UEFA Youth League
Arsenal 2 (Iwobi 73, 78) Bayern Munich 0
By Jeorge Bird @Meadow Park
Arsenal U19s remain on course for serene progress into the knockout stages of the UEFA Youth League after they recorded their third successive win in the competition by dispatching of Bayern Munich 2-0 today.
The defeat leaves the German side, who have lost all of their fixtures, in serious danger of elimination, but the young Gunners had to work extremely hard for their victory, which was secured courtesy of two second-half strikes from Alex Iwobi, the first of which was an excellent finish from distance.
Iwobi, who recently became a full Nigeria international, doubled Arsenal’s advantage following good work from Donyell Malen, but Arsenal’s star performers were goalkeeper Hugo Keto, who made some excellent saves throughout, and winger Reiss Nelson, who caught the eye despite being the youngest player in Arsenal’s ranks.
The victory was all the more commendable given that it was achieved without the services of four key players- Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Kaylen Hinds, Chris Willock and Stephy Mavididi- who are all at the U17 World Cup in Chile.
In their absence Malen was afforded a start up front, whilst another summer arrival, Ismael Bennacer, operated just behind him. Tafari Moore recovered from injury in time to start.
Subs: Agyei-Tabi (for Bennacer, 63), Eyoma (for Mourgos, 75), O’Connor (for Bielik, 85). Not used: Huddart, Chatzitheodoridis, Robinson, DaSilva.
Arsenal went into this game having registered victories over Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos, and, rather surprisingly, Bayern allowed the Gunners to dominate possession in the early stages.
Ben Sheaf, who was so impressive against Olympiacos, sent a shot wide, with Iwobi then doing likewise following a driving run. The winger could well make his competitive first-team debut against Sheffield Wednesday next week.
Arsenal always had to be wary of the threat provided by Bayern, however, with Michael Strein receiving a lot of space to attack down the left flank.
The Gunners were impressive in the first half with regards to their link-up play, but they struggled to carve out chances with regularity and, when opportunities finally did arrive, the finishing was wayward, such as when Savvas Mourgos shot wide following intelligent build-up play from Iwobi.
Nelson, the England youth international, caught the eye in the first half in particular with his immaculate close control and ability to cut inside.
Just as important to Arsenal’s cause, though, was Keto. The Finnish goalkeeper struggled against Olympiacos, but was back to his best on this occasion and made two excellent saves to preserve parity before the break.
Arsenal started the second half brightly, with Bennacer, a hub of creativity, doing well to work space for himself before shooting wide.
Krystian Bielik, up from defence, then headed over from Sheaf’s corner, but at the other end Marc Bola had to make a crucial interception to stop Bayern in their tracks.
Arsenal introduced Marcus Agyei-Tabi for Bennacer, and the youngster helped Arsenal to gain greater control of proceedings.
Indeed, Agyei-Tabi was involved in an intricate move that also included Nelson and culminated in Sheaf having a shot saved.
Nelson then went for goal himself after receiving the ball from Bielik, but, although he was unsuccessful on that occasion, it wasn’t long before Arsenal finally broke the deadlock.
When they did so it was Iwobi who proved the hero with a powerful effort from distance that left Bayern goalkeeper David Hundertmark with no chance whatsoever. It was a strike that Thierry Henry, once again amongst the club’s coaching staff for this fixture, certainly would have been proud of.
After waiting so long to open the scoring, Arsenal’s second came within five minutes of the first and Iwobi got his name on the scoresheet once more, this time after latching onto a good cross from Malen.
Malen, who arrived amidst much publicity from Ajax in the summer, had a quiet game overall and didn’t have many chances of his own, but he continued to work hard and his link-up play was especially impressive.
There was a slightly sour moment late on when Bielik injured himself in making a clearance and had to be substituted, but Arsenal, with Keto making another couple of saves late on, managed to prevail.
Nine points from nine is a tremendous return for the club, and it certainly looks as if the pre-season success that the Gunners enjoyed in South Africa was no fluke. When you consider that the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dan Crowley and Gedion Zelalem could still feature at this level were they not on loan, Arsenal’s depth of talent in this age group is very impressive.
It is important not to get too carried away, though. Whilst qualification from the group will surely be achieved, it isn’t a formality yet, and beyond that Arsenal will be eager to avoid suffering an early exit in this competition, as they have done in each of the last two seasons.
For now, though, matters are looking very good for this age group, with a trip to face Bayern next on agenda.