UEFA Youth League- Matchday 6
Napoli 2 (Rubino 34, Tutino 70) Arsenal 1 (Akpom 61)
Arsenal U19s secured qualification for the latter stages of the UEFA Youth League despite suffering a dramatic 2-1 defeat away to Napoli this afternoon. The Italian side took the lead through a first-half strike from Gerardo Rubino before Chuba Akpom levelled just after the hour mark. Gennaro Tutino restored Napoli’s lead just nine minutes later, but, owing to Borussia Dortmund’s heavy defeat to Marseille, Arsenal still progressed as group winners.
Arsenal lined up as expected with coach Steve Gatting making two enforced changes from the side that drew with Marseille late last month, as Leander Siemann and Glen Kamara replaced Julio Pleguezuelo and Isaac Hayden, who missed out through injury and suspension respectively.
subs: Crowley (for Maitland-Niles 60), Iwobi, Jebb, Lipman, Uade, Mugabo, Huddart.
Arsenal secured a comfortable 4-1 win when these sides met at Borehamwood in October, but it was immediately evident that today’s game would be a much tougher task, with Estonia U21 international Frank Liivak manoeuvring his way through the Arsenal defence before shooting just wide of Deyan Iliev’s goal.
Napoli’s momentum was halted somewhat when they were forced into a substitution with just seven minutes on the clock, with Marco Supino suffering an arm injury that saw him replaced by Mario Prezioso.
Tutino, scorer of four goals in as many matches in this competition coming into this game, then found the net only to see his effort ruled out for offside. Still, it served as a warning sign for Arsenal that they had to increase the tempo of their play to avoid falling behind.
That warning was immediately heeded, with Kristoffer Olsson sending in a dangerous corner that was met by Stefan O’Connor, but the centre-back, who has played every minute of Arsenal’s UEFA Youth League campaign so far, couldn’t direct his effort towards goal.
Napoli were still by far the more dangerous side, however, as was evidenced when Rubino opened the scoring by directing a fine effort past the stranded Iliev.
Arsenal sought to snatch an equaliser before the break, with Gedion Zelalem and Jon Toral struggling to break down the Napoli defence before Akpom directed a shot agonisingly wide of the target after he was found by Glen Kamara.
Arsenal’s attacking momentum continued after the interval and they perhaps should have equalised when Olsson again found O’Connor, only for the latter to shoot wide from close range.
Gatting then called upon Dan Crowley for his debut in this competition, with the midfielder replacing Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Just minutes later Arsenal equalised, with Akpom scoring his fourth goal of the season from close range after good work from Toral.
Akpom then headed over from Toral’s cross as Arsenal sought to secure all three points, but, in an unexpected turn of events, it was Napoli who would find the net next, with Tutino maintaining his exemplary goalscoring record by volleying emphatically past Iliev to restore Napoli’s lead.
By now the shackles were off and the game was end-to-end, with Toral shooting wide before Akpom managed to find the net in the dying moments only to see his strike ruled out by the offside flag.
For all the drama, it mattered little from Arsenal’s perspective in the end. Despite the defeat they progress as group winners, with Napoli joining them in the knockout stages.