U21 Premier League
Arsenal 2 (Ebecilio, Akpom) Southampton 0
By Jeorge Bird @Underhill
Arsenal U21s secured their first win of the Elite Round with a 2-0 victory over Southampton in the biting cold at Underhill this evening. Goals from Kyle Ebecilio, one of several players making his return from injury, and Chuba Akpom, who found the net for the ninth time this season at this level saw Steve Gatting’s side prevail over a determined yet technically limited Southampton side.
In addition to Ebecilio, goalkeeper Damian Martinez and left-back Jernade Meade returned from spells on the sidelines, but Sanchez Watt, who last played whilst on loan at Colchester United, only made the bench. The stand-out name on the Southampton team-sheet was that of Vegard Forren, a January recruit, whilst winger Steve De Ridder was the most experienced player on the field.
Southampton’s start was almost as bright as their yellow shirts, with Joe Curtis latching onto Serge Gnabry’s loose ball to shoot wide. The German youngster, operating in a somewhat unfamiliar number 10 role, sought to make amends immediately, slaloming past two visiting defenders before shooting straight at Paulo Gazzaniga.
Ebecilio, a lively presence on the right flank, then had a cross easily gathered just moments before putting Arsenal ahead. Gnabry instigated a swift break up-field and found Nico Yennaris who, in turn, prodded the ball into the path of Ebecilio who converted calmly to alleviate the pain of over three months on the sidelines.
It should have been 2-0 shortly afterwards when Kristoffer Olsson’s diligent lofted pass found Akpom in space, but the England U19 striker lofted his effort over the crossbar from a difficult angle. Olsson, who was growing in influence, then shot wide following good work from Conor Henderson, with Ebecilio later shooting over from a well-timed cross from the Irishman.
Akpom and Olsson squandered further opportunities early in the second half, but Arsenal’s dominance was rewarded on 56 minutes when Jordan Wynter’s cross-field ball skimmed off the head of a Southampton defender, with Akpom primely positioned to tuck home when the ball fell invitingly into his path.
Martin Angha shot over shortly afterwards, before Nigel Neita and Samir Bihmoutine entered the fray in place of Ebecilio and Meade. Gnabry almost turned home an Olsson free-kick, before De Ridder, a threatening presence on the left flank who, you felt, could have been even more dangerous had he applied himself better, tested the authoritative Martinez with a series of efforts.
Martinez, and Arsenal, however, were able to hold on and Gatting, having secured his first victory as U21 coach, will be hopeful of repeating the feat against West Ham United on Friday.
Player ratings: (4-2-3-1)
Damian Martinez- 7- His first appearance for a while and the Argentinian marked it with some impressive stops
Jordan Wynter-6- Largely impressive, playing a role in the second goal, although he was beaten by De Ridder on one occasion
Martin Angha-6- Calm on the ball, he wasn’t caused too many problems defensively and almost scored at the other end.
Elton Monteiro-6- Like Angha, he was rarely tested but seems more focused and tactically aware than in the past.
Jernade Meade-7- A trouble-free return to action, he defended and attacked with his usual diligence.
Nico Yennaris-7- Provided bite and some subtle passing in midfield and snuffed out several Southampton attacks.
Kristoffer Olsson-6-Played some excellent passes, but wasn’t always heavily involved in proceedings.
Kyle Ebecilio-7- A lively presence on the right flank, he continued from where he left off before his injury.
Serge Gnabry-6- Not at his sharpest, the German youngster seems more suited to the wings than the playmaker role.
Conor Henderson-6- Not everything he tried came off, but remains determined even though his Arsenal career will soon be over.
Chuba Akpom-7- Rather snatched at one opportunity, but took his goal with his usual calmness.
Nigel Neita (for Ebecilio, 69)-5- Close-control was lacking.
Samir Bihmoutine (for Meade, 69)-6- Not heavily involved.
Alfred Mugabo (for Akpom, 84)
Not used: Josh Vickers, Sanchez Watt.