U21 Premier League
Arsenal 1 Bolton Wanderers 3
Arsenal U21s were undone by early and late goals at Meadow Park this evening as their sequence of three consecutive wins came to an abrupt halt against Bolton Wanderers.
Between Bolton’s goals in the fifth minute and the 87th minute Arsenal saw much of the ball and created plenty of chances, but all they had to show for it was Stefan O’Connor’s goal, with Steve Gatting’s side falling to just their second defeat of the campaign. A late rally by Bolton had significant consequences, with Kaiyne Woolery breaking through to find the net twice late on.
The headline team news saw Isaac Hayden make his first appearance since September after recovering from injury. Chiori Johnson and Tyrell Robinson kept their places in the team with both Tafari Moore and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill still out injured. Ainsley Maitland-Niles remained with the first-team squad but Semi Ajayi, who was on the bench against Newcastle United, was back in action here.
subs: Huddart, Smith, Sheaf, Willock, Mavididi.
Arsenal got off to the worst possible start when they conceded a goal with just five minutes gone. Tom Walker clipped the ball past Matt Macey after latching onto a long ball, leaving Arsenal with much work to do early on.
Chuba Akpom, who hit a hat-trick against Brighton & Hove Albion last time out, seemed particularly determined to restore parity and the striker nearly found Dan Crowley, but his cross just eluded the diminutive midfielder.
Akpom then went for goal himself from distance but Ross Fitzsimons was equal to the attempt.
A goal seemed to be in the offing and it very nearly materialised when Crowley played a ball into Akpom’s path, but the Bolton defence was alert to clear the danger.
Shortly afterwards Arsenal finally did find the net and Akpom was heavily involved again as he controlled the ball from a corner and found O’Connor, who was lurking to head home at the back post.
Sanmi Odelusi brought a good save out of Macey at the other end, but Arsenal ended the half in the ascendancy and could have even taken the lead before the interval.
Alex Iwobi did well to pick out Akpom, who headed over, before Bolton squandered a similar opportunity. Arsenal were then denied twice in quick succession with both Akpom and Ajayi having efforts repelled.
Arsenal lost none of their momentum during half-time and they burst out of the traps at the start of the second period, with Akpom seeing an effort correctly ruled out for offside.
Robinson, raiding forwards from left-back as he did against Brighton, was causing problems for the Bolton defence and the first-year scholar found Iwobi after a mazy run, but Fitzsimons was quick to gather.
Robinson later came close to scoring himself after he was found by Akpom, but Bolton continued to hold out.
The visitors then enjoyed a spell of sustained possession and they eventually made Arsenal pay for their lack of ruthlessness with a late strike through Woolery, who got the better of Macey after connecting with an accurate cross.
There was still time for Woolery to inflict further pain upon Arsenal when he applied the finishing touch to a swift counter-attacking move that, somewhat alarmingly, stemmed from an Arsenal corner.
Many of the Arsenal players in action tonight had either trained with or played for the first-team in recent weeks, but this defeat can be seen as rather bringing them back down to earth.
Promotion back to the top tier still seems an achievable feat for the young Gunners, but they can’t afford too many setbacks like this if they are to achieve that aim.