An extremely strong selection helped Arsenal U21s return to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Reading at Underhill this evening, with coach Terry Burton naming five members of the first-team squad in his starting line-up.
Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong continued their respective recuperations from injury, whilst Bacary Sagna made his first start since May following his own spell on the sidelines. Francis Coquelin and Andre Santos, the latter having appeared as a substitute against West Ham as recently as Saturday evening, were also involved.
Reading, meanwhile, also contained several familiar names within their ranks, including striker Jason Roberts, whose goal knocked Arsenal out at the semi-final stage of the Carling Cup six years ago, and former Gunners goalkeeper Stuart Taylor, with Danny Guthrie and Adam Le Fondre also called upon.
Despite the strength of Arsenal’s line-up, it was two younger members of the side who were on the scoresheet, with Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom finding the net, the latter scoring his first goal at this level.
subs: C-Cook, Meade, Yennaris, Olsson, Bellerin.
Arsenal began in the ascendancy at a packed Underhill and there was a heartening moment early on when Wilshere showed that his quickness of thought has not deserted him as he surged forward and spotted Thomas Eisfeld, who succeeded in winnign a corner.
Nothing came of that particular set-piece, but Wilshere wasn’t disheartened, and shortly afterwards he delivered a floated free-kick into the penalty box which was flicked on by Ignasi Miquel. Santos met it on the far side of the area but curled an ambitious effort well wide.
Reading then had their first attempt of note when Guthrie fired wide, but Arsenal were carving out chances on a more regular basis than their opponents, with Akpom coming close following a neat, flowing move and Eisfeld shooting wide following a swift interchange between Gnabry and Wilshere.
The game became largely scrappy for a period, but, despite James Shea having to deal with a few dangerous crosses, Arsenal were largely in the ascendancy and they eventually took the lead just before the interval, after Wilshere spread the play to Eisfeld once more and the young German found his compatriot Gnabry who curled home in emphatic style to cap off a fine individual first-half display from the 17 year old.
Arsenal nearly squandered their hard-earned advantage within minutes of the restart after Le Fondre pounced on Sead Hajrovic’s poor backpass, but thankfully Shea was on hand to produce what would be one of a string of important saves from the much-improved goalkeeper.
Gnabry and Santos were proving dangerous outlets down the left flank for the Gunners, but Arsenal really should have increased their lead when Coquelin slipped in Frimpong, but the powerful midfielder slashed his effort wide when well placed.
Not to worry, though, the second was to come soon enough. Wilshere’s corner was flicked on Miquel and Akpom nodded home past Taylor to open his account at this level, having delivered a much-improved display from his last outing against Olympiacos.
Sagna was withdrawn on the hour mark, as scheduled, whilst Wilshere lasted 74 minutes, and Frimpong the whole 90. Reading were not completely out of it just yet, however, as a shot from Roberts whistled wide after the experienced striker showed good movement in the area, then, after an Arsenal effort was cleared off the line at the other end, Le Fondre saw a free-kick saved and Roberts shrugged off the attentions of Hajrovic only to shoot over from close range.
Wilshere then hit an effort wide shortly before being replaced by Nico Yennaris, before Akpom had a header cleared off the line. Shea had to continue to be alert, making a superb save and dealing efficiently with the follow-up, and Miquel and Santos came close late on, but Burton’s side had done enough for victory and the fact that several first-team members received much-needed game time whilst some of the younger players, especially Gnabry, Akpom and substitute Hector Bellerin, all caught the eye in front of a watching Arsene Wenger, meant that this was a very useful exercise indeed.
James Shea-9- Lauded by the crowd, he made several impressive saves, including a superb stop late on.
Bacary Sagna-7- Solid on his return to action, the Frenchman reiterated his aerial qualities by winning several flick-ons.
Sead Hajrovic-5- A couple of sloppy moments from the Swiss could have proved costly, but generally assured.
Ignasi Miquel-6- Capable at the back and proved a threat in the opposition penalty area.
Andre Santos-6- Left a little too much space defensively at times, but provided an attacking threat.
Francis Coquelin-6- Not too heavily involved, the Frenchman was his usual tenacious self in the tackle.
Emmanuel Frimpong-6-A few misplaced passes, but won the ball well and the kept the team moving forward.
Thomas Eisfeld-6- A couple of bright moments, including some key passes, but not always involved.
Jack Wilshere-7- A much improved showing from the 20 year old, whose passing range is evidently still intact.
Serge Gnabry-7- Faded a little in the second period but was a lively, threatening presence throughout the opening period.
Chuba Akpom-7- Far improved from his last outing, demonstrated his technique as well as his effectiveness in the area.
Hector Bellerin (for Sagna)- 7- Calm on the ball and drove forward with ease down the right flank.
Nico Yennaris (for Wilshere)
Jernade Meade (for Gnabry)
Not used: Charles-Cook, Olsson.