UEFA Youth League
Arsenal 3 (Pleguezuelo (2), Sheaf) Olympiacos 2
Arsenal U19s recorded their second win in succession in the UEFA Youth League, with captain Julio Pleguezuelo proving the unlikely goalscoring hero as the young Gunners prevailed past Olympiacos with a 3-2 victory at Meadow Park today.
Pleguezuelo scored twice, with his second goal proving decisive, but that doesn’t begin to tell the tale of what was a rather entertaining encounter.
Olympiacos took the lead early on, only for Pleguezuelo to equalise following a good free-kick from Ben Sheaf. With both sides having numerous chances in an open game, Arsenal went in front from the penalty spot at the start of the second-half through Sheaf, only for Olympiacos to make it 2-2 shortly afterwards. Pleguezuelo would have the final say, though, with the centre-back finishing well to score Arsenal’s third and leave them top of the group.
Arsenal were impressive in their victory over Dinamo Zagreb in their opening group stage game, but they were forced into a change for this fixture with Reiss Nelson away on international duty with England U17s. In his place Savvas Mourgos came into the starting line-up. Donyell Malen and Marcus Agyei-Tabi, meanwhile, were introduced in the second-half for their Youth League debuts.
Subs: O’Connor (for Bielik), Malen (for Mavididi), Agyei-Tabi (for Mourgos). Not used: Huddart, Chatzitheodoridis, DaSilva, Eyoma.
Olympiacos had underlined their credentials with an unexpected victory over Bayern Munich on matchday one, so Arsenal knew that their opponents would be no pushovers this afternoon.
Indeed, it was the visitors who started the brighter of the two sides as they struck the post early on before taking the lead through Giorgos Manthatis, who was given far too much time to manoeuvre his way past the Arsenal defenders.
Olympiacos were certainly in the ascendancy, and Arsenal goalkeeper Hugo Keto had to make a smart save shortly afterwards to prevent the Greek side from inflicting further damage.
Arsenal had got off to a sluggish start, but they slowly began to assert themselves on proceedings, with Krystian Bielik firing over from close range from Sheaf’s free-kick.
Sheaf’s pinpoint set-pieces would become a feature of the game and it was from one such delivery that Pleguezuelo equalised, with the diminutive Spaniard showing good composure to find the net from close range.
It was a very open game, with both sides having plenty of opportunities. On one occasion Keto squandered possession needlessly but made amends by making a good save from the subsequent shot.
At the other end, Stephy Mavididi, who wasn’t heavily involved in proceedings, saw a shot saved, with Mourgos also being denied.
Although Chris Willock was impressing in patches, Arsenal were struggling to get Mavididi, Kaylen Hinds and Alex Iwobi into the game. The latter did, though, send a shot over in the closing stages of the opening period.
Arsenal came perilously close to taking the lead on the stroke of half-time, with Bielik striking the post from yet another Sheaf free-kick, but Andries Jonker’s team would eventually go in front just after the break.
The Gunners’ second goal came from the penalty spot, with Hinds being fouled in the area and Sheaf stepping up to confidently dispatch the spot-kick.
The lead didn’t last very long, however, with Olympiacos soon restoring parity through a skilful effort from Thanasis Androustos, which Keto could do nothing about.
Conceding that goal seemed to spark Arsenal back into life and, after much probing, they eventually made it 3-2 when Pleguezuelo did well to finish again, with Sheaf the provider once more.
Iwobi, who wasn’t at his sharpest, saw an effort deflected wide after good work from Mourgos, before the Gunners made a double change, with Stefan O’Connor replacing Bielik and Malen making his debut in place of Mavididi.
It was O’Connor who was the busiest of the pair, with the defender having to make several interventions as Olympiacos upped the ante.
Arsenal still had some attacks of their own, with Sheaf shooting over and Malen sending a header wide, but the Gunners had to be resolute defensively, with Olympiacos coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions in the closing stages.
Hinds had a shot deflected late on following good work from Iwobi, but there was a worrying moment in the dying embers when O’Connor conceded an unnecessary foul on the edge of the area.
Manolis Saliakas stepped up to take the free-kick, with his effort going narrowly wide of Keto’s near post. It was a close call, but Arsenal just about managed to hold on and they have now taken maximum points from their first two fixtures going into the double header against Bayern Munich, who, in contrast, are yet to earn a single point so far.
It was far from a vintage performance from Arsenal, who lacked their usual incisiveness in possession, whilst there were a couple of errors defensively. Pleguezuelo, though, can be pleased with his performance, as can Sheaf, who appears to be growing in authority this season.