U21 Premier League- Game 4
Fulham 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal U21s preserved their unbeaten start to the new campaign with a hard-fought draw away to Fulham this evening, but they owed much to goalkeeper Damian Martinez, who made several superb saves to keep the opposition at bay. Whilst Arsenal missed several goalscoring chances of their own at the other end, Fulham repeatedly peppered Martinez’s goal, but the 21 year old, who has been demoted to the role of fourth-choice custodian following the loan signing of Emiliano Viviano, was equal to everything that was asked of him.
With several players left out due to their Capital One Cup excursions last night and a plethora of injury problems to contend with, Steve Gatting made no fewer than nine changes to the side that started the last U21 fixture, with only Daniel Boateng and new signing Semi Ajayi retaining their places from the team that saw off West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium. There were first starts at this level this season for Martinez and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, whilst Alex Iwobi also featured from the offset despite being amongst the substitutes for the first-team last night.
On the bench, first-year scholars Elliot Wright, Renny Smith and Jamaal Raage earned their first competitive call-ups at this level.
subs: Smith (for Jeffrey, 82). Not used: Iliev, Wright, Raage.
Fulham called upon the exotically-named Buomesca Tue Na Bangna, who made his Premier League debut against Chelsea last weekend, and it was the hosts who started the brightest at Motspur Park, with Moussa Dembele, who is of no relation to his Tottenham Hotspur namesake, seeing his effort palmed away by the alert Martinez.
Arsenal had to bide their time before they could create their first opening, but when they did so they almost scored, with Ajayi seeing a shot cleared off the line by a frantic Fulham defence. The former Charlton Athletic defender has demonstrated his eye for goal several times already during his early appearances for the club and came extremely close to scoring on this occasion.
Anthony Jeffrey then shot wide as Gatting’s side sought to increase the pressure, and they were unfortunate not to take the lead when Austin Lipman found Iwobi, who shot straight at Fulham goalkeeper Jesse Joronen.
Arsenal continued to carve out the chances as the interval approached, with Jack Jebb shooting just wide, but Fulham responded with a couple of opportunities of their own, the most notable of which was squandered by Dembele.
Early in the second half Martinez twice had to be alert to deny the lively Chris David and Arsenal were again indebted to the Argentinian goalkeeper when he made a crucial save to keep out Dembele’s effort on the hour mark.
Arsenal’s chances, when they came, were wasted, with Iwobi and Lipman both firing over, and concerns arose when Fulham elected to introduce the promising Muamer Tankovic off the bench. The playmaker immediately set about his task of tormenting the Arsenal defence, but, after receiving the ball from Dembele, could only succeed in directing his effort off target.
Martinez’s heroics continued with another superb save, this time to thwart Dembele, but Arsenal still continued to attack when they could and came perilously close to scoring when first-year scholar Ainsley Maitland-Niles rattled the post with a fierce effort.
Martinez made another vital stop, before Ajayi then made a last ditch saving tackle to deny Josh Passley. As the clock ticked down, Gatting handed an U21 debut to midfielder Smith, who joined from Chelsea towards the end of last season.
Fulham were not finished yet, however, and the Cottagers came close to scoring three times in the dying stages, which included Tankovic almost snatching victory with a spectacular overhead kick, but Arsenal just about managed to hold on for a point, thanks in no small part to Martinez.