U21 Premier League- Elite Group
Arsenal 1 (Eisfeld) Liverpool 1 (Bijev)
By Jeorge Bird @ Underhill
Arsenal U21s were denied victory in their final game of the season, and potentially their last ever fixture at Underhill, with Liverpool substitute Vilyan Bijev capitalising on some poor defending to turn home late on and cancel out Thomas Eisfeld’s superb opening strike. A point was somewhat harsh on Arsenal, who, despite a tame opening period from both sides, were impressive after the interval and could have added further goals to Eisfeld’s memorable effort. It was also a poignant affair for defender Martin Angha, who made his last appearance in an Arsenal shirt prior to his summer move to Bundesliga side Nuremberg.
Coach Steve Gatting shuffled his pack from Tuesday’s last-gasp victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, with Damian Martinez, Eisfeld, Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Sead Hajrovic and Kristoffer Olsson all coming into the starting line-up, whilst Liverpool called upon England U21 right-back Jon Flanagan, who has recently returned from injury and has a dozen Premier League appearances to his name.
Liverpool, who have virtually secured a place in the end-of-season play-offs with a top three finish, began in the ascendancy, with Adam Morgan seeing a shot well saved by Martinez after prising possession from Hajrovic. Chuba Akpom replied with a shot wide at the other end after he was found by Gnabry, but the striker was somewhat off-balance when he took the shot.
Jordan Ibe, meanwhile, was causing all sorts of problems for the Arsenal defence, with the tricky winger doing well to win a corner from which Martinez made a superb save to deny the same player. In a frantic flurry of events, Liverpool then had a seemingly legitimate penalty claim waved away when Jernade Meade appeared to commit a foul in the area before Martinez made another excellent stop to prevent Liverpool from taking what, at that stage, would have been a deserved lead.
Those three incidents, which occurred in a timeframe of around 20 seconds, would prove to be the highlights of a largely forgettable first-half, with Morgan and Gnabry both squandering chances from free-kicks, before the former and Ibe both came close before the interval.
Arsenal were back on the pitch far earlier than their Liverpool counterparts and the Gunners appeared to possess an extra sense of determination once the game got back underway. They were rewarded for their dominance when Bellerin picked out Eisfeld outside the area and the German midfielder struck a forceful shot high into the Liverpool goal to maintain his impressive scoring record since joining the club.
Arsenal looked to extend their advantage as quickly as possible, with Akpom and Gnabry both coming close, before Akpom played an inviting ball across the face of goal, but, unfortunately, there was no Arsenal player on hand to meet it.
Gatting’s side were made to pay for their profligacy, with Liverpool upping the ante considerably thereafter, with Hajrovic forced to make an excellent last-ditch clearance and Krisztian Adorjan, who was impressive all evening, shooting narrowly wide. Bijev, having only been on the field for a matter of minutes, then turned home a precise cross to level the scoring and to ensure that a mixed season for Arsenal in terms of results ended with a draw.
As the supporters, including many of a Liverpool persuasion, streamed out of the turnstiles at this ramshackle old ground, the tannoy blared out Dakota by the Stereophonics, with the lyric “I don’t know where we are going now” particularly resonant for Arsenal, who are yet to decide where their second-string games will be played next season.
One thing is for certain- there will be considerable changes in the playing staff at this level over the summer, and, whoever takes to the field for the next league game in August, be it at Boreham Wood, Edgware or back at Underhill, will be fighting for their futures as the battle for first-team places continues.
Player ratings: (4-2-3-1)
Damian Martinez-8- Made two superb saves in quick succession and could do little about the goal.
Hector Bellerin-6-Beaten for Liverpool’s goal, but attacked well throughout.
Martin Angha-7- A strong showing on his final appearance for the club.
Sead Hajrovic-7- Extremely resilient for the most part, the defender has developed well this season.
Jernade Meade-6- Tactically aware as ever, he perhaps should have had a goal for his efforts.
Nico Yennaris-7- His usual tenacious self, the midfielder was the epitome of Arsenal’s attempts of a high-pressure game.
Kristoffer Olsson-7- A sublime passer of the ball, the Swede has developed well and will seek a first-team debut next season.
Thomas Eisfeld-7- Was barely involved until his goal, which was simply unstoppable.
Gedion Zelalem-6- Some neat touches, but not really a driving force and off-the-ball work needs improvement.
Serge Gnabry-6- Made some good driving runs, but wasn’t at his sharpest.
Chuba Akpom-6- Was fighting a lone battle up front, but demonstrated some good movement.
Subs not used: Josh Vickers, Craig Eastmond, Sanchez Watt, Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Jack Jebb.