Colchester United 5 Arsenal XI 1 (Akpom)
Arsenal U21s concluded a torturous pre-season with yet another heavy defeat at the hands of Colchester United this evening. The Gunners were reduced to ten men following the second-half dismissal of captain Isaac Hayden, but, before then, had already conceded four goals to a rampant Colchester side, who added another late on. Chuba Akpom reduced the deficit for Arsenal, but further questions will certainly be asked regarding the capability of the club’s youth set-up, especially after tonight’s result means that they have conceded 22 goals in their five pre-season games.
Much, much better will be expected when the U21 Premier League campaign commences away to Stoke City on Monday night, but the worrying lack of depth in the second-string squad was also highlighted here, with Algerian trialist Ramy Bensebaini being substituted at half-time after enduring another night to forget.
Coach Steve Gatting made four changes from the side that were annihilated 7-0 by Luton Town last time out, with Damian Martinez, Gedion Zelalem, Akpom and Anthony Jeffrey all coming into the starting line-up. Colchester, meanwhile, named a mix of squad players and youngsters, with their regulars, including Arsenal Academy products Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt, given the night off.
subs: Huddart (for Martinez, 20), Pleguezuelo (for Bensebaini, 45), O’Connor (for Iwobi, 68), Maitland-Niles (for Jeffrey, 74). Not used: Jebb.
If Arsenal had been hoping to get off to an impressive start to put the Luton debacle behind them as quickly as possible, they were left startled after conceding inside sixty seconds, with Drey Wright doing well to find Nigerian striker Freddie Ladapo, who slotted past Martinez with ease to open the scoring before Arsenal had even touched the ball.
Hector Bellerin, who, rather surprisingly, has not been in the first-team reckoning since returning from his international exploits with Spain U19s, then had to make an impressive interception to prevent Colchester from inflicting further damage, but Arsenal did at least manage to restore a sense of authority to their play, with Akpom linking up well with his team-mates on several occasions.
Colchester, however, were in the ascendancy, and could have had a penalty when the dangerous Wright was brought down by Tafari Moore in the penalty area, but the referee waved play on. It wasn’t long until the hosts doubled their advantage, though, with midfielder Conor Hubble latching onto a loose ball before firing past the helpless Martinez to make it 2-0.
The goal may have done some damage to the Argentinian’s pride, but he also suffered an injury in the process, and was forced off the field, with first-year scholar Ryan Huddart replacing Martinez to make his U21 debut.
Huddart was only included in the squad as Deyan Iliev is on international duty and Josh Vickers has joined Canvey Island on a season-long loan, but these were hardly the ideal circumstances for the England U16 international to be introduced to life in the second-string.
Arsenal’s more experienced players were trying their utmost to reduce the deficit, with Akpom and Bellerin in particular attempting to instigate passing moves, but very little of what the Arsenal youngsters attempted came to fruition, whereas, in comparison, Colchester were a constant threat.
Huddart could only watch as Ladapo shot just wide from distance, but the frustration continued at the other end for Arsenal, with Jeffrey delivering an impressive cross which, as is all too often the case, went without a recipient.
Huddart then made an impressive save to deny Ladapo from close range, before Arsenal, in a rare attacking move, saw shots from Akpom, Thomas Eisfeld and Kristoffer Olsson blocked in quick succession.
A miserable half for the youngsters ended on a sour note, however, and trialist Bensebaini was largely at fault again as he was turned all too easily by Wright, who finished adroitly to make it 3-0.
Bensebaini was put out of his misery at half-time, with former Barcelona defender Julio Pleguezuelo replacing him, and it is hoped that, both for his sake and that of the club, that we have seen the last of the Algerian in an Arsenal shirt.
Arsenal, despite the game now seemingly being beyond their reach, began the second-half in determined mood, with Eisfeld shooting over from distance, but the Colchester onslaught continued and, before long, it was 4-0.
This time, Ladapo scored his second of the evening after latching onto Moore’s clearance. Ladapo then almost completed his hat-trick just moments later, but directed his shot narrowly off target.
Akpom, to his credit, continued to battle on in adversity, and it was the striker’s perseverance that helped him to win a penalty just after the hour mark when he was brought down in the area by Tosin Olufemi.
The 17 year old, who, at various levels, has scored plenty of goals this pre-season, continued his prolific goalscoring form by dispatching the penalty himself, but any positive vibes that emanated from the goal soon dissipated when Arsenal were reduced to ten men a few minutes later.
Hayden has enjoyed quite a week, having featured for the final few minutes during the first-team’s friendly with Manchester City at the weekend, but he was brought back down to earth here after being dismissed for a late challenge on Hubble, which rendered any remaining homes of a dramatic comeback obsolete.
Gatting reacted by introducing another centre-back in Stefan O’Connor, whilst Akpom continued to attempt to reduce the deficit, but it was Colchester who would find the net again in the closing stages with defender Mason Spence volleying past Huddart to make it 5-1 and inflict the final dose of damage upon a bewildered young Arsenal side.