U21 Premier League- Game 21
Newcastle United 1 (Sakta 5) Arsenal 3 (Akpom 40, 62 (pen), Maitland-Niles 90)
Arsenal U21s concluded what has been a difficult season in terms of results with a deserved 2-1 victory away to Newcastle United this afternoon. Newcastle took the lead early on, but Chuba Akpom levelled just before the break, with the England U19 international later scoring the decisive goal from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Kevin Mbabu. Ainsley Maitland-Niles secured the win by finding the net in the dying moments.
Steve Gatting made four changes to the side that lost to Chelsea on Tuesday evening. Julio Pleguezuelo and Isaac Hayden missed out through injury, with Stefan O’Connor, Glen Kamara, Gedion Zelalem and Maitland-Niles all being restored to the starting line-up.
subs: Moore (for Bellerin, 72), Jebb (for Zelalem, 75). Not used: Huddart, Iwobi, Ansah.
Newcastle, who will join Arsenal in the second tier of the U21 Premier League next season, included England U20 international Gael Bigirimana in their line-up.
Arsenal were seeking to bounce back from their disappointing defeat to Chelsea, but found themselves undone by another set-piece in the opening exchanges. Michael Richardson delivered a corner and Lubomir Sakta was on hand to head the ball past Matt Macey, with Arsenal conceding their 41st goal of the campaign.
Arsenal’s response was a positive one, with O’Connor, Zelalem and Kristoffer Olsson all coming close to scoring. They tried their luck again with Zelalem threading the ball through to Akpom, but the striker’s effort lacked conviction and was repelled by Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, who was making his debut at this level.
Newcastle were still a threat at the other end, though, with Bigirimana in particular causing numerous problems. The midfielder did well to find Richardson in space, with the latter then going for goal, but Macey was on hand to tip his effort over the crossbar.
Most of what Arsenal did well came courtesy of Zelalem, with the 17 year old finding Maitland-Niles, who failed to get the better of the inspired Woodman.
Bigirimana again provided a reminder of his quality when he latched onto Jonathyn Quinn’s cross and rattled a post with a powerful effort.
If Arsenal were shaken by that incident, they certainly didn’t show it as they were soon on the front foot again themselves. Maitland-Niles, who has made tremendous progress this season, found Akpom, who beat Woodman with a well-struck effort to send the two sides in level at the break.
Arsenal continued to improve after the interval, with Zelalem and Olsson particularly impressive. The young Gunners were eventually rewarded for their dominance when Akpom was brought down in the area by Mbabu. Akpom took the spot-kick himself and converted to make it 2-1 with his 14th goal of the campaign.
Akpom then came close to completing his hat-trick and putting the result beyond all doubt, but he was denied by the alert Woodman, who raced off his line to clear the danger.
Maitland-Niles scored Arsenal’s third goal in the closing stages, capping off a fine campaign with his second goal at this level after receiving the ball from Jon Toral
This was a positive performance from Arsenal, with Akpom providing yet another reminder of his attacking qualities, whilst Maitland-Niles and Zelalem also emerged with some credit. The trio are likely to have different destinations next season. Zelalem will be hopeful of more first-team involvement, Maitland-Niles will continue to develop with the U21 team and Akpom could well be heading to a Championship side on loan.