Boreham Wood 3 Arsenal 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Arsenal U21s preparations for the new campaign suffered a considerable setback this afternoon as Steve Gatting’s side lost 3-0 to a vastly superior Boreham Wood outfit. Summer acquisition Dan Crowley was again lively during his time on the field, but the majority of his team-mates struggled to perform to their usual levels, with goals from Graeme Montgomery, Mario Noto and Calum Willock propelling the hosts to a fully-deserved victory.
Gatting named an identical starting line-up to the side that edged past Sutton United last week, with the only alteration in his squad being the inclusion of the fit-again Nico Yennaris on the bench. Yennaris, who has appeared four times competitively for the first-team, missed out on the tour of Asia due to injury, but, despite demonstrating some expected rustiness, will have been pleased to have completed 45 minutes on his return.
Other than that, there were precious few positives for Arsenal to take from this fixture. The defensive frailties that were hinted at last week against Sutton were brutally pounced upon here by a determined Boreham Wood side who closed down the young Gunners at every opportunity and prevented them from playing their usual free-flowing, passing game.
subs: Wellington (for Matiland-Niles, 46), Yennaris (for Hayden, 46), Boateng (for Jebb, 46), Vickers (for Iliev, 59), Iwobi (for Lipman, 59), Kamara (for Crowley, 59), O’Connor (for Dallison, 74), Moore (for Uade, 74), Wright (for Siemann, 74), Raage (for Jeffrey, 75).
Arsenal had actually started the game on the front foot, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who will link up with the England U17 side next month, doing well to cut inside only to curl his shot well wide. Striker Austin Lipman then fired over following good work outside the area by Crowley, but it wasn’t long until Boreham Wood took the lead, with Montgomery doing well to finish past Deyan Iliev after a long, searching ball had been knocked down invitingly into his path.
Arsenal were visibly frustrated by their concession and sought an instant reprieve through Jack Jebb, but the midfielder could only shoot wide after a swift interchange with Anthony Jeffrey. Boreham Wood then doubled their advantage in controversial circumstances after Zach Fagan was harshly penalised for a challenge just outside the area.
Noto struck an expert free-kick beyond the reach of Iliev, but only after a Boreham Wood player had appeared to move the ball to accommodate a better striking angle after the referee had blown his whistle. The Arsenal players and coaching staff complained incessantly, but only in vain, and they were somewhat fortunate not fall further behind shortly afterwards when Iliev did well to punch a corner but was almost caught out by the subsequent shot.
Boreham Wood continued to pile on the pressure, with Noto again coming close, but Arsenal had to rely on Crowley as their sole source of inspiration, with the former Aston Villa player delightfully tricking his way past several opponents before coming close with a shot.
Crowley then had another shot saved after he was found by Leander Siemann, but Arsenal went into the break incensed after a fracas had erupted between both sets of players. The contretemps stemmed from a late challenge from Isaac Hayden, and the midfielder was one of three players removed at the interval as he made way for Yennaris, whilst Daniel Boateng and Wellington also entered the fray.
The Brazilian almost made an instant impact after seizing possession as he did well to find space behind the Boreham Wood defenders but shot just wide. Any remaining hopes that Arsenal had of mounting a comeback were laid to rest, however, when Willock headed home after his team-mate had struck the crossbar with another headed effort.
Arsenal then made further changes, with second-years Josh Vickers, Alex Iwobi and Glen Kamara receiving useful run-outs. Arsenal’s ability to retain possession appeared to improve following Kamara’s introduction, but, with three defensive midfield players on the pitch and two wingers who are not used to playing in this side in Wellington and Jamaal Raage, there was a real lack of fluency in their play.
Yennaris and Kamara both shot just wide and Boreham Wood could have snatched another goal at the end, but the three goals that they did score had already inflicted enough damage upon Arsenal.
This was certainly a day to forget for the youngsters, with many players appearing fatigued, perhaps as a consequence of the U18 friendly with Queen’s Park Rangers that took place last week. Nonetheless, they will learn from the experience and tomorrow represents a fresh challenge for some members of the squad, with an Arsenal U19 side flying out to Germany to participate in a tournament.
It is hoped that when they return they will be revitalised ahead of their final two pre-season games against Leyton Orient and Luton, and, more importantly, their opening fixture of the new campaign at home to Manchester United next month.