Premier League International Cup
Arsenal U23s 1 (Nelson) Porto U23s 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
A stunning second half goal from Reiss Nelson gave Arsenal U23s a 1-0 victory over Porto in their first Premier League International Cup.
It was a hard earned three points for the young Gunners, with Porto retaining possession very well and hitting the crossbar on one occasion, while Arsenal goalkeeper Deyan Iliev had to make some important stops.
Arsenal managed to prevail, however, and it was fitting that Nelson, who became increasingly influential in the second half, was the hero.
Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy, who are likely to feature in the Europa League game against Cologne next week, were both involved tonight, with captain Julio Pleguezuelo moving out to left wing-back and Josh Dasilva reverting to midfield.
Eddie Nketiah, who trained with the first-team today, wasn’t involved, but there was a place on the bench for Emile Smith Rowe, who was part of England’s World Cup winning squad at U17 level.
Subs: Smith Rowe (for Chambers), Medley (for Debuchy), T. Bola (for Dragomir). Not used: Keto, Moore, Fortune.
Porto, who beat Reading in their opening fixture, signalled their attacking intent early on with an effort that tested Iliev.
Arsenal responded as Nelson, deployed as an attacking midfielder, cut inside and won a corner before Joe Willock saw an effort saved.
The first half was largely uneventful, however, with Porto seeing a lot of the ball and restricting the space available to Arsenal.
Arsenal’s best opening of the opening period came when Chuba Akpom swivelled smartly in the penalty area but the striker’s subsequent shot lacked conviction.
Porto looked most likely to score for much of the half, although they squandered an inviting opportunity to find the net when Arsenal were guilty of losing possession in midfield.
It was goalless at the break, but the standout observation from the first half was the performance of Ben Sheaf, who frequently demonstrated his composure in possession while looking comfortable as part of a back three.
Porto started the second half well but the game needed a moment of brilliance to spark it into life and Nelson certainly provided it.
Following good work from Akpom, who did well to create space, Nelson received possession and then found the net with an excellent effort from distance.
It was another moment of brilliance from a youngster who certainly has a very good chance of making the grade at Arsenal.
Porto responded in dramatic fashion as an effort rattled the crossbar, indicating that Arsenal had much work to do to retain their lead.
Chambers and Debuchy, as had been planned prior to the game, were substituted midway through the second half, with Zech Medley and Smith Rowe entering the fray, the latter filling in at left wing-back for a period.
Arsenal had chances to extend their lead, with Vlad Dragomir and Nelson both being thwarted, but the vast majority of the action was taking place down the other end, where Iliev, who is now much more reliable than he was previously, made some vital interventions.
It was clear that Arsenal couldn’t afford to push forwards with too much regularity, given the threat that Porto possessed.
Tolaji Bola came on for Dragomir, providing Arsenal with greater defensive security and enabling Smith Rowe to play behind the striker.
Iliev made another stop in the closing stages and, after four minutes of injury time, Arsenal managed to hold on and take all three points.
Nelson’s quality once again shone through, with the 17-year-old showcasing his ability to weave his way past defenders, while he was at the heart of much of what was good about Arsenal’s attacking play.