U18 Premier League- Game 1
Arsenal 1 (Dallison 21, Maitland-Niles 70) Liverpool 1 (Burke 42)
After a summer of discontent for Arsenal’s youngsters, the U18s were finally able to provide some positives, with Carl Laraman’s side dispatching of Liverpool with a 2-1 victory today in their opening Academy League fixture.
Arsenal took the lead early on through Tom Dallison’s first goal for the club, but Liverpool restored parity through Nathan Burke, only for winger Ainsley Maitland-Niles to score the winner for the young Gunners in the second-half. There was a further positive in the performance of schoolboy Chris Willock, who played 82 minutes and was largely impressive throughout his time on the field.
Laraman was able to call upon a rather strong side for this fixture, with young professionals Leander Siemann and Jack Jebb both starting, whilst Dan Crowley made his first competitive appearance for the club following his summer move from Aston Villa. Willock, who was named player of the tournament at the recent Manchester United Premier Cup, was also included, whilst Austin Lipman returned from illness to make the bench.
Several players were missing, however, with Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, Tarum Dawkins, Alfred Mugabo and Jamal Raage all injured, whilst Tafari Moore, Julio Pleguezuelo, Gedion Zelalem and Chuba Akpom are with the U21s.
subs: Lipman (for Crowley, 43), Dobson (for Kamara, 72), Smith (for Willock, 82).
Not used: Iliev, Wright.
Arsenal started in a positive manner by dominating possession in their usual vein, but it was Liverpool who carved out the first opportunity of the game, with goalkeeper Ryan Huddart, making just his third appearance at this level, doing well to clear the danger.
Another first-year, Stefan O’Connor, was impressive in the early stages, with the centre-back, who featured for the U21s during pre-season, making several important interventions to prevent the visitors from taking the lead.
Adam Phillips then forced the alert Huddart into a fine save as Liverpool cranked up the pressure, but it was Arsenal who would take the lead in the 21st minute when Jebb delivered yet another superb free-kick, which found Dallison, who finished well to open the scoring.
In an end-to-end game, Liverpool were determined to equalise as quickly as possible, with Seyi Ojo, the much-vaunted England U17 international signed from MK Dons, testing Huddart, who again was equal to the task.
Midfielder Connor Randall then shot over from distance, with Arsenal’s slender lead looking vulnerable as the clock ticked down towards half-time. Indeed, Liverpool would equalise before the whistle, with defender Nathan Burke beating Huddart with a well-struck effort from distance.
Moments earlier, Phillips had shot just wide after seizing possession from Glen Kamara and matters then went from bad to worse for Arsenal when Crowley suffered a slight injury which forced him to be replaced by Lipman.
They almost went into the break with their lead restored, however, after Maitland-Niles rattled the crossbar with a ferocious effort, with Alex Iwobi turning the re-bound just wide.
The even nature of the game continued in the second-half, with Randall going down in the penalty area following a challenge from Jebb, only for the referee to wave play on, before Iwobi accelerated towards goal but his shot lacked conviction.
Siemann then had to come across to clear after O’Connor was nearly caught out by a clever run from Phillips, and the former Hertha Berlin defender was then the instigator of a free-flowing attacking move, as he found Willock, who in turn passed to Lipman, who shot just over.
That passage of play seemed to provide Arsenal with the momentum to push on and re-establish their lead, and, sure enough, the goal came, after Jebb found Lipman, whose ball reached Maitland-Niles in time for the winger to fire home his third goal at this level.
Arsenal could have then made it 3-1 after Maitland-Niles did well to cut the ball back to Iwobi, with the striker unfortunate to see his effort deflected just wide. Jebb also shot wide late on, but Arsenal had already done enough to secure victory.
They will hope to continue in this vein when they host Fulham next week, whilst some of the players involved today could also feature when the U21s travel to face Stoke City on Monday.