Next Gen/ I Met Arsene/ Arsenal 3 Marseille 0

By OluwaMayowa Idowu

I tend to go on the Arsenal website now and then. Of late, the prospect of going to watch Reserves and Youth football has appealed. Underhill, where the games are played is half an hour away on the bus and the games tend to be lowly priced/free. It allows me to follow the team I support and witness the growth of a generation I might grow to idolize.

The Next Gen Series is the first competition of its kind. It’s equivalent to Champions League football for Youths. Last season, Inter won the inaugural tourney. This season, more of Europe’s top teams have signed up and it looks highly promising.

Yesterday (the 29th), the day of Arsenal’s competition debut against Olympic Marseille. I saw a tweet from the Arsenal website asking fans to come out and show support for the team. I sought people to come with me but was unsuccessful. Like the bad guy, I am I put on a jacket, my Converses and left the house to make my way to Underhill, home of League 2 side Barnet FC.

On a day where the Telegraph had reported that Arsene Wenger was looking at Serge Gnabry as a possible alternative to Theo Walcott as a result of the breakdown in contract renewal talks, I had the opportunity of seeing him in the flesh. Possibly fall in love with him, develop a bond of some sort, hope he makes the grade at Arsenal allowing me the pleasure of condescensingly pointing out to everyone that he’s one whose career I have followed from rainy youth team nights. It would also allow me see Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin, both originally from the Barcelona academy and see if they could make a Cesc Fabregas esque progression to the Arsenal first team.

As I got to Underhill, I saw a familiar lanky figure standing outside the stadium accompanied by security, signing autographs and taking pictures. I tried to get him to take a picture with me but couldn’t pass my phone to anyone quickly enough so he was ushered down a special door. Too bad, I thought to myself and made my way through the turnstiles and into the stadium. As I did, that familiar lanky figure wasn’t far off. I walked after him, calling “Arsene”. He stopped this time, like a real gent and allowed me hand my phone to someone nearby. I wanted to ask him a question or two but then I was so starstruck, the words couldn’t come out. “How was the meeting with Theo?” “Are we going to make any new signings before Friday?” “Of all the key players we’ve lost, if you could have one back who would it be?” I would also have loved to tell him how he has my backing and support no matter what as he has shown the club I support unparalleled loyalty even when some of his protégés have forsaken his project.

Missed him here

Arsenal fringe first teamer/Reserve player Craig Eastmond was also there to support the team and I was very impressed with his behavior. He was sat a couple of rows behind me and made sure he shook and greeted the fans nearby at the beginning and end of the game and he actually engaged the fans in conversations. It’s become a constant theme to condemn footballer’s and their behavior (I don’t want to get into the role model argument) so it only seems right I commend him for showing admirable traits. After meeting Arsene, I wasn't  bothered so a picture or an autograph didn’t really appeal.

Eastmond on the left

Meeting Arsene was always going to be the highlight of my day so I made my way to my seat and waited for the game to begin. And when it did begin, I was really impressed. The Arsenal team, captained by Nico Yennaris blitzed the Marseille team. Yennaris, who scored the first goal and Kristoffer Olsson dominated. Seeing as Yennaris has had a couple of first team appearances. I remember him coming on at half time in the game against Manchester United at the Emirates to replace Johan Djourou who had a nightmare playing at right back and giving Nani a run for his money. As I watched, I thought to myself: This isn’t his level: He should be on loan or learning his trade with the first team. Olsson was the ying to Yennaris’s yang, threading the passes and dictating the tempo whilst Yennaris did the bulk of the tackling and ball retention. Serge Gnabry on the left was the embodiment of the complete winger. He shares a facial resemblance with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Pace, Great Skill set, Physically Strong: He has it all. Also, compared to most wingers I see in the top flight he was defensively sound, doubling up on the opposing wingers and covering for Martin Angha, the left back. He really does look like he could have a bright future. Up front, Chuba Akpom got a brace and assist and stood out despite being one of the youngest at 16.

There were 896 people in attendance and I did enjoy it. The only gripe being the way the game petered out by the 2nd Half but that was due to Arsenal’s superiority. I also felt that the crowd could have been more vocal in their support but then again, it had the serenity and calm first team games don’t. This format is one I would encourage parents’ take their kids to as some of these players could become first team stalwarts. Then there’s the added benefit of not putting them through the age inappropriate language that tends to accompany first team fixtures.