Boreham Wood 2 (Angol (6), Garrard (45) Arsenal 2 (Crowley (12), Toral (74)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park
subs: Iwobi (for Lipman, 55), Iliev (for Vickers, 61), Wright (for O’Connor, 74), Jebb (for Willock, 78). Not used: Kamara, Smith.
Arsenal U21s showed great determination to twice come from behind and secure a 2-2 draw against Boreham Wood this evening as their preparations for the new campaign stepped up a gear.
Under the watchful eye of new Academy Manager Andries Jonker, this was the young Gunners’ toughest test of pre-season to date and they fell behind early on following an expertly-struck free-kick from Lee Angol. Dan Crowley, once again, was Arsenal’s creator-in-chief, and the youngster demonstrated that he can finish as well as pass when he equalised shortly afterwards.
Boreham Wood restored their lead from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time, with Arsenal, who also hit the crossbar through lively substitute Alex Iwobi, eventually restoring parity through Jon Toral.
Benik Afobe, despite being named in the initial squad for this fixture, was left out, indicating that he is either injured or on the verge of leaving the club. Josh Vickers started in goal ahead of Deyan Iliev, whilst Stefan O’Connor replaced the injured Julio Pleguezuelo.
Boreham Wood, who made life difficult for the Arsenal first-team squad that visited this ground just under two weeks ago, started in the ascendancy here. Left-winger Graeme Montgomery almost got on the end of a teasing cross. Moments later Toral was outmuscled in midfield and Kristoffer Olsson then conceded a free-kick that was sent beyond the reach of Vickers by Angol.
The damage was nearly two-fold for Arsenal, with Montgomery seizing upon a weak header by Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill and Angol subsequently lashing a shot wide.
Arsenal quickly set about putting things right and they did so very quickly indeed. Olsson, who suggested in a recent interview that he is desperate to play first-team football this season, demonstrated a glimpse of his quality as he accelerated forwards before finding Crowley, who comfortably dispatched his fourth goal of pre-season.
Crowley almost doubled his tally for the evening very soon afterwards, but on this occasion the England U17 international’s effort was repelled by Boreham Wood goalkeeper James Russell.
At the other end Vickers then had to be alert to keep out an attempt from Charlie Walker, with Montgomery then sending an ambitious effort over as the hosts piled on the pressure.
Crowley was Arsenal’s main source of inspiration in these difficult times and the midfielder was evidently looking to shoot at every possible opportunity, sending an effort wide following a neat passing move.
Toral and Maitland-Niles then squandered opportunities before Boreham Wood restored their lead on the stroke of half-time after a penalty was awarded for handball on the line. Luke Garrard confidently dispatched the spot-kick past Vickers to send Arsenal into the break disappointed.
If Crowley was Arsenal’s main threat, then Angol fulfilled that role for Boreham Wood, with the 19 year old sending an angled shot just wide of the far post.
Chris Willock, making another start at this level, then exchanged passes with Crowley before shooting over. With Iwobi replacing the hard-working Austin Lipman, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was deployed up front for the last 35 minutes.
Iwobi made quite an impact following his introduction, with the winger working space for himself before rattling the crossbar with a fierce strike having been found by Crowley.
Iwobi then won a corner following yet more impressive work from Crowley, with Arsenal creating numerous chances as they seized the initiative in the second period. Crowley came close to scoring with a header after good work from Willock, then, with 16 minutes remaining, Arsenal finally received their reward, with Toral finishing from close range following a neat cross from Ormonde-Ottewill.
Iwobi and Moore had chances to win it for Arsenal, with the Gunners’ substitute goalkeeper Deyan Iliev then having to make an intervention to prevent a goal at the other end.
This was a challenging workout for Arsenal, and, in the end, one with they came through very well. There were some commendable performances, notably from Olsson, Crowley, Willock and Ormonde-Ottewill, whilst Iwobi’s cameo demonstrated the strength in depth that the youth set-up possesses.
Not all of these players will be regulars at this level this season, with Olsson and Toral likely to go on loan at some point, whilst others may find themselves out of the team when some of the more experienced youngsters return from first-team duty.
For now, though, it has been a very good pre-season for Gatting’s side, and, although he will acknowledge that there are some things to work on, Jonker must be pleased with what he has seen so far.