U21 Premier League
Arsenal 2 (Henderson (pen), Bellerin) Manchester United 1 (Ekangamene)
Hector Bellerin’s ferocious late strike handed Arsenal U21s victory over Manchester United in a closely-fought tussle at Underhill this evening. Both sides struggled to carve out clear-cut chances with regularity, but it was a game illuminated by some spectacular goals, with Bellerin’s intervention just bettering Charni Ekangamene’s strike to put United ahead with 40 minutes gone. Their lead was swiftly eradicated by Conor Henderson’s firmly-struck penalty and Arsenal went on to secure their second win in three games.
Steve Gatting made six changes from the side that drew with West Ham United last Friday, and was without a host of players due to international duty. He was, however, able to call upon the first-team experience of Francis Coquelin, who started in midfield, with Isaac Hayden, back from suspension, pushed into a more advanced role. Sanchez Watt made his first appearance in nearly five months, whilst full-backs Bellerin and Samir Bihmoutine returned to the defence. Craig Eastmond made his return from injury on the bench.
United included first-team squad member Alex Buttner in their line-up, with the talented Ryan Tunnicliffe also starting.
subs: Eastmond (for Yennaris, 64), Ansah (for Watt, 72). Not used: Vickers, Wynter, Neita.
Arsenal started on the front foot and went for goal early on through the lively Thomas Eisfeld, whose shot was deflected wide for a corner. Later, Henderson saw a free-kick blocked before Watt headed wide from another set-piece.
It was a rather scrappy affair, with both sides enjoying long spells of possession without really testing either goalkeeper. Ignasi Miquel was perhaps the stand-out performer of the first-half, with the centre-back making several impressive interceptions, including on one occasion when he did well to steal possession and motor down-field, only to skew his shot horribly wide.
United then took the lead in a flash, with Ekangamene demonstrating impressive technique to fire a snap-shot past Damian Martinez from a well-delivered cross. Arsenal were left downhearted by their concession, but it spurred them on to make almost instant amends, with Bellerin being fouled in the area following clever movement by Watt to distract the United defenders.
Watt could have been forgiven for wanting to take the spot-kick himself following so long on the sidelines, but Henderson assumed control and beat Pierluigi Gollini with a well-placed effort to level proceedings before the interval.
The second-half was even less eventful than the opening period, with both sides limited to tame half-chances for the majority of the 45 minutes. Sead Hajrovic saw a cross gathered, before, at the other end, Adnan Januzaj, who had been impressive all night, shot just wide for United.
Arsenal were twice denied goalscoring opportunities by superb United defending, with first Eisfeld and then Watt stopped in their tracks by timely interventions from the visiting centre-backs. Henderson, operating on the left flank, then delivered a perfect cross into the area which Hayden, arriving late, could only steer wide.
Januzaj came close for United, then Hayden headed over from Eastmond’s clipped pass before Henderson struck a post with a free-kick as Arsenal cranked up the pressure in the dying stages.
They would save the killer blow for almost the final kick of the game, with Bellerin rifling home his first goal of the season at this level to secure victory with just two minutes of regulation time remaining. It was a rare moment of true quality in a game played by two evenly-matched sides who struggled to impose themselves in front of goal, but Arsenal will gratefully take the victory all the same.
They now have a two week break before consecutive away fixtures against Southampton, Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Damian Martinez- 6- Could do little about the spectacular goal and dealt well with the few problems he faced.
Hector Bellerin-7- A regular threat going forward, he won the penalty and scored the decisive goal.
Sead Hajrovic-6- Demonstrated his tempestuous nature with several robust challenges, but was posed few problems.
Ignasi Miquel-7- Excellent reading of the game and one good break up-field.
Samir Bihmoutine-6- Largely composed, he showcased his good close-control.
Nico Yennaris-7-Tried to speed up Arsenal’s play and showed his impressive agility.
Francis Coquelin-6-Not heavily involved in proceedings, but produced a few moments of class.
Thomas Eisfeld-6-Couldn’t get regularly involved, but impressed with his work-rate and had a few near-misses.
Isaac Hayden-6- Battled hard and did well to force a cross on one occasion, but evidently not suited to the number 10 role.
Conor Henderson-7- A couple of dangerous crosses that caused problem for the opposition and scored the penalty.
Sanchez Watt-5- Considerably rusty as was to be expected and poor positioning, but good movement for the penalty.
Craig Eastmond-6- Calm on the ball, he added authority to Arsenal’s play.
Zak Ansah-5- Offered little up front during his short time on the field.
Not used: Josh Vickers, Jordan Wynter, Nigel Neita.