It’s been a good season in terms of results for the Arsenal under-23s. Having only stayed in the Premier League 2 by the skin of their teeth last campaign, this time out they will likely finish third having been in the title race for much of the early stages. But as he looks back on his first season in charge Kevin Betsy is not over concerned with where his team have ended in the table. Breeding a winning culture is, of course, important but for the 44-year-old, it’s the way his side have gone about doing things that is far more important.
“The playing style for us is fundamental,” he says. “We benchmark ourselves against the teams in the division and bringing a new playing style to the players, the evidence is on the grass. We’ve looked at the data and stats and we’re up there with the top three possession teams in the league, we finished second to Man City in goals scored. (It’s) a phenomenal attacking team we’ve created this season.
“Those two (possession and goals scored) are really high level stats. Passes per 90 is (also) in the top three in the league, so there are a lot of things from an analytical perspective we implemented to the playing style and they show in the games.”
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Betsy’s teachings are on full display as Arsenal play out their final game of the campaign against Leeds at the Emirates Stadium. Despite some early shakey moments that could have seen the visitors take a lead, the Gunners continue with their principles of playing out from the back and occupying correct spaces. Each time one player vacates an area on the pitch, another, regardless of their position, fills it to ensure the passing options are still available.
Eventually this patient and considered approach pays off as Joel Lopez drives unexpectedly infield to wreak havoc amongst the Leeds defence. Their attempt to cut out the Spaniard’s ball to Mika Biereth only falls to Marcelo Flores who finishes with calm accuracy to put Arsenal 1-0 up.
Throughout the season Betsy has preached the importance of adaptability to his players. Each Arsenal under-23 player is taught to have the almost chameleonic ability to merge seemlessly into whichever area he is on the pitch to suit the needs of the team. It is this focus on spatial awareness and positional development that is almost reminiscent of the work Ajax do to equip their youngsters to be prepared to make the step up to first team level when they are called upon, and Betsy believes his players are benefitting from it.
“Back to the adaptability, if you look at our statistics in terms of formations, we probably played 60% with a back three and 40% with a back four,” he says. “That’s fantastic for the players to learn and adapt. You saw the first team went to a back three the other day against Chelsea and we have to prepare them for these scenarios. Today we played a back four and put in some really good performances.”
If there’s one player who perhaps embodies this philosophy it is left back Lino Sousa. The 17-year-old arrived from West Brom in January as a flying offensive full back whose strengths lay in getting to byline and delivering, but after just four months in the Gunners set up it’s easy to notice the levels he’s added to his game.
Picking the ball up in the middle of the pitch as a second half substitute, Sousa nearly starts off a move that leads to a second for Arsenal on the night. His mazy dribble through the heart of the Leeds backline ends in an inch perfect pass to Biereth, and it is only an outstanding save from Dani van den Heuvel robbed the 17-year-old of an assist.
It’s performances like these that have earned Sousa call ups to train with Mikel Arteta’s first team in the absence of Kieran Tierney recently despite his young age. Betsy believes there is more to come from the England under-16 international though.
“It’s on greatly,” he tells football.london when asked about Sousa’s positional development. “Lino hadn’t played for six months before he joined us. That’s a long period of time to be out of football for anyone, especially a development player. Then he’s come in and we’ve managed to integrate him well, the periodisation in his training has been excellent, we managed to get him up to match speed and he’s performed well to a good level.
“Tactically there’s a lot of differences from where he’s been playing before and what they’ve asked him to do. They developed him very well, but it’s just a different style. We need to keep using the matches as training. It’s not just a case of in a match you let them get on with it and they’re going to know everything, we train them in the match as well. All these little things he’ll improve and develop. He scored last time he was here and had some good actions today. Lots of things to improve and he’s been a good signing.”
Less than six months in to his Arsenal career the feeling is that with another few months’ coaching under his belt, Sousa has a big part to play for the under-23s next season. This team will lose several of its stars from this campaign, with Marcelo Flores, Miguel Azeez and Kido Taylor-Hart all players who could go out on loan. But with a spate of exciting under-18 players hot on their tails the future is looking bright for the Gunners academy.
Source by Football London