U21 Premier League- Game 7
Arsenal 1 (Toral 64) Sunderland 5 (Watmore 34, Mandron 44, 51, 90, Lynch 75)
Bt Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
Arsenal U21s saw their unbeaten start to the season come to an abrupt halt as they were thrashed 5-1 by a vibrant Sunderland side at Meadow Park this evening.
Arsenal’s performance was not quite as bad as the scoreline may have you believe, but Steve Gatting’s side lacked any sort of ruthlessness in attack and were punished by a Sunderland side who strode forward with ease, with French striker Mikael Mandron scoring a hat-trick to add to goals from Duncan Watmore and Craig Lynch. Jon Toral replied with a well-taken effort in the second-half, but by that point the Gunners were three goals down and the game was already well out of their reach.
It was a memorable debut for goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano, who signed on loan from Palermo on deadline day, but for all the wrong reasons as he conceded a quintet of goals. In his defence, however, some of the goals were unavoidable and the 28 year old did make several impressive saves throughout the evening.
Arsenal, though, will be left somewhat rattled by this defeat. Despite being able to call upon the technically-able talents of Thomas Eisfeld, Kristoffer Olsson, Gedion Zelalem and Toral, they struggled to break down a resolute Sunderland side and were extremely wasteful in possession. Having only conceded four goals in their first six games this campaign, it was a shock that Arsenal let in five on this occasion, although the glut of goals conceded can be partly attributed to an unfamiliar defensive back line, with Semi Ajayi and Daniel Boateng partnering eachother at centre-back for the first time.
There were a horde of changes from the team that were so impressive in beating Aston Villa last time out, with Viviano, Tafari Moore, Boateng, Olsson, Zelalem and Chuba Akpom all coming into the side. Dan Crowley, meanwhile, earned his first competitive call-up at this level after impressing for the U18s at the weekend.
subs: Maitland-Niles (for Zelalem, 61). Not used: Kamara, Siemann, Crowley, Macey.
It was evident from the offset that Sunderland had been instructed to close Arsenal down at every opportunity, with Viviano’s first action in an Arsenal shirt being to make a hashed clearance under pressure.
The goalkeeper, who has been capped six times by Italy and was by far the most experienced player on the field this evening, then had to be quick off his line to prevent a Sunderland attack, before he was almost deceived by a well-struck low effort from winger George Honeyman.
Arsenal, for all their attack-minded talent on show, struggled to create many fluid attacking moves in the opening stages, with a case in point being when Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill’s dangerous cross from the left flank was not met with a recipient in the area. A delivery from Thomas Eisfeld from the other flank shortly afterwards yielded a similar result, but Sunderland soon showed Arsenal how to make the most of their chances.
The visitors, in their yellow shirts, swarmed forwards in swashbuckling style, with the enterprising winger Watmore demonstrating superb skill to weave his way through the Arsenal defence, play a quick one-two with a team-mate and then finish superbly past Viviano to open the scoring.
The rangy Mandron then had a shot saved by Viviano as Sunderland sought to double their advantage almost immediately, but Arsenal, in contrast, were struggling to string more than three passes together, with their attacking moves, coincidentally or not, frequently breaking down when the ball reached the feet of Toral on the left flank.
On one occasion, however, the Spaniard did well to spot Eisfeld in space, but the latter could only direct his effort into the side-netting and Arsenal were made to pay for their profligacy, with Mandron turning home to make it 2-0 but only after a superb double save by Viviano in the build-up.
Akpom, who featured briefly against Sunderland in the Premier League earlier this season, then shot over in frustration in a moment that epitomised a difficult first-half for Arsenal’s youngsters.
It would not get much better in the second period. Arsenal started to create more, but, such was their lack of defensive solidity, they became increasingly vulnerable to Sunderland’s counter-attacking style, with the visitors’ third goal a case in point as the alert Mandron applied the finishing touch to a multi-pass move.
Zelalem, not for the first time this season, was then withdrawn following a rather ineffective display, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles sent on as his replacement. That change allowed Eisfeld to play more centrally and subsequently Arsenal possessed a greater deal of attacking momentum, with Olsson forcing a corner, from which Toral eventually reduced the deficit with a well-struck effort.
It was the Spaniard’s fourth goal in five matches since his return from injury, but this was no time for plaudits, as Arsenal’s hopes of winning the game at this point rested somewhere between highly unlikely and non-existent.
The latter scenario would ultimately transpire, with Lynch making it 4-1 just eleven minutes later with a strike that Viviano could do little about. Arsenal responded with shots from Toral and Olsson, then Viviano made a good save to prevent further damage, but it was all rather futile given what had preceded it.
The ultimate sense of indignation came in stoppage time, with Mandron sealing both his hat-trick and Sunderland’s emphatic victory having reacted quickest after substitute Adam Mitchell’s cross had cannoned off the far post and back into play.
After their stellar start to the season, this was a rather humbling experience for Arsenal’s youngsters, who will look to bounce back quickly when they face Leicester City and Manchester United later this month. They also have the small matter of an U21 Premier League Cup fixture away to Fulham to come before the year is out and Gatting’s side will certainly need to demonstrate far more cohesion when they visit Motspur Park.
U18 Premier League- Game 14
Arsenal 0 West Bromwich Albion 0
On a more positive note, Arsenal U18s delivered one of their most impressive performances of the season and were unfortunate not to emerge with more than a point from their encounter with West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
subs: Bola (for Mavididi). Not used: Ejaria, Eyoma, Donovan, Iliev.
Carl Laraman’s side are still without a win since the opening day of the season- a run that has now stretched to 13 games- but they were in impressive form at London Colney, with Dan Crowley and Tarum Dawkins delivering notable performances.
In the first-half, Crowley found Dawkins with a superb lofted ball and the winger subsequently scored with a header, only to see it ruled out for offside. Schoolboy Tyrell Robinson, who started the game at left-back, then had a to make a vital clearance at the other end, before Dawkins saw a shot tipped over the crossbar by West Brom goalkeeper Ethan Ross, who was released by Arsenal last year.
Crowley then did well to work space for himself only to see his effort rattle the crossbar, with West Brom also striking the same section of the goal in the second-half. Dawkins had another shot saved and Arsenal could have won it late on, but neither Glen Kamara or Alex Iwobi could get a decisive touch on Robinson’s teasing cross.