UEFA Youth League- Matchday One
Marseille 1 (Iliev o.g. 76) Arsenal 4 (Iwobi 8, Gnabry 55, 60, Jebb 78)
Arsenal’s youngsters made a hugely positive start to their inaugural UEFA Youth League campaign, with the young Gunners registering a 4-1 victory over Marseille this afternoon. Alex Iwobi, who was extremely impressive, set Steve Gatting’s side on the way to victory, before Serge Gnabry, operating as a striker, scored twice, only for an own goal from goalkeeper Deyan Iliev to reduce the deficit. Arsenal continued to dominate proceedings, however, and added to the scoreline through Jack Jebb late on.
Arsenal went into this game deprived of Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden, who are with the first-team squad for tonight’s fixture against the same opponents, as well as injured duo Gedion Zelalem and Jon Toral. There was something of a surprise as Austin Lipman was left on the bench, with first-year Ainsley Maitland-Niles coming into the side, leaving Gnabry to play as a striker. Schoolboys Chris Willock, George Dobson and Kaylen Hinds made the bench. Only Iliev, Hector Bellerin, Kristoffer Olsson, Jebb and Austin Lipman remained from the squad that suffered a last-gasp defeat away to Marseille a year ago in the NextGen Series.
subs: Wright (for Ormonde-Ottewill 82), Lipman (for Gnabry, 73), Hinds (for Maitland-Niles 86). Not used: Huddart, Smith, Willock, Dobson.
Both sides struggled to keep possession early on, but it was Marseille who would create the first goalscoring opportunity when Fode Guirassy was played through, but the 17 year old’s shot lacked conviction and was easily gathered by Iliev.
The next chance would result in a goal, and it was Arsenal who got it, with Gnabry doing well to seize possession and find Maitland-Niles, who let the ball run into the path of Iwobi. The second-year scholar, who has started the season in fine form at all levels, wasted no time in finding the back of the net with a powerful shot.
The deployment of Gnabry as a lone striker seemed rather unorthodox, especially with Lipman amongst the substitutes, but the German and Iwobi were Arsenal’s two most dangerous players in the opening exchanges, with the pair confusing the opposition with their trickery and movement.
Chances were still difficult to come by, however, with Glen Kamara struggling to turn home from a difficult angle, whilst, all the time, Marseille were gradually growing into the game. The French side provided an early warning with a shot from Mohammadou that went well wide, but Iliev had to be alert to deny first Guirassy and then Arrai, even though the latter was ruled offside.
As the clock ticked down towards the interval, the hosts increased the pressure further still, with Ephestion brushing off several Arsenal challenges and striking a post from distance before midfielder Anthony Gimenes shot wide.
Arsenal were grateful for the half-time whistle, but they seemed a side transformed when they re-emerged after the break, as they increased their lead to 3-0 before the hour mark, playing some of the free-flowing football that the club is renowned for in the process.
First, a sublime move involving Iwobi and Kristoffer Olsson eventually culminated in the latter playing the ball across the face of goal for Gnabry, demonstrating the instinct of a true striker, to fire home, and the German was then the lead architect of the equally impressive third goal.
Gnabry did well to control the ball and laid it off superbly into the path of Jack Jebb, before eventually receiving possession back from his team-mate and sending another unstoppable finish past the Marseille goalkeeper.
At this point, it seemed as if Arsenal were going to win at a canter as Gatting’s side demonstrated their ability to career forward with ease whilst still being in control defensively, with the performance reminiscent of the 3-0 win against the same opponents at Underhill last year.
Olsson came close with a shot from distance, then Iwobi, demonstrating his increasing maturity, played the ball down the line to Gnabry, who audaciously attempted to lob the Marseille goalkeeper from distance, a feat that he narrowly failed to achieve.
If there was one element of concern arising from Arsenal’s second-half showing it was the performance of Leander Siemann, with the German defender frequently squandering possession in dangerous situations. His carelessness, and that of goalkeeper Deyan Iliev, would come to haunt the Gunners in the 76th minute when Siemann played the ball back towards Iliev, with the Macedonian scoring a comical own goal following a mis-kick.
Arsenal remained in control, however, and, just to underline their authority, the Gunners restored their three-goal lead almost immediately, with Jebb, who turned in perhaps his most impressive performance of the season to date, finishing adroitly after the Marseille defence failed to deal with Olsson’s dangerous free-kick.
Jebb was imperious in the closing stages and the England youth international then played through his compatriot Maitland-Niles, who failed to control the ball properly as he raced towards goal. Bellerin then delivered a dangerous cross which Lipman, having replaced Gnabry, failed to convert, but Arsenal had already done their job for today.
In the other game in this group Napoli beat Borussia Dortmund 1-0 and Arsenal face the Italian side in their next fixture at Borehamwood early next month.