Harrow Borough 1 (Driver (45) Arsenal XI 5 (Pleguezuelo (7), Crowley (14), Afobe ( 27, 44), Iwobi (52).
By Jeorge Bird @ Earlsmead Stadium
Arsenal U21s continued their pre-season preparations with a largely impressive victory over Harrow Borough this afternoon. The Isthmian League Premier Division side were not complete pushovers, and forced Arsenal goalkeeper Josh Vickers into action on a couple of occasions, but the young Gunners’ technical superiority was clear for all to see.
What made the victory even more commendable was the fact that it was achieved without the seven U21 regulars who are with the first-team in New York. There were still four players on show, however, in Semi Ajayi, Julio Pleguezuelo, Benik Afobe and the prodigious Chris Willock, who featured in the senior side’s win over Boreham Wood last week.
Afobe’s chances of making the grade at Arsenal appear to be receding by the week, and the striker will have been bitterly disappointed to have been left out of the squad for the New York Red Bulls fixture, but he was on target twice here, which, added to goals from Pleguezuelo, Dan Crowley and Alex Iwobi, ensured a comfortable success for Steve Gatting’s side.
subs: O’Connor (for Pleguezuelo, 36), Smith (for Willock, 62), Kamara (for Jebb, 71), Lipman (for Maitland-Niles, 71), Wright (for Moore, 77). Not used: Huddart.
A slightly younger U21 side had easily dispatched of Bournemouth last week, and the players on show today quickly set about securing another win. Arsenal signalled their intent very early on, with Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill’s cross skimming off the crossbar following a sustained spell of pressure.
Crowley, operating in his preferred position as a number 10, was dictating proceedings in the early stages, but Arsenal survived a scare when a weak goal-kick from Vickers presented an opportunity to a Harrow player, who fired over.
It wasn’t long until Arsenal opened the scoring, however. The goal was expected, but the identity of the scorer certainly wasn’t, with Pleguezuelo claiming his first goal for the club since joining from Barcelona last year. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, deployed in a deep-lying midfield position on this occasion, led a swift breakaway up-field and swept the ball into the path of the Spaniard. Pleguezuelo’s effort was unconvincing, and it took a very hefty bobble following an intervention from the goalkeeper, but he was delighted to find the net all the same.
Tafari Moore, whose hopes of making the grade at the club may be complicated by the impending arrival of Calum Chambers from Southampton, embarked on several overlapping runs down the right flank in the first-half, and on one such occasion he won a free-kick after being scythed down on the edge of the area.
Nothing came of the set-piece, but Moore was soon involved in proceedings again, with the England U17 international cleverly cutting the ball back for Crowley to emphatically thump home the second goal past the stranded goalkeeper.
Arsenal were certainly turning on the style, with Willock, who, on this evidence looks set to be fast-tracked to the U21s during the first season of his scholarship, producing a superb piece of skill before seeing a shot saved. Willock, as was the case last weekend, didn’t appear fazed by his new surroundings, and is extremely confident on the ball.
Harrow had a couple of efforts of their own, but Arsenal continued to dominate and it was soon 3-0 and effectively game over with just 27 minutes on the clock.
Iwobi located Willock with a neat cross, and the latter proceeded to strike both the crossbar and then the post with a fierce effort. Afobe, demonstrating his predatory instincts, was on hand to turn home the loose ball and score his first of the afternoon.
Pleguezuelo was then forced to withdraw with an injury, but his replacement, Stefan O’Connor, had an excellent game at the heart of the defence. Iwobi came close to scoring twice in quick succession, before a move involving Crowley, Jack Jebb and then Afobe culminated in the latter making it 4-0 with another close range strike.
Harrow soon reminded Arsenal that they couldn’t afford to rest on their laurels, with Lewis Driver capitalising on a misjudgement from Semi Ajayi to reduce the deficit before the break.
Normal service was resumed just after the interval, however, with Iwobi, another who played well, making it 5-1 with an excellent finish.
Harrow saw a little more of the ball in the second-half, although Arsenal’s defence, marshalled expertly by O’Connor, withstood the pressure. Vickers made a mistake from a corner which was almost pounced upon, but most of the chances occurred at the other end of the field.
Iwobi found substitute Renny Smith, whose shot was off target, with Lipman then shooting over shortly afterwards. There were numerous substitutions for both sides, which, as is often the case, rather disrupted the flow of the game.
Harrow still threatened intermittently and struck the crossbar and the post as the game wore on. Vickers then made a good save but Afobe really should have completed his hat-trick when he latched onto Lipman’s free-kick, but the 21 year old instead shot over.
The damage had long been done, however, and this was a morale-boosting win ahead of the new campaign, the fixtures for which are released next week.
The creative talents of Crowley and Willock certainly inspire considerable hope for the future, whilst full-backs Moore and Ormonde-Ottewill both got forward well. The sight of Afobe up front, though, with the striker likely to depart soon despite having once been considered one of the club’s brightest prospects, just goes to show that things do not always work out the way you expect them to.