UEFA Youth League- Matchday 2
Arsenal 4 (Akpom 38, 79, Lipman 52, 53) Napoli 1 (Rubino 67)
By Jeorge Bird at Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Another matchday in the new UEFA Youth League and another comprehensive and fully deserved 4-1 victory. Things are going rather well for Arsenal’s youngsters in Europe’s elite competition for their age group.
As in Marseille, there were some outstanding individual performances, with Chuba Akpom and Austin Lipman both scoring a brace apiece, whilst Alex Iwobi continued his impressive form. Coach Steve Gatting will be most pleased, however, by the fact that his side were in control for the vast majority of the game, save for a Napoli consolation that was scored following a swift counter-attack.
In fact, as the young Gunners repeatedly forced their way into the Napoli penalty area with ease, it seemed as if the scoreline was only going to increase further, and it would have done so had Akpom not squandered a spot-kick towards the end. The striker had earlier opened the scoring with a perfect penalty and delivered an emphatic performance in which he demonstrated his key strengths of pace, power and skill.
What made this victory even more impressive was the fact that it was achieved without Serge Gnabry, who was left out following his recent exploits with the first-team, and Kristoffer Olsson, who suffered an injury in training last week. Arsenal were more than capable without them, helped by the return of Akpom and captain Isaac Hayden, who were on the first-team bench in Marseille.
Lipman also came into the side and the 18 year old thrived in his role as a playmaker, frequently getting himself into good goalscoring positions and eventually getting his reward, with his second strike a goal of superb quality.
subs not used: Huddart, Raage, Dawkins, Siemann, Wright, Smith, Dobson.
After so many years at Barnet’s Underhill Stadium, it felt rather strange to be watching a side of Arsenal youngsters playing at Meadow Park, but Gatting’s side adjusted to their new surroundings quickly, with wingers Iwobi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles dangerous from the offset.
Napoli created the first chance of note when Armando Anastasio shot well wide, but Arsenal, after withstanding some robust challenges from their opponents early on, eventually managed to get a foothold in the game, with Lipman playing a perceptive pass through to Akpom, but the striker struggled to direct his effort towards goal from a difficult angle.
It may seem a rather familiar refrain, but, in the first-half, Arsenal were utterly dominant for long periods without being able to break down the well-organised Napoli defence. The Napoli coach was constantly screaming instructions at his players, but they didn’t seem to heed his advice as they conceded a needless free-kick on the edge of the penalty area which Jack Jebb directed goalwards, although Nikita Contini Baranovsky was equal to it.
At the other end a slack clearance from the otherwise composed Hector Bellerin presented Frank Livak with an opportunity, but the winger shot wide, before Davide Schiavo did likewise from distance following a well-worked corner.
Arsenal would go into the break in front, however, and the goal came following a tremendous piece of play involving Bellerin and Lipman, who exchanged passes at breakneck speed before the latter was felled in the area, enabling Akpom, as he did in the shoot-out against West Bromwich Albion for the first-team last week, to step up and score.
There were just 484 spectators inside Meadow Park this evening, but those present witnessed an attacking masterclass from the young Gunners in the second half, with Lipman at the forefront of much of what was good about Arsenal’s play.
The England U17 international cannot exactly be described as a prolific goalscorer but he appears to be brimming with confidence at the moment and dispatched two superb finishes within a minute of each other to effectively end the game as a contest by the 53rd minute.
His first came following exemplary work down the right flank from Bellerin, who cut the ball back for Lipman to put Arsenal two goals ahead. Then the youngster made it three with a sensational finish which wa sall of his own making.
Arsenal didn’t look like stopping there, with a multi-pass move eventually culminating in Akpom being brought down in the area. Rather than allow Lipman the opportunity to complete his hat-trick, Akpom took the penalty himself, but was unfortunate to see it saved on this occasion.
From the Napoli breakaway, Gennaro Tutino burst forward and somehow blasted wide in front of goal, but only after impeding Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill with a blatant push. Napoli did get a goal back when Gerardo Rubino headed home a cross after Glen Kamara had earlier conceded a needless free-kick, and there were a few nervous moments when the Italian side almost scored again shortly afterwards, but this was a largely controlled performance from the youngsters.
Akpom then made it 4-1 in the closing stages following a good cross from Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill to seal the victory.
Like the first-team Arsenal U19s have registered six points from their first two games with a double-header against Borussia Dortmund to come. The ties against the German side will go a long way towards dictating Arsenal’s fate in this group, but so far they can be mightily proud of their efforts in this competition.