UEFA Youth League- Matchday 5
Arsenal 1 (Olsson pen 39) Marseille 1 (Kisaku 35)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Arsenal passed up the opportunity to guarantee their place in the next phase of the UEFA Youth League after struggling to break down a resolute Marseille side at Meadow Park this evening.
Both sides found the net in a frantic finale to the first-half, which also saw Isaac Hayden sent off for a petulant kick on an opponent, before the numbers were evened up when Marseille’s Zinedine Machach also received his marching orders.
After winning their first two games in this competition, suddenly things are not going quite so swimmingly for Arsenal U19s, with Steve Gatting’s side having only mustered three draws from their past three fixtures. Progression to the next phase still seems likely, particularly if the young Gunners can triumph over Napoli in their final game, but, considering Arsenal comfortably dispatched of this Marseille side in the reverse fixture, this could be viewed as something of a missed opportunity.
Arsenal did not possess their usual attacking verve in the first-half, with the driving runs of Hector Bellerin and Serge Gnabry sorely missed, whilst Chuba Akpom, despite his excellent hold-up play, was shorn of service up front for long spells.
Akpom returned from suspension to make the starting line-up, whilst Tafari Moore replaced Bellerin at right-back and Hayden came in for Glen Kamara in midfield.
subs: Kamara (for Zelalem, 45). Not used: Iwobi, Lipman, Crowley, Mugabo, Siemann, Huddart.
Both sides struggled to keep hold of the ball early on, but Marseille eventually gained a semblance of control and directed a couple of tame shots wide of Deyan Iliev’s goal, with Michael Araai shooting off target after seizing upon Stefan O’Connor’s weak clearance.
Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, who was impressive all evening, then had to make an important goal-line clearance as Marseille cranked up the pressure, before Iliev was grateful to see the ball cannon off the post and into his arms following a corner from the French side.
Jon Toral, who was not at his effervescent best, had a free-kick saved, with the Spaniard then finding Hayden, who in turn crossed towards Akpom, but the delivery just eluded the striker. Arsenal were struggling to maintain possession for any sustained period of time, but Marseille, in contrast, again came to scoring when another dangerous ball was fizzed across the Arsenal penalty area but, unfortunately for the visitors, it went without a recipient.
Marseille’s endeavour eventually reaped a tangible reward, with Antoine Kisaku evading Moore and beating Iliev with a well-struck effort that struck the far post before hitting the back of the net. The Marseille bench erupted in celebration, but the lead would not last long at all.
They were served a warning when Toral somehow failed to finish following a teasing delivery from Ormonde-Ottewill, before Arsenal eventually equalised after Akpom was fouled in the penalty area. With Akpom having missed from the spot against Napoli, Kristoffer Olsson was tasked with penalty-taking duties, and the Swedish midfielder converted his effort with the minimum of fuss.
An eventful end to the first-half would take several further twists yet, with Akpom seeing two ferocious efforts saved before Hayden presented the coaching staff with a dilemma after he was rightfully sent off for a needless kick-out at Kisaku, after being fouled by the Marseille number 17.
Arsenal introduced Glen Kamara in place of the ineffective Gedion Zelalem, with the Finland youth international providing some much needed authority in front of the defence. Machach failed to beat Iliev with a tame effort, then Olsson sent a free-kick narrowly wide at the other end and those two players would be involved in the next major event in the game, with Arsenal’s numerical disadvantage proving to be short-lived when Machach was sent off for a needless challenge on Olsson.
Akpom, by this point, was seeing much more of the ball, with the striker shooting wide after being found by Toral, before Kamara made a vital interception at the other end to prevent Marseille from scoring following a swift breakaway.
Arsenal then wasted an excellent opportunity to take the lead, with Moore delivering a dangerous cross from the right flank, which Akpom could only divert straight at Marseille goalkeeper Florian Escales from close range.
Akpom came close again shortly afterwards, before Olsson almost caught out the eccentric Escales with an audacious lob, with the goalkeeper subsequently dribbling the ball well out of his penalty area
Akpom then finally had the ball in the back of the net, but saw his effort ruled out for offside, with Arsenal’s frustration increasing as they struggled to break down the Marseille defence late on, meaning that they eventually had to settle for a point.