U21 Premier League- Division 2
West Bromwich Albion 1 (Roberts) Arsenal 1 (C. Willock)
Arsenal U21s came from behind to salvage a point in a hard-fought contest against their West Bromwich Albion counterparts this evening.
West Brom took advantage of some weak defending to take the lead through Tyler Roberts, but Chris Willock’s second half strike drew Arsenal level after Dan Crowley had earlier missed a penalty and the game finished 1-1.
Coach Steve Gatting made five alterations to the side that beat Blackburn Rovers last week, with Marc Bola, Tafari Moore, Glen Kamara, Ismael Bennacer and Stephy Mavididi all coming into the side in place of Tyrell Robinson, Alex Iwobi, Mikel Arteta, Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Donyell Malen.
There was also a call-up on the bench for first-year scholar Marcus Agyei-Tabi, who is now known as Marcus McGuane.
Subs: Malen (for Sheaf, 83)
Not used: Keto, Eyoma, Mourgos, McGuane.
Both these sides have been in impressive form this season and are in contention for promotion to the top tier of the U21 Premier League.
The opening exchanges were rather incoherent, with both sides struggling to assert themselves on proceedings.
Arsenal, perhaps as a consequence of fielding a much-changed line up, found it difficult to garner any attacking momentum early on.
The first clear-cut chance of the game resulted in the first goal, and it was West Brom who scored it, with Tyler Roberts pouncing upon some lapse defending before calmly slotting the ball beyond the reach of Ryan Huddart.
That setback appeared to spark Arsenal into life and the young Gunners attempted to stage an instant response, but nothing came of a neat move involving Crowley and Willock.
Mavididi then had an effort blocked and Crowley shot wide as Arsenal upped the ante, but at the other end Moore, who was rewarded with a new contract last week, made an impeccably timed sliding challenge to deny Adil Nabi.
There were further opportunities for Arsenal prior to the interval, with Bennacer shooting wide, Moore’s teasing cross causing problems and Crowley sending an effort off target, but West Brom held on to take their lead into half-time.
Arsenal started the second half brightly, with Ben Sheaf, who was deployed on the right wing on this occasion, seeing a shot saved.
It wasn’t long until West Brom started to re-assert themselves, however, with Huddart having to make several impressive saves in quick succession before the hosts were eventually flagged offside.
By now the game was rather open and Arsenal sensed an opportunity when Willock burst down the left flank, but his effort was deflected for a corner.
Arsenal were awarded a penalty shortly afterwards when Krystian Bielik had his shirt pulled by Shaun Donnellan, but Crowley’s spot kick was saved by Jack Rose and the search for the equaliser went on.
Thankfully, the wait didn’t last much longer, with Willock seizing the initiative and driving forwards before finishing adroitly.
The youngster, who was an un-used substitute for the first-team on Saturday, has been in tremendous form at U21 level in recent weeks.
Arsenal then sought to take the lead, but Mavididi couldn’t quite connect with Sheaf’s cross.
At the other end Huddart had to be alert to keep out Nabi’s effort, with Arsenal then sending on Malen as they went on the hunt for the winning goal.
It was West Brom who seemed more like scoring, however, with Huddart again having to race off his line to clear the danger, but it ended honours even.
Arsenal’s next game at this level is at home to Swansea City on January 22nd.