While the main squad were travelling home after their US tour ended with a penalty shoot-out defeat to Real Madrid on Tuesday evening, an Arsenal youth XI gave an impressive showing to beat Barnet 3-2 at the Hive.
With Steve Bould in the dugout, a team made up of under-18 and under-23s players did well against a much more experienced side. Barnet fielded a starting XI with an average age of just over 26 and around 600 appearances for the club between them and – with the necessary disclaimers that they are a National League outfit and may well have had one eye on a season which starts in just over a week – they provided a tough competitive test for Arsenal’s academy prospects.
Arsenal went 3-0 up early on in the first half, before Barnet fought back with two second-half goals.
Among the Arsenal youngsters who featured, several stood out for especially strong performances. Not least the kid who scored a hat-trick in only six minutes.
Prolific at under-18s level last season, Balogun has previously claimed that he models his game on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He caught his idol’s eye after admitting that he likes to hover “on the shoulder of the last defender… similar to the way Aubameyang plays” in an interview with the club’s website in May, with Aubameyang concisely summing up the 18-year-old’s talents with a single fire emoji in response.
That was exactly the way Balogun played against Barnet, opening the scoring from the penalty spot on the 12-minute mark, sweeping into the far corner after a lovely run down the left a few minutes later and then, with only 18 minutes gone, completing his hat-trick with a little shimmy outside the box and a shooting star into the far corner. Quieter in the second half, as were the whole team in fairness, he still gave Barnet’s defenders plenty of cause for anxiety.
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At Arsenal for over a decade, Balogun looks like an instinctive striker and natural finisher. Eligible for the USA, Nigeria and England at international level but yet to declare his final preference, all three will no doubt be monitoring him with interest.
While Coyle can play across the forward line he excelled on the left of a front three against Barnet. He won the penalty which resulted in Arsenal’s opener after a mazy run down the left, assisting Balogun’s second not long afterwards while proving to be largely unmarkable.
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While he stood out for his creative flair, dribbling and confidence on the ball, Coyle also showed himself willing to track back and work hard for his teammates, breaking up Barnet attacks on more than one occasion. Also 18, though a few months older than Balogun, he continued to provide an outlet in the second half even as the rest of the team flagged.
Usually a midfielder, Swanson was deployed as a right-back here and was Arsenal’s best defender. Though much of what he did was unglamorous – clearances, interceptions, set-piece work and passes out from the back – he was confident and understated while quietly locking down his flank.
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Having signed his first professional contract with the club in April, Swanson is very much one for the future. This was a mature performance, however, and a successful outing for another player who made a name for himself with the under-18s last term.
Special mentions: Harrison Clarke, 18, is also a midfielder by trade but did well at centre-back, while Matthew Smith, also 18, had some nice touches in the middle of the park. Though he only came on in the second half, Miguel Azeez, 16, impressed going forwards and rattled the post with a chipped shot late on.