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Arsenal’s 16-year-old player recognizes his role, Ethan Nwaneri

Arsenal’s 16-year-old player recognizes his role, Ethan Nwaneri

It would have been unfamiliar to the majority of Arsenal’s under-21 players to hear boos during penalties. Through the din, they prevailed in the penalty shootout 5-4, earning them an additional point in addition to the one they already had from the 2-2 draw with Swindon Town.

Mehmet Ali, head coach of Arsenal Under-21s, told The Athletic, “They handled the occasion really well.”. “This group of lads are embracing the opportunity, unlike the boys last year when we had EFL Trophy games, who seemed a little nervous or inferior.

“Pressure is what they thrive on. There were times when they dropped the ball or had a dip, but you want them to have those experiences because they will benefit from them in the future.”.

Arsenal’s quality and youth were on display, but they were up against a League Two team that had eight first-team players in their starting XI, so the 90 minutes ebbed and flowed in various directions as was to be expected.

Ethan Nwaneri, the first inside the first minute, was the source of many of those impressive flashes. As a left-sided No 8 once more, he received the ball in midfield and quickly slipped a pass between the fullback and the centerback for Charles Sagoe Jr. to finish, but the winger was called for offside.

Ten minutes later, 16-year-old Nwaneri earned his contribution with a first-time clipped cross that Lino Sousa headed in. James Sweet, the right defender, mishit a nearly identical cross that was played from the same location (the left half-space near the edge of the box) to the back post.

Nwaneri continued to display fluid footwork and a nice pass weight, but occasionally he held onto the ball for too long. This performance followed a hat-trick against Leicester City the previous week.

Last season, Ali responded to The Athletic’s inquiry about the use of Nwaneri as a left-sided No. 8, No. 10, winger, and striker, saying, “He’s got an exceptional talent and our job is to really support him. Playing as a “pocket” player who can maintain his position while occasionally moving deeper or wider is crucial for him. “.

All three of the midfielder’s goals against Leicester relied on positioning, and he is showing an aptitude for finishing when he enters the box at the right time.

Good athletes can play in any position, according to Ali. “We have to assist them in understanding their job description at this age when they have a talent like Ethan, and all te boys we work with.

Ben White has been switching between playing at right and center back by inverting and overlapping. In the past week, Reuell Walters and Sweet have both repeated those strategies, with Walters joining attacks by overlapping from center-back and Sweet pushing into midfield from right-back.

Although Arteta was present when Leicester was defeated 4-1 last Friday, he has not pushed Ali to adopt his strategies. “We are free to play however we see fit in order to get the best performance from the players, but we do our best to maintain a consistent playing style.

“That’s crucial because if these players are to participate on the first team, they must comprehend what the first team is doing.

We want to give Reuell and James Sweet the freedom to come inside the pitch and express themselves.

James Sweet used to play as a midfielder when he was younger.

We give him permission to move forward because he can play as a right-sided center back or right-back. “.

However, there were many difficulties during Tuesday night’s match against Swindon.

When attempting to play out early on, the young players were surprised by Swindon’s ferocity. As goalkeeper Karl Hein was tripped up by Tariq Uwakwe and had the opportunity to tap the ball in, the impulsiveness that can come with youth was evident. Due to tenacious Swindon defense and Arsenal’s own desire to find the ideal shooting angle, three other Arsenal attempts were also successfully cleared off the line.

By flying into 50-50 challenges just before halftime, the more experienced hosts increased the physicality. Although they took control of the situation, these tackles were firm but fair, and the visiting kids quickly picked them up, demonstrating their willingness to assume responsibility several times.

Near Ali on the touchline, Walters snatched up a loose ball while under pressure. Ali told the defender to pass back to Hein, but Hein spun away from the pressure, drove upfield, and won a throw-in instead; his manager cheered. After some sustained pressure, Myles Lewis-Skelly sprinted into the Swindon box and slid a cutback for Jimi Gower to score.

Arsenal’s young Stars celebrate shootout.

‘I love players who can coach in-game and communicate,’ said Ali. ‘It’s a big part of youth football that has to improve and we need to get better at it. “We want to give the players the authority to make those choices. “.

The penultimate demonstration of that was the penalty shootout. The Under-21s assistant head coach, Max Porter, and I made the decision to put the pressure on the players in the 92nd minute to see who would like to step up, according to Ali.

“We could put it on paper, but the key is in how they’re feeling, how they’ve performed, and who feels they can step up. It worked. We work to give the players as much power and responsibility as we can. “.

It was a wise choice because it mimicked the strategy used by the first team after Arteta claimed that the players decided Martin Odegaard would take the deciding penalty in Monday’s victory at Crystal Palace, and it also allowed Sweet to score the winning penalty after being absent from practice.

Such times may end up being crucial. No matter which direction their careers take, making sure the players are in control of their destiny from the start could be extremely beneficial.

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