Monday night I popped along to see the reserve team win the league against one of our local rivals, West Brom. I have not got to as many reserve games as I would like to have done this season, but I have managed to see a few - for instance, Arsenal TV helped me watch two games that I would not have done otherwise!
I will not go through the details of a match report as that is not the purpose of this article. The game was okay. WBA were a bit like the first team, in as much as they played nice stuff without being overly effective.
As for us, well I thought that rather than talk about Monday, I would give a run through the team based on what I saw on Monday, and what I have seen previously:
(GK) Elliot Parish: He hasn`t had much to do in the games I have seen him, but what he has done he has done well and with relative ease. Looks quite small for a goalkeeper, but definitely has more good than bad about him.
(RB) Eric Lichaj: I like this lad. He`s one of those full-backs that can do a bit of everything. He defends well, gets forward as much as he can and knocks a nice pass. He also has the added bonus of having a good long throw. Not quite of the Delap standard, but certainly better than anything I`ve seen on our books before.
(LB) Nathan Baker: I have seen him more at centre-back than I have at left-back, and I definitely prefer him at centre-back. That said, it will be a good experience for him out there (I am sure MON loves it!) and will make him a better player. He is a brave lad and while he is certainly not ready to replace him, he does remind me a bit of Martin Laursen - and not just because of the blonde 'do!
(CB & Captain) Ciaran Clark: A good leader for one so young. I have a feeling that what may separate him from others that don`t make it is his personality as much as anything else. The impression I get is that he is a winner. He makes good decisions on the pitch, too. He communicates well and (importantly!) is a good defender.
(CB): Matthew Roome: I haven`t seen as much of him as I have some of the others. Looks neat and tidy; did a decent enough job on Monday. Not sure about his size for a centre-back.
(RM): Marc Albrighton: I have complemented this lad on here before. I really like him and while he has not had as much publicity as Barry Bannan, he is right there with him in terms of quality. There was one moment on Monday where he knocked this lovely pass without really looking that just had a mark of class all over it. Scored the first goal, set-up the second and was the best player on the night for me. There are no guarantees about any of the youngsters making it but I would say he has as good a chance as any.
(CM): Gary Gardner: The younger Gardner is a bit bigger than his brother. Like Craig, he is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Generally there seems to be more excitement about him than there was Craig. Mind you, people thought the Moore brothers were going to be stars… Like Roome, I have seen less of him than the others to judge properly. He is the youngest of the bunch though, and definitely looks to have enough about him to be one to watch how he develops.
(CM): Jonathon Hogg: One of them midfielders that you don`t like if he`s in the opposition, but you love if he`s playing for you. A bit of a terrier, basically. He reminds me a bit of Kevin Richardson; he gets stuck in, he keeps it simple, he makes good late runs into the box and scores the odd classy goal.
(LM): Dominik Hofbauer: You have got to love the idea that we could have 'The Fonz` and 'The Hoff` as regular first-team players for years to come! For me, my worry is that he doesn`t get involved enough. When he does, you can definitely see a bit of inventive flair. For instance, he did some very good things on Monday - when involved. It is not that he is lazy, he just seems to lack a bit of an ability to influence the game more.
(ST): Nathan Delfounso: When I see him play, he always looks more impressive for the first team than the reserves! A reason for that though is that the opposition (at reserve level) are petrified of him, and double up on him when he has the ball. He definitely has quality about him; I just hope he carries on improving rather than go the way of Darius Vassell and the aforementioned Moore brothers. They all looked great around The Fonz`s age, but never seemed to improve. If he does, we should have a decent striker in the squad for many years.
(ST): James Collins: Two words spring to mind when I see him play: 'Steve Bull`. He is one of those players that if he is not scoring, he is not doing much. That is not to say he has no other good qualities beyond sticking the ball in the net; he is strong, good with his back to goal and decent in the air. But this lad, although not as talented as his strike partner, sure as hell knows where the goal is. His movement and finish for the second goal was grand (as was the set-up by Albrighton) and his goal-scoring record at Academy/Reserve level speaks for itself. I am willing him to be successful for us, because if he is, we could well have a goal machine on our hands.
Summary: Lichaj, Clark, Baker, Albrighton and Delfounso are all players I could see making the grade. I am not saying I definitely think they will as we have no idea what will happen, but they seem the best equipped to do so. Collins and Hogg are two players that I would love to see make it but I am not as convinced about.
It is quite hard to judge Parish yet, as he probably has years as a number 3/2 goalkeeper ahead of him for now. After all, in the unlikely event that Stuart Taylor signs a new contract, Parish will be number 4 again next season.
Matthew Roome and Gary Gardner are two I have not seen enough of yet to judge properly. Which leaves Dominik Hofbauer, who has talent but I would like to see him getting involved more in the game.
Out of the others, we all know Barry Bannan has largely been seen as the star of the reserves this season and Nigel Clough has said good things about him too. Andreas Weimann is a quick nippy lad who looks good up front. We have two young Aussies, Chris Herd and Shane Lowry, and I have been particularly impressed by the latter when I have seen him. Herd is a versatile character which could be useful to have around. Unfortunately, Steven O`Halloran looks like being someone who will not make it due to injuries, which is a shame as he looked good at centre-half or left-back.
So maybe this batch will be better than what went before them, maybe not. I do know that the club deserves a lot of credit for the Academy set-up which has lead to a very good reserve side. I also know that had we kept Gary Cahill, as I believe we should, there may even be a bit more positivism about the production line. I would like to see some of them go out on loan next season to see how they develop, but we obviously need to make sure we have enough players in to do that! Overall though, I wouldn`t be surprised if two or three of this lot saved us some good money in the long-term.
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