U21 Premier League
Arsenal 1 (Toner o.g. 49) Aston Villa 3 (Sellars 21, Leggett 25, Abdo 86)
Arsenal U21s have much work to do if they are to earn promotion to the top tier after they suffered their third defeat in succession, losing 3-1 at home to Aston Villa at London Colney today.
Arsenal played some impressive attacking football at times, but they found themselves two goals down at the break, and, despite reducing the deficit courtesy of a Kevin Toner own goal, they failed to find an equaliser and were eventually punished further by an impressive strike from Khalid Abdo.
Coach Steve Gatting made just one alteration to the side that lost to Middlesbrough on Monday, with Julio Pleguezuelo replacing Renny Smith at right-back and Chris Willock dropping out of the squad altogether. Deyan Iliev started in goal despite his red card earlier in the week, with his suspension not due to kick in until next month.
Villa, who have seen some of their academy graduates represent the first-team this season, named a side without any senior players and were eager to inflict revenge on the young Gunners, who defeated them at Villa Park earlier in the campaign.
Subs: Robinson (for Kamara, 61), Smith (for Pleguezuelo, 74). Not used: Macey, M. Bola, Mourgos.
Arsenal had shown some positive attacking signs against Middlesbrough despite suffering a defeat at the Riverside Stadium, and they started brightly here, with George Dobson attempting to find fellow first-year Stephy Mavididi with a searching pass, but the ball didn’t quite reach the striker.
Mavididi did receive possession shortly afterwards, but the Hale End product, who was called up to the England U17 squad this week, couldn’t direct his effort on target.
Crowley, playing against his former club, then came close to putting Arsenal ahead with a free-kick from 20 yards out.
However, despite Arsenal creating the vast majority of the chances in the opening stages, it was Villa who took the lead when Jerell Sellars managed to steer the ball beyond the reach of Iliev following good work Andre Green in the build-up.
Sellars then turned provider as Villa doubled their advantage just four minutes later, with his cross being met by Tom Leggett, whose header made it 2-0.
Harry McKirdy then tested Iliev from distance as Villa looked to put the game beyond doubt, but the Macedonian shot-stopper was grateful to be able to gather the ball on this occasion.
Arsenal managed to regain some momentum as the half drew to a close, with Gatting’s side coming perilously close to reducing the deficit.
First Ainsley Maitland-Niles forced a good save from Villa goalkeeper Bradley Watkins. Maitland-Niles then tried his luck again and this time struck the crossbar with a fierce effort, with Watkins managing to prevent Mavididi from converting the re-bound.
A well-timed challenge from Rory Hale then prevented Crowley from getting closer to goal, but Arsenal could at least go into the break with some confidence having ended the half in a positive manner.
That momentum continued into the second-half and eventually yielded a tangible reward. Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill is a fine crosser of the ball, and Villa captain Toner inadvertently headed the ball into his own net following one such delivery from the left-back.
Arsenal were buoyed by that slice of good fortune, but Villa’s resilience meant that the young Gunners could create chances with much regularity. Crowley found Maitland-Niles from a free-kick, but the latter couldn’t locate a team-mate with a teasing ball across the face of goal.
Zelalem and Maitland-Niles then squandered good shooting opportunities, but Dobson had to make a heroic block on the line to prevent Sellars from making it 3-1 at the other end.
Villa introduced substitute Abdo, who immediately found Rory Hale, who shot over the crossbar. Hale then struck a post before an Arsenal substitute, Tyrell Robinson, did well to find Alex Iwobi, but the winger couldn’t find the target.
Abdo had certainly caught the eye since coming on and it was his strike from 18 yards out that got the better of Iliev and ensured three points for Villa.
Arsenal have just four games remaining at this level this campaign, starting with a trip to face West Bromwich Albion next week.