Premier League 2
Leicester City 3 (Gordon 9, Eppiah 22, Barnes 60) Arsenal 1 (Dragomir 84)
Arsenal U23s’ hopes of winning Premier League 2 suffered a blow tonight as they were beaten 3-1 away by a spirited Leicester City side, with the young Gunners’ misery compounded by the dismissal of striker Tyreece John-Jules.
Vlad Dragomir, who had been pushed up front following John-Jules’ sending off, scored a late consolation but Arsenal missed out on the chance to go top of the table and produced a woeful performance that was sorely lacking in terms of cohesion and the creation of clear cut chances.
There were some positives to take from proceedings, with Josh Dasilva, who captained the side, performing very well in midfield, whilst left-back Tolaji Bola was rewarded for his persistence as he provided the assist for Dragomir’s goal.
However, Arsenal were very disappointing, with goalkeeper Deyan Iliev especially culpable as he frequently gave the ball away on account of his inaccurate distribution.
There were some mitigating circumstances, with Arsenal deprived of the services of Reiss Nelson, Matt Macey, Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock, who are all expected to be involved in some capacity in the Europa League encounter against Ostersunds on Thursday.
Still, though, this was an abject Arsenal performance, quite possibly the worst of the season so far.
Coach Steve Gatting made four alterations to the side that beat Everton last time out, with Dasilva, Zech Medley, John-Jules and the lesser spotted Yassin Fortune all coming into the side.
Meanwhile, scholars Daniel Ballard and Vontae Daley-Campbell, who have caught the eye for the U18s this season, received their first call-ups at this level.
Osei Tutu-Mavropanos-Medley-T. Bola
Subs: Eyoma (for Fortune, 82). Not used: Keto, Gilmour, Ballard, Daley-Campbell.
Arsenal are used to starting games in the ascendancy, but, providing an indication of what was to come, that wasn’t the case on this occasion.
Leicester were impressive from the outset and signalled their attacking intent almost immediately as Harvey Barnes sent an effort wide.
With just nine minutes gone Leicester were in front and Arsenal goalkeeper Deyan Iliev should have done better than to flap at a corner, with Josh Gordon slotting home from close range to open the scoring after George Thomas sent the ball back into the area.
Leicester, who are in contention to win the title themselves, could have made it 2-0 shortly afterwards but Iliev partially redeemed himself by stopping Barnes’ effort.
Arsenal usually revel in dominating games with their slick, passing football but they struggled to muster any sort of momentum for much of the game.
They did manage to create one half chance when Dasilva prodded the ball into the path of John-Jules, but the latter’s effort was deflected over.
Leicester were utterly dominant and it was of little surprise when they made it 2-0 in the 22nd minute, with Josh Eppiah sending a fine strike beyond the reach of Iliev.
The pressure was unrelenting, with Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s free-kick whistling just wide, and Arsenal at times found it very difficult to cope with the situation they found themselves in.
As the first half drew to a close Arsenal started to grow in confidence and saw slightly more of the ball.
Xavier Amaechi, who will take some time to adapt to this level after stepping up from the U18s, found Dasilva, whose effort rattled the post, and then Dragomir and Konstantinos Mavropanos came close with further attempts.
There was, however, always something to fear at the other end of the pitch, with a Leicester cross deflecting off Mavropanos and hitting the crossbar and then Iliev made a good reaction stop to tip over from a header.
Arsenal, undoubtedly having received some stern words at half-time, emerged for the second half in determined mood and started to keep the ball a little better.
Dragomir shot wide from distance when he perhaps should have elected to pass and then Dasilva found the Romanian, who turned expertly but again couldn’t find the net.
Arsenal were made to pay for their lack of ruthlessness as, following an impressive move, Barnes rounded Iliev and scored to put Leicester 3-0 up and effectively end the game as a contest.
Their hopes of getting back into the game may have been all but over, but there was still more misery to come for Arsenal as, almost immediately, John-Jules was sent off for a reckless challenge on Barnes.
The young striker, who is a very exciting talent, lost his composure and will surely learn from this experience.
Dragomir then moved up front but much of the action was occurring down the other end of the pitch, with Leicester looking to make the most of their numerical advantage.
Iliev made a good stop but then, as he has a habit of doing, the goalkeeper squandered possession with a woeful ball out, and he was fortunate that Leicester didn’t take advantage, with Gordon hitting the post and Eppiah shooting wide.
Arsenal then brought on Aaron Eyoma, who was recently on trial at Queens Park Rangers, in place of the ineffective Fortune.
There was at last something for Arsenal to celebrate as Tolaji Bola pushed forwards and found Dragomir, who sent a sweet strike into the top corner to reduce the deficit.
Bola now has three assists in Premier League 2 this season, while Dragomir has six goals, but it was too late to spark a comeback.
Mavropanos, who didn’t disgrace himself despite the scoreline, saw an effort deflected wide and then had to make an impressive defensive intervention at the other end.
Leicester, though, fully merited their victory and outclassed Arsenal tonight, with Gatting’s side lacking dynamism.
The absence of Nelson, Nketiah and Willock, as well as those who left on loan in January, was certainly felt, as a run of six league games unbeaten came to an end.
Arsenal are back in action on Saturday when they host Dinamo Zagreb in the Premier League International Cup but they will certainly have to perform much better in that game if they are to avoid being eliminated.