By Walter Broeckx
Arsenal have battled their way to the quarter finals of the Nextgenseries, the competition that is in reality the youth version of the champions league.
The round of 16 was played in one game and Arsenal had to travel to the defending champions of last year Inter Milan.
Contrary to what we might expect the weather in Italy was not that good. In fact the conditions were unworthy for any game to take place. Rain, rain and more rain made the pitch looking more like a swimming pool in some places. Puddles everywhere made sure that there would be no fluent football from either side in this game. Of course the players tried to play some football but you never knew if the ball would slid on the water or suddenly stop. That kind of pitch.
I think if it had been any other game it would have been cancelled. But because of Arsenal travelling all the way to Milan to play this game I think the ref decided to let the game start and hope for the best.
At first both teams tried to produce some football. But after a while it was clear that football would not be played. So a “hoof the ball” game started. And as a result it was not a great game of football.
What did I notice on my stream? An Italian ref. Falling for lots of falls from the Inter players. I know it looked like a swimming pool but that is no excuse to dive like the Inter players did. Most of the time the ref bought it. And when he didn’t it was very clear that he “forgot” to book the Inter players for diving.
I also noticed that he didn’t like strong challenges from Arsenal players. Hajrovic who was continuing despite a bleeding head wound (that was covered) and I can understand the booking for his frontal tackle. But the tackle from Bellerin was on the ball and still he got booked despite being it a tackle with a nice angle on it.
Chances were rare. But when Inter came close I saw a good keeper in Illiev. He looked confident and cool. Not that being cool was a problem in those conditions.
At half time it was 0-0 and Inter had most of the ball but no real chances. The chances that came along was more a result of the ball doing what the ball wanted to do and not what the players wanted the ball to do.
More of that in the second half. Inter was having most of the ball but it all was too difficult on this pitch. And after 68 minutes Arsenal won the ball on the half way line. The ball was played to captain of the day Yennaris and he ran central on goal and unleashed a low fizzling shot that beat the keeper. A really nice strike.
Arsenal still had some 20 minutes to defend. And that is what they did. An impressive work rate from most players running left and right, up and down. Wherever a foot or a body was needed you could see an Arsenal player. Inter threatened a few times but maybe the most dangerous thing was almost an own goal when Monteiro headed the ball just wide from his own goal.
Inter clearly became frustrated and Arsenal tried to get the tempo out of the game. The Italian ref was eager to hand out cards against Arsenal players. I only saw him hand out a card in extra time against an Inter player when he stopped a possible counter attack from Arsenal.
And finally even the ref had enough of running in those bad conditions and blew the final whistle. The Arsenal players celebrated like mad. Yennaris was buried under the whole team after the game and I hope they brought a shovel to dig him out the mud. You could see it meant a lot to the boys.
Against the weather conditions that made a decent game impossible, against a slightly and partially suspicious home referee at first sight, against the champions of last season the Arsenal U19 fought hard and dug deep to come out with a win.
It wasn’t nice but this was not possible in those conditions but the boys got the vital win. And as it was a one leg contest and playing at the last years winner was no gift we now get a home game against CSKA Moscow in London in a few weeks time.
This game was shown on the internet but from the quarter finals on the games are shown on Eurosport. I hope I will be able to have the time to see that game then.
Players that impressed me most: Bellerin. I really think he could be a massive right back in a few years time. I thought Illiev was also great in goal in. And for the rest the whole team for the immense desire and work rate in the whole 90 minutes.
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- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches
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