U21 Premier League
Brighton 1 Arsenal 2 (Sheaf, Malen)
Arsenal U21s came from behind to defeat their Brighton & Hove Albion counterparts at the AMEX Stadium this evening, with 16-year-old Donyell Malen scoring the winner despite the fact that he initially wasn’t even supposed to start the game.
Malen was named amongst the substitutes when the Arsenal side was submitted, but a late change of heart saw the first-year scholar promoted to the starting line-up. It proved to be an inspired decision, with the Dutch striker sending a deft lob over Brighton goalkeeper Niki Maenpaa to win the game.
Arsenal, who handed a start to England international Calum Chambers in midfield, fell behind early on when Connor Goldson opened the scoring, but Ben Sheaf equalised with a free-kick before Malen’s sublime finish settled matters.
The headline team news saw Chambers and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who were un-used substitutes for the first-team against Norwich City yesterday, both start.
Chambers had a mixed game in midfield as he made some good interventions but was also overrun on occasion.
Kaylen Hinds and Dan Crowley both missed out through injury, whilst Glen Kamara moved to right-back with Sheaf starting on the right wing.
Sheaf-C. Willock-Reine Adelaide
Subs: Mavididi (for Malen), Bennacer (for C. Willock), Robinson (for Sheaf). Not used: Huddart, Eyoma.
Brighton went into this game bottom of the division, but they started brightly as they came close to scoring early on, with Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Macey having to be alert to come off his line and collect the ball.
Arsenal soon started to assert themselves on proceedings, however, with Reine-Adelaide demonstrating his impeccable technique before Malen came close to finding the net when he cut inside and hit the post with a fierce strike.
Jack Harper, the Scottish youngster who previously played for Real Madrid, was starting to cause problems for the Arsenal defence and Krystian Bielik, who was once again deployed at centre-back, had to make a well-timed intervention to prevent the midfielder from advancing closer to goal.
Maenpaa, an experienced Finnish goalkeeper, then did well to deny Sheaf at the other end, but it was Brighton who would take the lead following hesitant defending from Arsenal.
Brighton had only scored one goal this season prior to tonight, but they went ahead on this occasion, with Goldson heading the ball past Macey.
Arsenal attempted to respond immediately, but Reine-Adelaide’s effort was gathered by Maenpaa.
Chambers, who may well be pressed into first-team action in midfield during the absence of Francis Coquelin, then made an intelligent intervention to cut out the danger when James Tilley sought to cause problems for Arsenal with a dangerous cross.
Malen continued to threaten at the other end and the striker saw his deflected effort gathered by Maenpaa.
Julio Pleguezuelo and Alex Iwobi both came close to scoring as the first half wore on, but it was Brighton who went into the break in the ascendancy.
Arsenal started the second period in determined mood and they were presented with an inviting opportunity to equalise when Chris Willock was fouled on the edge of the area.
Sheaf stepped up to take the free-kick and sent the ball beyond the reach of Maenpaa to level proceedings.
Iwobi then came close to scoring on three occasions as Arsenal upped the ante, with Sheaf then attempting to get the better of Maenpaa from another free-kick, only for the goalkeeper to gather the ball on this occasion.
It was Malen, though, who would put Arsenal in front, with the forward racing towards goal and lofting the ball over Maenpaa. To finish with such audacity is commendable, even more so when the player in question is a 16-year-old making his first start at this level.
That moment of genius proved to be Malen’s final act of the evening as he was replaced by Mavididi, with Ismael Bennacer also entering the fray in place of Willock.
Mavididi was presented with a couple of opportunities to extend Arsenal’s advantage, the second of which was teed up by Bennacer, but Brighton’s defence and goalkeeper were resilient on both occasions.
Danny Holla, one of several experienced players in the Brighton side, then came close to scoring from a free-kick as the home team reminded the Gunners that their win wasn’t yet certain.
However, the introduction of Tyrell Robinson in place of Sheaf provided Arsenal with additional attacking momentum, with the winger bursting down the flank before seeing his effort saved.
Bennacer then shot wide, but it was Malen who would prove to be the hero.
Arsenal, whose next game at this level sees them take on West Ham United at Upton Park next month, have now won six of their seven U21 games this season.