their U18 Premier League South campaign in fourth place with 12 wins, four draws and eight defeats.

Portsmouth’s Miguel Azeez was a key member of Arsenal’s U21s team last season along with Rotherham’s Tolaji Bola and senior striker Folarin Balogun also leading the way.

Kevin Betsy

“Kevin Betsy has to be the worst defensive coach in the world”, “Kevin Betsy may actually be the chosen one”, “Is it possible to shift Kevin Betsy to be [Mikel] Arteta’s assistant, I know it isn’t managerially possible but will Betsy accept this or think it is a downgrade; I like his style of play and I think it can help our attack a lot.”

Arsenal appointed Kevin Betsy as their head coach of the U23s side in August of 2021 after spending five years as a manager in the England youth set-up. It’s very likely he’ll be the one in charge of the Arsenal U21s side that arrives at Portman Road on Wednesday.

The Squad

Compared to the side that finished last season with a 2-2 draw away to the West Ham U23s, nine of the starting XI remain, with a handful of the bench also still playing with the academy.

In terms of the academy’s strengths, fans have been impressed with the level of some of their talent. “Arsenal will probably never have had so much talent in their youth teams. A great future is emerging”, “When the chips are down or it looks like we might lose or come away with a draw, they find a way to win the game.”

However, the supporters have been a bit worried about the defensive side of the academy. “Our defence has always been the problem over the past decades”, “I think we need some change in our U23 coaching team, same with the Arsenal first team.”

Arsenal U23 3-5 Derby County U23

“How have we lost to Derby?”, “Unlucky lads, keep your head up you’re still awesome show this to all of them please tell them this was a bad day at the office next game we come back”, “I predicted the Balogun hat-trick but not the defeat.”

“Kevin Betsy's side could not take full control of the match against a Rams side that started the night bottom of the table”, “Our captain's efforts were ultimately in vain as there was to be no comeback for us on this occasion”, “Give Balogun a loan move let him grow.”


“The goalkeeper could spark a selection war between Uganda, Nigeria and England in future”, “Ovie Ejeheri might genuinely be the best ball-playing goalkeeper at the entire club right now”, “He played a few passes in that half that [Bernd] Leno can only dream of making against a press.”

Having joined the academy at eight years old, Ejeheri started the first two games of the Papa John’s Trophy run this season. Likely to be one of two candidates to start in goal on Wednesday.

“Giant young goalkeeper”, “Keeping Arthur Okonkwo is hugely important for Arsenal”, “Personally, I think Arthur Okonkwo would be too young for number two.”

The goalkeeper tasked with featuring in the final Papa John’s Trophy group game for Arsenal, Okonkwo was the main U23s keeper last season for the Gunners, but has been sharing the shirt with Ejeheri.


“He is left-footed, he reads the game so well and he’s decent at passing; he’s decent on the ball, he’s good in the air”, “Rumour has it that Jude Soonsup-Bell is still in Mazeed Ogungbo's pocket since that Chelsea U23s vs Arsenal U23s game two weeks ago”, “Mazeed Ogungbo is class man.”

A centre-back in the first two games of the Papa John’s run, Ogungbo is a Republic of Ireland youth international who has stepped up to the U23s side this season.

“Omar Rekik looks more like a Hollywood star than a footballer”, “The guy is literally a free-roaming centre-back. I've never seen that done anywhere. His ability on the ball will be crazy good”, “He looks very accomplished technically and is adept at bringing the ball out from the back - important for Arteta's system - but can be caught out through lapses in concentration.”

Picked for the final PJT game against Plymouth, Rekik joined Arsenal in January of 2021 from German side Hertha Berlin and has been a mainstay in their U23 Premier League campaign this season.

“Give time for Brooke Norton-Cuffy to develop, he has huge potential so why block his pathway?”, “Brooke Norton-Cuffy should be promoted as [Takehiro] Tomiyasu’s back-up for next season, he'll make the grade”, “Seen a fair bit of him this season and he's been impressive.”

U18s defender Norton-Cuffy has made the jump to the U23s side this season, and started at centre-back in the Plymouth Argyle defeat. Predominantly a right back, Norton-Cuffy has shown his versatility across multiple positions this season.

“Good to see Alex Kirk start in defence. Been impressed by him already this term”, “Young Arsenal defender Alex Kirk uses his physicality well in shielding the ball from opponents”, “I'm really liking the look of Alex Kirk, who was nominated as Arsenal Academy Scholar of the Year in 2020/21.”

Young centre-back Kirk started the first Papa John’s Trophy game against Swindon Town, but didn’t feature for the rest of the group stage. Known for his calm composure on the ball, Kirk looks to be making strides similar to Mark McGuinness.

“Ability to build out from the back through passing off both feet.” Defender Zane Monlouis, once described as being the closest representation of Marcel Desailly in the modern game, has played in two of the three group stage games. “Doesn’t panic under pressure and securely progress the ball. Bravery matches skill”, “At times, doesn’t cope well with dropping wide.”

“Zak Swanson is the second coming of Ben White, bookmark this tweet”, “Zak Swanson needs a loan in January. He's been very impressive this season”, “I really like Zak Swanson, looks like a decent player.”

Once a midfielder, Swanson has found a new home at centre-back. His versatility has been utilised multiple times this season for the academy, and he could be called upon to cover any position on Wednesday.

“Joel Lopez; Arsenal’s U23s left-back. On a side note, he’s one hell of a talent plays left-back or left wing-back, he’s 18”, “Joel Lopez also did very well both defensively and offensively”, “The best talent at Arsenal? Nineteen-year-old Joel Lopez. I've been tracking his progress for the last 10 years and his tactical brain is out of this world. Should peak higher than Jordi Alba.”

Developed in the La Masia academy in Barcelona, Lopez followed in the footsteps of Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin in switching Spain for the Emirates Stadium.


“Jack Henry-Francis is an elegant football player”, “I feel so bad for not knowing Jack Henry-Francis was Irish, new favourite player”, “He looks like a high-volume passer with high recovery numbers.”

An Irish youth international with an excellent passing range, Henry-Francis started the Swindon game in September. Eligible for the U18s side, he has progressed very quickly up the academy production line.

“Charlie Patino has been my favourite player to watch in U23s, he is so technical, he is so press resistant, he is all about on the ball ability, he is like La Masia player”, “Charlie Patino could be a great replacement for [Granit] Xhaka but he's probably a couple years away before he can be a Premier League regular”, “Charlie Patino will emerge next season.”

Arguably the most exciting talent yet to make his first-team debut, Patino went viral for a solo goal against Manchester United when he chipped Dean Henderson in goal. At 18 years old, his ceiling is as high as it could possibly be in football.

“Very interested to see whether he can add some of that much needed brute force to the Arsenal midfield that I've been talking about”, “[Thomas] Partey claimed Arsenal U23s midfielder Tim Akinola was the strongest player he'd come up against”, “Akinola is a tough tackler, but he’s also a strong dribbler, so he provides utility in and out of possession.”

Young midfielder Akinola has been tipped for a loan move to the Championship in January, with his impressive displays in the midfield getting plaudits from opposition managers. A tough tackling bruiser, a young Sam Morsy?

“James Olayinka can stake a claim too. He has been around the first team set-up more than the aforementioned”, “Really hope James Olayinka breaks into the first team could give us a different option there”, “Hoping to see James Olayinka progress. Fantastic prospect.”

One of the oldest players in the U23s squad at 21 years old, Olayinka has seen multiple talents progress out of Hale End before him. Very versatile, he can cover in the defence and in the midfield.

“I can’t wait to see Salah-Eddine Oulad from our academy play for the first team”, “Just wait till we see Charlie Patino and Salah Oulad in the team. The academy of Arsenal is most definitely the best in England”, “Arsenal have their very own Salah. Not Mohamed, but Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand.”

Scored against Newport County in the Papa John’s Trophy this year, Salah was snapped up from Feyenoord last season as a free agent. Like Patino, another player destined for the first-team.

“Ryan Alebiosu was playing very good at right wing-back”, “A player who doesn’t often get much credit but is in brilliant form currently”, “Strong, agile, good crosser, has made great strides in 2021.”

Attacking wing-back Ryan Alebiosu has shown his capabilities playing further forward, starting in the final two PJT games. Likely to feature on the right hand side on Wednesday.

Poached from the Academy

“Marcelo Flores is the talk of Mexico right now after a stunning international break with the U20s”, “Marcelo Flores gonna save Mexico and Arsenal in the same year”, “I'll start watching Arsenal more when Marcelo Flores starts getting playing time.”

Ex-Ipswich Town academy starlet Flores was snapped up by Arsenal in 2019, having been scouted in the Cayman Islands by former Blues coach Steve Foley. Already making waves for the academy, Flores will be hoping to make a return to Ipswich on Wednesday.


“Fast, intelligent and a natural-born finisher”, “Folarin Balogun needs to play at a higher level and stop scoring for fun vs U23s”, “A January loan move to a Championship side would be massive for Folarin Balogun’s development.”

The record holder for goals at U23s level, Balogun is already a fully-installed first team player, but has found game-time limited behind Arsenal’s exciting attacking options. Has been playing for the academy and scored against Ipswich last season in the Papa John’s Trophy.

“Nice play from Joel Ideho to stand his man up and burst past him on the wing”, “Love watching Joel Ideho. His technical skill is incredible”, “Arsenal have a player in Joel Ideho, been really impressed with him at the County Ground tonight. Took his goal brilliantly.”

Dutch winger Ideho scored for the Gunners against Swindon Town earlier in the season and has been a regular feature in the U23s side this season. Likely to feature on Wednesday.

“Appreciate Kido Taylor-Hart hasn’t had as many minutes recently, mostly due to injury I think, but playing him as a left wing-back has been a bit of risk not paying off at the minute”, “The Arsenal rebuild starts when Kido Taylor-Hart settles into the first team”, “Kido Taylor-Hart with some great involvements as well.”

Described as the next Bukayo Saka out of the academy, Taylor-Hart has recently returned from injury. Has been at the club since he was seven years old and will be looking to get some much-needed minutes against Ipswich.

“He is quite physical, his hold-up play is good and he can link-up play really well. He is decent striker who has good back to goal”, “His highlights are unbelievable and his stats are insane too. We have two fantastic young strikers in our academy”, “Mika Biereth just sounds like a cult hero to be for Arsenal.”

Danish striker Biereth joined Arsenal this summer from Fulham after scoring 21 goals for the London side in their U18s side last season. Has started two of the games in the competition and will be looking to make a third.

“Omari Hutchinson is the future man”, “Hutchinson has so many similarities to Saka. Great dribbler, comfortable using his weaker right foot and dangerous on his left, making him so difficult to defend against at right wing”, “Omari Hutchinson really is fantastic man. Goes outside and inside. Could be such a brilliant player if he translates to first team.”

Another outstanding attacking talent coming out of Hale End, 18-year-old Hutchinson has been a starlet for the U23s side this season. Tipped for greatness, he is another forward option for the Ipswich defence to think about.

Possible Senior Inclusions

With the Papa John’s Trophy allowing a few senior players within each Premier League academy side, some clubs have taken the option to bring in one or two players lacking fitness across the last few seasons. Arsenal themselves used Callum Chambers, William Saliba, Emile Smith Rowe, Sokratis and Gabriel Martinelli last season in their Papa John’s Trophy run.

However, the Gunners are playing away to Manchester United the day after the Ipswich fixture, so senior inclusions will be dependent on the squad they want to take to Manchester.


There are a lot of places available for information on the Arsenal players, with forums available such as Arsenal Mania and Gooners World.

Photo: Action Images

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hyperbrit added 15:10 - Nov 30
good tune up for Cook for the games with the bottom six lol

MattinLondon added 16:08 - Nov 30
Did Arsenal poach (sorry, sign) another one of our youngsters? Think he was a right midfielder but converted to a right-back at Arsenal. Can’t remember his name but was involved in that famous goal scored by the academy after putting together 400 passes.

runningout added 18:30 - Nov 30
Marcelo Flores. I believe he’s doing ok

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