UEFA Youth League- Matchday 3
Arsenal 0 Borussia Dortmund 0
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Like their first-team counterparts, Arsenal U19s saw their flawless start to the group stages come to an end at the hands of a spirited Borussia Dortmund side, but, unlike the senior team, the youngsters did manage to grind out what could prove to be a valuable point against the German side.
Arsenal ended the game with ten men after Chuba Akpom was dismissed late on for showing dissent following an earlier caution, with the striker having also squandered a penalty in the first-half. Dortmund had to cope with a sending-off of their own in the closing stages after right-back Nico Knystock received his marching orders and those three incidents were the key talking points from a game in which both sides struggled to carve out clear-cut chances with any sort of regularity.
The headline team news didn’t concern the starting line-up, but instead focused on the long-awaited return of midfielder Jon Toral on the bench. The former Barcelona player remained unused throughout, but will doubtless be delighted to have been named in a matchday squad for the first time since January. The fit again Kristoffer Olsson returned to the side at the expense of Austin Lipman, who was joined on the bench by Julio Pleguezuelo and schoolboy Kaylen Hinds.
subs not used: Vickers, Lipman, Pleguezuelo, Toral, Siemann, Smith, Hinds.
The opening ten minutes set the tone for much of what was to come, with both sides enjoying sustained spells of possession without threatening the opposition goal. Arsenal had to rely on goalkeeper Deyan Iliev to gather a dangerous delivery from a Dortmund free-kick, before the lively Linus Schewior fired a cross across the face of the Arsenal goal.
Arsenal gradually started to develop more of an attacking threat, and the vast majority of what they did create involved Akpom, who twice came close to opening the scoring from a corner. Alex Iwobi, who has been in scintillating form of late, then produced a stunning piece of skill on the edge of the area but his subsequent shot lacked conviction.
It was Arsenal’s other winger, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, whose burst into the area resulted in referee Arnold Hunter pointing to the penalty spot. Akpom, having scored from the spot in the previous game against Napoli, was full of confidence as he stepped up, but the striker found that the Dortmund goalkeeper Steffen Goecke was equal to his effort on this occasion, with Jack Jebb skewing the re-bound wide.
Dortmund responded with a chance of their own when Oeguen Guemuestas forced Iliev into making a good save, before a superb turn from Maitland-Niles ushered the ball into the path of Hector Bellerin, who, after a rampaging run down the right flank, forced a corner with a well-delivered cross.
Arsenal didn’t take advantage of the set-piece, but, at this stage, Maitland-Niles was in confident mood, with the winger playing an adroit outside-of-the-boot pass into the path of Jebb, who saw his shot saved by Goecke.
Dortmund provided a reminder of their quality when Guemuestas directed an overhead kick just off target, but the half ended with an Arsenal chance when Akpom saw the goalkeeper gather the ball at his feet following good work from Iwobi and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill.
Dortmund made a double change at the interval, introducing Yildiz Cihan and Said Benkarit into the fray, with the visitors starting the second half brightly. The German side squandered two chances in quick succession, with Iliev adding to his collection of good stops.
Jebb was becoming increasingly influential for Arsenal in the closing stages, and the midfielder delivered a typically perfect free-kick which Akpom came close to heading in. Then came Knystock’s dismissal for an ill-timed lunge on Maitland-Niles, with the young Gunners seeking to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
They almost did so when Ormonde-Ottewill delivered a teasing cross from the left flank, but, frustratingly, there were no Arsenal players in the area to meet it. Akpom’s dismissal, which stemmed more from his comments to the referee rather than the challenge itself, killed Arsenal’s attacking momentum, especially with Lipman being unable to enter the fray during the four minutes of stoppage time as the ball did not go out of play.
For two sides who are renowned for playing sumptuous football, tonight’s rather mundane affair was not exactly what was expected going into the fixture. Arsenal will not mind too much, however, so long as they progress to the next stage of the competition. They will, though, have to do some of the work without Akpom.