U21 Premier League Elite Group
West Ham 1 (Ruddock 32) Arsenal 1 (Henderson 20)
Arsenal U21s secured a hard-fought draw as they finally ended their West Ham hoodoo at Upton Park this evening. The Gunners had lost to the Hammers on the three previous occasions the two sides had met this season, but took the lead through Conor Henderson and, despite being pegged back shortly afterwards after Pelly Ruddock’s cross deflected off Nico Yennaris, Steve Gatting’s side can still be pleased with their evening’s work, which was disrupted by a power cut early in the second half.
Steve Gatting made five changes from the side that beat Southampton on Monday night, the most notable of which saw first-team squad member Sébastien Squillaci come into the side. He was joined by Sead Hajrović, Ignasi Miquel, Nigel Neita and Thomas Eisfeld, who made his return from injury. Chuba Akpom, Martin Angha, Héctor Bellerín and Kristoffer Olsson were all unavailable because of international commitments. West Ham, meanwhile, included George McCartney and Dan Potts in their line-up.
subs: Gnabry (for Neita, 61), Ebecilio (for Monteiro, 78). Not used: Iliev, Mugabo, Bihmoutine.
Arsenal created the first notable opportunity when Henderson tested Raphael Spiegel from distance after Jordan Wynter did well to retrieve the ball before Eisfeld, keen to make an impression after his short spell on the sidelines, shot wide shortly afterwards. Ruddock was proving a threat for the hosts, but Arsenal dealt well with a cross from the tricky winger, although Damián Martínez did have to be alert to gather the ball with Wellington Paulista, who scored when these sides met at London Colney back in January, bearing down on goal towards him.
Soon Arsenal were ahead, however, and Eisfeld was heavily involved in proceedings, teeing up Henderson, who beat Spiegel from close range. The Irish midfielder may be playing out the remainder of his Arsenal contract but he certainly seems determined to impress any potential new suitors and struck his fourth goal of the season at this level, albeit his first since late August.
West Ham threatened an immediate response, with Blair Turgott, once of Arsenal, forcing Elton Monteiro into a well-timed clearance, with the Swiss defender further reinforcing his improving reputation with a fine block to deny Elliot Lee. Monteiro then almost set up a goal at the other end after his knockdown found Jordan Wynter, but the 19 year old, operating in his preferred midfield position, sent his effort wide via a slight deflection off the far post.
Monteiro and Eisfeld performed further defensive heroics but they were both powerless to stop West Ham equalising with 13 minutes remaining of the first-half when Ruddock played in a dangerous ball which deflected off Nico Yennaris and past Martínez in the Arsenal goal.
George Moncur then shot just wide after getting the better of Monteiro as West Ham sought to gain control of proceedings, with Turgott shooting wide in the final significant effort of the opening period.
After a scrappy start to the second half in which neither side could fully assert control, faulty floodlights added an element of drama to proceedings, with Upton Park plunged into darkness for a full ten minutes following a technical failure. The problem was eventually rectified and West Ham continued to chase the lead, with Moncur threatening to illuminate the game with a fierce effort from distance.
Arsenal responded by introducing Serge Gnabry in place of the ineffective Neita, but West Ham continued to dominate in terms of chances created, with Paulista twice coming close with headers from well-delivered set-pieces. Zak Ansah then shot just wide in a rare Arsenal attack, before Sean Maguire, on as a substitute for the hosts, did likewise at the other end.
There was a chance for either side in the closing stages as first Miquel forced Spiegel into a good save before Martínez was equal to Maguire’s effort at the other end, but the final word very nearly went to Gnabry, who rattled a post late on.
As it was, an Arsenal victory probably would have been a little harsh on West Ham, who were in control of the game for a long spell. Nonetheless, Arsenal stretched their unbeaten record to three games, something they will be looking to continue when Manchester United visit Underhill on Wednesday evening.