Arsenal under-18s bounced back from their defeat to Leicester to record their biggest win of the season so far against an inept Bristol City side at London Colney.
After the disappointment of last week’s surrender against the Foxes this was a reminder of just how good Steve Bould’s youngsters can be when they are on their game. All of the goals came in the first-half with Luke Freeman and Benik Afobe hitting braces and Chuks Aneke also finding the net.
Bould rang the changes for the visit of City, continuing his policy of rotating Sean McDermott and James Shea in goal. Rhema Obed shifted to right-back at the expense of Sam Byles, who dropped to the bench, whilst Sead Hajrovic came in for only his second start. There were also welcome returns from injury for midfield pair Emmanuel Frimpong and Conor Henderson, whilst Nico Yennaris made the bench after shrugging off a back complaint.
subs: McDermott, Yennaris, Deacon, Byles, Brislen-Hall.
In contrast to last week, when Arsenal found themselves 3-0 down early on, it was the Gunners who burst out of the traps this time. After some early City pressure a quick breakaway saw Benik Afobe find Aneke who threaded the ball through to Freeman who opened the scoring with just two minutes on the clock. It was a breathtaking move and there would be much more to come.
Just three minutes later Aneke, the provider for Freeman’s goal, turned scorer when he nodded Henderson’s arrowed corner past the City ‘keeper for his second of the season.
City were shellshocked and, although they pressured Shea’s goal intermittently, the truth was that they were just simply not good enough to cope with Arsenal. Under Bould’s orders they continued to pile on the pressure, with Obed’s cross reaching Freeman but the former Gillingham striker couldn’t convert on this occasion.
He would soon be celebrating for the second time in the game, however, and Aneke was at the hub of the move once more, splitting the defence with an accurate ball for Freeman to lap up and finish.
It was game over and it had barely begun.
The goals had provided Arsenal with much confidence and Cédric Evina, who scored a sensational strike against Leicester last time out, tried his luck again but this time skewed his shot wide after a neat passing move. Afobe, who had been quiet up until that point, then forced the busy City keeper into a save after a raked pass from Oguzhan Ozyakup. Obed delivered another telling cross but Freeman couldn’t connect, although it only seemed a matter of time before the fourth goal went in.
It did eventually come, albeit in rather fortuitous circumstances. Afobe turned away from his marker sharply and appeared to be brought down by the ‘keeper. Contact, if there was any, seemed minimal but the England u-17 international didn’t care and stepped up to convert the spot-kick low to the ‘keepers right.
Obed was continuing his rampages forward and his cross found Aneke whose shot went high and wide to the right. Frimpong then hit a drilled effort on goal from distance which was fumbled but eventually smothered by the City keeper.
With just 25 minutes on the clock it was 5-0 and the final goal proved to be the best of the lot. Henderson delivered an equisite pass into the path of Afobe who showed terrific composure to prod the ball forward, jump over the ‘keeper, and knock it in once on the other side.
It seemed there would be no end to the goals, with Aneke curling wide following a neat interchange between Freeman and Henderson, whilst Afobe had another chance after wriggling away from his marker.
There was to be more goalmouth action before the break, with Frimpong rolling in Freeman who struck a post and Frimpong hitting the woodwork himself soon after.
Henderson had the final opportunity of the half but couldn’t find the finish to match his equisite skill.
As happens so often, the second period failed to match the first in terms of entertainment but this was partly down to Bould telling his players at half-time to protect the lead and also because City had adopted a more physical approach.
This was certainly evident early in the second-half when Aneke, having been fouled himself moments earlier, picked up a yellow card for a crunching challenge.
Shots were few and far between, but Shea had to make a superb save to deny City a consolation.
Bould opted to change things on the hour, with Yennaris replacing the tiring Frimpong. The first-year had a crack at goal soon after his arrival before a double change soon after saw both full-backs withdrawn and replaced by Sam Byles and George Brislen-Hall, the latter making a superb clearance under City pressure.
There was time for more gloss to be added to the scoreline, with Freeman, Ozyakup, Afobe, Henderson and Aneke all squandering chances but five was more than enough.
What would have pleased Bould more than anything was that his side managed to earn a clean sheet for the first time this season, although their passing wasn’t their best in the second half.
Having significantly boosted their morale, Bould’s side travel to face Fulham at Motspur Park next week before hosting Crystal Palace a week later as they commence the 18 fixtures against teams in Group A.