Leyton Orient 4 (Cuthbert, Lisbie, Mooney, Gorman) Arsenal XI 4 (Wellington (2), Akpom, Boateng)
By Jeorge Bird at the Matchroom Stadium
Daniel Boateng’s chances of making the grade at Arsenal may appear more remote than ever, with the centre-back having entered the final year of his contract at the club, but the 20 year old was the unlikely hero as he capped off a thrilling finale to secure a 4-4 draw for an Arsenal XI away to Leyton Orient this evening.
Arsenal had fallen behind to two identikit goals in the glaring sun at the Matchroom Stadium, with first Scott Cuthbert and then Kevin Lisbie pouncing upon some static marking to head past Deyan Iliev, but Arsenal drew level through two expert finishes from Wellington, his first goals for the club for over three years.
A stunning goal from David Mooney, added to a strike from Johnny Gorman restored Orient’s advantage, and, in truth, the home side were the better team for long periods, but Arsenal finally rediscovered their passing rhythm and started to create chances with regularity in the latter stages, with first Chuba Akpom and then Boateng finding the net to the delight of the large contingent of Arsenal supporters situated in the East Stand.
Arsenal’s defending had left a lot to be desired at times, with Leander Siemann, deployed as an unorthodox left-back, particularly struggling, but some of their attacking play in the second half was excellent, with Wellington and Chuks Aneke standing out.
Four players who travelled with the first-team on their tour of Asia were involved here, with Akpom, Aneke, Thomas Eisfeld and Kristoffer Olsson all starting, whilst the fact that Damian Martinez, Ignasi Miquel, Gedion Zelalem and Serge Gnabry were not involved suggests that the latter quartet will remain with the first-team squad for the Emirates Cup this weekend.
Coach Steve Gatting made several other changes to the side that lost heavily to Boreham Wood last time out, with Tafari Moore, Boateng and Wellington coming into the starting line-up, whilst several of the younger members of the squad missed out with the U18s due to face Leicester City in a friendly tomorrow.
subs: Vickers (for Iliev, 63), Jeffrey (for Wellington, 68), Lipman (for Akpom, 76). Not used: Crowley, Dallison, Kamara.
The searing sun made visibility difficult for spectators and players alike, but Orient did not take long to establish themselves as the dominant side early on, forcing young full-backs Tafari Moore and Siemann into several difficult defensive situations.
Orient won a corner, and, from it, opened the scoring, with Cuthbert rising highest to head home after Iliev failed to organise his defence. The exploitation of zonal marking was obvious, but Arsenal certainly didn’t learn from their mistakes and were punished in the exact same manner just minutes later, with former Charlton Athletic striker Lisbie on hand this time to double the advantage.
The Orient supporters were delighted, but Arsenal were determined to reduce the deficit as quickly as possible, with Wellington proving particularly influential down the left flank. The Brazilian, who is still yet to receive a work permit that would enable him to play competitively in England, embarked on several blistering runs and, on one occasion, found Aneke who was well placed, but the midfielder’s effort was wayward.
Aneke then came slightly closer with a header before Iliev was called into action to gather a dangerous cross at the other end. Arsenal’s fluidity was returning, however, and, following one such passing move, Wellington applied the finishing touch to claw a goal back.
Orient were always dangerous, however, with Lisbie a particular threat, and Iliev had to be alert on one occasion to tip one of his dipping shots over the crossbar. Boateng then marauded forward from the back, as he tends to do, but shot wide.
He would make up for that later, but not before another two goals for either side in an entertaining encounter. The first half ended in typically dramatic fashion as Arsenal restored parity only for Orient to re-take the lead just minutes later.
First, Akpom caused problems for the Orient defence before Wellington pounced on a mix-up to double his tally. The Brazilian has certainly shone during his fleeting pre-season outings, but, with Ryo Miyaichi ahead of him in the pecking order, may have to head out on loan yet again this season.
His and Arsenal’s delight at equalising was short-lived, however, with Mooney beating Iliev with a superb strike to make it 3-2 to Orient.
Orient had certainly made the most of their superior experience in the first-half and were fully deserved of their lead, with Russell Slade’s side beginning the second-half in similar fashion. First Iliev had to gather another cross, then the Macedonian goalkeeper was beaten by trialist Gorman following a quick-fire re-bound.
Arsenal just wouldn’t give up the fight, however, and it made for a vastly entertaining spectacle. Akpom saw a shot saved and then struck the re-bound over, but would have better fortune shortly afterwards when he was played through and finished well to make it 4-3.
Arsenal were now so close to grabbing an equaliser, but squandered plenty of chances to draw level, with Aneke, who was at the forefront of the majority of the Gunners’ attacking moves, shooting wide on two occasions.
Anthony Jeffrey was introduced off the bench, with the winger using his speed to cause havoc for the Orient defence. One one occasion the 18 year old delivered an inch-perfect cross that was just missing a recipient, whilst Eisfeld struck the post with an intuitive free-kick from a difficult angle.
The away supporters willed Arsenal on, but it seemed as if the equaliser would never come. Boateng headed wide, then, at the other end, Isaac Hayden made a superb last-ditch tackle to prevent a near certain goal from a counter-attacking move that stemmed from an Arsenal corner.
It ended level, however, after Boateng scrambled home in the dying moments to cap off what had been a thoroughly entertaining game.
There will be both positives and negatives to take out of this game for Arsenal, with the Gunners’ defending leaving a lot to be desired for most of the evening, but the performances of Aneke and Wellington and the fantastic team spirit demonstrated late on will have been noted by Gatting.